Do more with less. It’s a familiar mantra - and one that applies quite literally when it comes to caps and closures. More means the desire for a bigger win in terms of performance. For example, bottlers want closures to be able to run on bottling lines at high speeds. Less means a continued push toward lower costs, which is one of the contributing factors of caps and closures shrinking in size.

“If you look at the closure of a standard 20-ounce bottle today, it’s about two-thirds to half the size of what used to be on there,” says Tony Smith, global marketing and business development vice president for Closure Systems International (CSI), Indianapolis. “On a bottle of water, it’s about half the size.”

The reduction in size comes with a notable challenge: a greatly reduced surface area.

“The one thing that has been sacrificed is less surface area to grip,” Smith says. “As a result, we are even more focused on ease of opening and increasing functionality for consumers.”

CSI’s focus led to an easy-to-handle solution with an ergonomically designed profile, Sure Grip knurl. Additional CSI focus areas continue to center on its expanding mini portfolio and other lightweight closure designs. CSI reports its Extra-Lok 38 mm. OD closure for non-carbonated beverage applications is up to 30 percent lighter than standard 38 mm. profiles.

A key factor driving smaller caps and closures is lighter product weight, which, in turn, lowers raw material and distribution costs. Because of the transportation benefits and the fact that the products also use less resin, these are areas that are expected to see continued growth, suppliers say.

Sustainable packaging
Smaller, more lightweight caps and closures directly tie in with the drive to be more environmentally friendly, something that many feel will continue to be a push going forward.

“I think the focus on lightweighting and cost reduction is going to continue,” Smith says. “There’s going to be more and more concern about sustainability issues, recyclability of materials, resins that come from renewable resources other than petroleum, all those things we see becoming more and more important as we move into the future. We see that environmental issue becoming a bigger and bigger focus and that’s where we see ourselves spending more time to make sure we have solutions. That might mean formulations of new materials or changes of design or incorporating materials of different additives.”

Bottled water companies are especially sensitive to the “green” movement.

“That segment is extremely aggressive on shorter closures and being more environmentally friendly,” says Jane Haywood Rollins, global marketing services manager for CSI.

Part of the reason is the growing debate about bottled water vs. tap water and the recycling rate of plastic bottles, she says. “It’s all rolled together to be a driver,” says Haywood Rollins. “I think it’s an industry issue that everyone is concerned about and making better.”

Environmental concerns as they relate to the bottled water market also were cited in Cleveland-based research firm The Freedonia Group Inc.’s new “Caps & Closures” study. The report states: “Significantly slower growth in the bottled water market due to environmental concerns will also be a factor in beverage market deceleration, as will the increased penetration of lighter weight, lower-cost plastic closures designed for use with shorter neck PET bottles that have become the standard since 2008.”
Although the focus on lightweighting and downsizing are especially evident in the water segment, the drive to reduce the amount of plastic material, as well as reducing costs, can be seen throughout the beverage category. Roy Robinson, vice president of business development for Portola Packaging, Naperville, Ill., noted that many isotonic and juice companies have reduced closure size from 43 mm. to 38 mm.

In the future, Robinson thinks closures will need to perform at an even higher level as aseptic products grow in the United States. “Aseptic systems bring advanced shelf life,” he says. “That requires higher performance requirements from packaging components, especially the closure in terms of seal performance and sterility. As that process becomes more prevalent in the U.S., we’ll see more demands for greater flexibility and performance. That market dynamic will have a huge effect on closure dynamics.”

Bolstering branding
Another dynamic having an impact on closures is branding. “Brands are looking to find new ways to differentiate themselves,” Robinson says. Closures can play a role in differentiation.

He noted that the water segment has almost gone full circle. “The water guys eliminated most sports caps and reduced bottle weight to cut costs as much as they could,” Robinson says. “Now they are all looking to differentiate themselves as they fight for market share.”

Portola’s Fusion technology is playing a role in that differentiation. The technology, which is being used by Activate drinks, involves a two-piece dispensing ingredient enclosure. Powder is dispensed into water through the closure at the time of opening. “The product stays fresher longer by separating the ingredients,” Robinson says. “It’s growing like crazy and shows a specialty area that’s building.”

New features, especially those that can potentially build a brand, continue to emerge.

“People continue to want features and functionality that support their brand identity,” Smith says. “The desire is for a look and feel that connects to brand identity. Caps and closures are playing a more significant role in that push toward branding. That might mean colors to match the label to reinforce branding or a special color to draw attention to a promotion.”

In the food business, one example is peanut butter, that almost every closure is custom to the brand for that application, he says. On the other extreme is bottled water, which is the least proprietary in terms of closures. Smith views the bottled water segment as more market-driven with price-point more critical. Carbonated soft drinks tend to be more corporate-specific in terms of closures than brand specific, he says. An area viewed as migrating more toward customization and brand identity is non-carbonated beverages.

“You see branding become more important as more brands within a category are rolled out and as more beverage categories are introduced and cross-category competition grows,” Haywood Rollins says. “Competition among beverages means brands have to stand out at the shelf. When that starts happening, we see more custom requests come our way.”

Sheila Heath, director of marketing for Crown Closures Americas, a business unit of Crown Holdings, Philadelphia, agrees that closures play a role in branding. “Closures are an important part of the package,” she says. “It has to be part of the equation.”

Crown successfully worked with Old Orchard Brands LLC, Sparta, Mich., recently to maximize the impact of its messaging with a unique closure approach for the launch of Very Cherre Montmorency Tart Cherry Juices.

The juices are packaged in squat glass bottles that have a bulbous shape. Although the unique shape helps drive home a premium feel to the brand, Old Orchard realized it was going to present some space constraints when it came to communicating information. The package’s closure, created by Crown, turned into a primary branding platform for the brand.

A two-color printing process was used to add messages such as “Antioxidant Rich” and “Super Premium” around the skirt of the closure. The flavor name and the company’s website address also appear on the skirt of the closure. Four different colored twist closures additionally work to reinforce the product’s four flavor varieties. The product was recognized for its packaging innovation with a 2010 design award from the Glass Packaging Institute “for creating brand recognition through container shape and decoration.”

“The closure really adds to the appeal of branding for the product,” Heath says. “It showcases the entire real estate of the packaging.”

Heath points to product development and innovation as one of Crown’s strengths. “We also have an incredible support infrastructure,” she says. “Our technical support team helps customers work through any specific challenge. We work closely to ensure that the systems are compatible with product and packing method. Our service level and quality can help maximize efficiencies.” BI