Whatever the package type a beverage company chooses, primary packaging can help a product standout from the competition. In a crowded marketplace, uniqueness is the name of the game.
“The package is becoming much more than a container, with companies understanding that packaging can serve as a point of differentiation and generate further value for consumers,” says Suley Muratoglu, vice president of marketing and product management at Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.
A package’s sustainability has remained of great importance to beverage companies and consumers alike. In 2010, the number of new beverages that made an environmentally friendly claim about their packaging nearly doubled from the year before to 801, according to Chicago-based Mintel International’s Global New Products Database. Through March of this year, 161 new beverages made an eco-friendly claim about their packaging, which is tracking ahead of last year’s numbers at this time, Mintel reports.
“When it comes to packaging, sustainability is definitely still top of mind,” says Tom Hughes, marketing manager for Crown Beverage Packaging North America, a business unit of Crown Holdings, Philadelphia. “Consumers are demanding environ-mentally friendly products and packaging, and brands are actively working to meet this demand.”
In addition to the environmental impact, beverage companies are focusing on several key points this year when launching a new package.
“Price-taking has been the key strategy to prop up most categories over the past two years, but we are seeing the pendulum swing back toward an emphasis on packaging innovation as a key element for marketers looking to reclaim share,” says Jay Billings, director of innovation and marketing for the metal beverage packaging division, Americas, at Ball Corp., Broomfield, Colo. “The innovations that are most successful tend to align with and support brand position, and packaging creates an opportunity for mass communication â€” for new news.”
Additional important factors are how well it preserves the integrity of the product, including organoleptic attributes, how well it matches the positioning of the product, how well it advertises and the perceived value, says Alfonso Gómez Palacio, president of Vitro’s glass containers business unit in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
Brand owners also are trying to respond to consumers’ desires for packaging that has an element of interactivity, Crown’s Hughes says.
“We’ve seen that take shape in many forms, from special visuals or textures to unique promotions tied into websites or social media platforms, or from resealable packages to specialty can shaping,” he says. “The end goal of these types of enhancements is to facilitate brand recognition as consumers instinctively connect with a product that is in some way individual or unique.”
Beverage companies are using unusual primary packaging materials to differentiate themselves on the shelf and on premise.
“One category specifically that we see are energy drinks and ready-to-drink teas,” says Sara Alcroft, marketing communications manager for North America at O-I, Perrysburg, Ohio. “Energy drinks are dominated by metal cans and new entrants to that category are using glass or flexible packaging to differentiate themselves.”
Overall, O-I is seeing more glass penetration across new beverage launches.
“In 2010, there was a 30 percent increase in new products that were launched in glass in North America versus the previous year,” Alcroft says.
Although glass in terms of beverage share is low, O-I is focused on communicating the value of glass in terms of its premium image, quality, taste and health associations, she says.
Certain categories are increasing their glass usage more than others. Premium sodas are using glass to communicate a quality image, and glass also offers the ability to withstand a higher carbonation level, Alcroft says. The material’s ability to withstand carbonation also has made glass a popular choice for sparkling juices. Ready-to-drink teas have increased their use of glass because the category’s antioxidants are preserved in a glass package, she says.
Bottled water brands also are using glass to differentiate, Alcroft says. White Plains, N.Y.-based Danone Waters of America Inc.’s Evian Natural Spring Water brand partnered with fashion icon Issey Miyake for its fourth annual limited-edition designer glass bottle. Glaceau, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, introduced a 1-liter glass bottle of Smartwater for restaurant, hotel and lounge distribution.
Health and wellness brand Blue Lotus Lifestyle Beverages appear in glass and feature internal embossing to differentiate in the highly competitive category, Alcroft says. Real Beanz Iced Coffee also uses glass to stand out as a premium, high-quality coffee and energy drink product, she says.
With overreaching health and wellness trends across beverage categories, beverage companies are using a lot of portion control and single-serve options in glass, Alcroft says. Organic beverages often choose glass as well, Vitro’s Gómez Palacio says.
In addition, consumers are looking for packages that are convenient for their on-the-go lifestyle, Alcroft says.
Lightweighting of glass bottles and full-body sleeves with enhanced graphics are two strong trends in glass, Gómez Palacio adds. The company is promoting glass in non-traditional colors such as red, green, blue and black, which traditionally are not used for beverage packaging, he says. In addition, Vitro also suggests colorful full-body sleeves.
Like glass, aluminum also has seen an uptick in interest by beverage-makers.
“We’re seeing tremendous share growth in cans for beer â€” from traditional domestics to craft,” Ball’s Billings says. “And we see heavy growth in categories that are already aligned with cans, including energy drinks and teas. There’s no question that metal is hot now and marketers are highly engaged in applying a host of new metal packaging technologies to their brands.”
Crown also has seen a shift to metal packaging in craft brewing.
“Many breweries are making the move due to the increased portability, sustainability and light-blocking properties of metal, as well as for the premium look and feel that metal affords,” Crown’s Hughes says. “Consumer demand is also a factor. Craft brew customers like to enjoy their beer outdoors making portability and light blocking an important factor for selecting a packaging material.”
“All categories are using aluminum more,” Billings adds. “The reasons are simple â€” customers make more money on cans relative to other substrates, excluding 20-ounce PET for CSD, and consumers are increasingly showing preference for cans at retail. Cans are convenient, lightweight, environmentally friendly and go anywhere. Add the explosion of can innovation to the mix and you have a recipe for significant growth.”
Like with glass packages, beverage companies are using a variety of can sizes.
“While individual beverage types usually exist within a defined range, such as soft drinks in 12-ounce cans or smaller, we are seeing some unique sizes hit the shelves, whether for calorie and portion control, or at the other end of the spectrum, multiple serving sizes in a single container,” Crown’s Hughes says.
Crown also has seen an increased focus on graphics to individualize products and reach a targeted audience.
“This can mean tailoring packaging to the values and traits of individual consumer groups, for example, or even to their location,” Hughes says. “Consumers instinctively relate to their surroundings and will often choose locally made or branded products over national or generic versions.”
Because of advanced printing and decorating techniques, brands can create a premium look and feel that attracts consumers, he adds.
“With consumers often focusing on what’s new and original, brands increasingly have to work harder to maintain the recognition of their products,” Hughes says. “Consumers tend to gravitate toward what is unique and cutting-edge, and brands, in turn, are looking to enhance their packaging accordingly.”
Aluminum packaging has seen innovations recently such as MillerCoors’ 16-ounce Coors Light Silver Bullet Aluminum Pint bottle, Ball’s Billings says. The Coors Light Silver Bullet Aluminum Pint features the brand’s Cold Activated thermochromic graphics and a wide mouth for a smooth pour. The aluminum material and resealable cap allows for added portability of the 16-ounce bottle, Coors Light says. Heineken also recently launched a new innovation, a new can designed with tactile ink, Billings adds.
Carton packaging also is receiving increased interest in the beverage category.
“Beverage companies are turning to carton packaging for its environmental performance, marketing capabilities and logistic and cost advantages, all without compromising product quality and safety,” says Tetra Pak’s Muratoglu. “It is all about generating and delivering value to the whole supply chain without adding cost.”
Cartons are already very well established in the market for kids’ multi-pack single-serve juice and fruit drinks, a category in which they are popular based on convenience, product safety and environmental profile, he says.
In the nutritionals category, leading brands have used aseptic cartons as a platform to build the category, Muratoglu says. The natural beverage category also has adopted cartons for beverages such as coconut waters. Even some mature segments, such as sports drinks, are using cartons more, he says. In addition, low-acid products, such as protein shakes, have embraced the packaging.
Shelf-stable juice and fruit drinks offer another example. “This aisle used to be dominated by half gallon plastic packages, with little differentiation between brands and flavors,” Muratoglu says. “Cartons and multi-serve packs are adding a spark, not only by creating very clear visual identification, but also by incorporating new flavors and new uses to a well-established category.”
In addition, change is occurring in many other categories where cartons can play an important differentiating role, he says.
“For example, as the average size of American households declines, so too does the need for large product packages,” he explains. “Today, 59 percent of households in America are comprised of one or two individuals, and 50 percent of these households report not purchasing juice products. Cartons â€” available in sizes between 32 and 51 ounces â€” provide a convenient solution for these consumers who have no need for gallon-sized juice products.”
Because of the increasing innovations in the beverage category, Tetra Pak now offers a wide portfolio of multi-serve packaging sizes. Tetra Pak has packaging solutions for high- and low-acid products along with premium, value and price driven beverages, Muratoglu says.
Tetra Pak also recently launched a new closure for its Tetra Prisma Aseptic platform called DreamCap.
“Consumer research shows that the cap’s high neck and its over-the-edge design offer easy and comfortable access to the carton spout, allowing improved control of liquid flow,” Muratoglu says. “The ease, portability and resealability of the DreamCap provide consumers with a better on-the-go beverage consumption experience.”
Additionally, Tetra Pak has increased its recycling capabilities significantly this year.
“As a result of efforts by Tetra Pak and other members of The Carton Council, carton recycling access currently stands at approximately 32 percent in the United States,” Muratoglu says.
PET and bio materials
Plastic continues to maintain the lead globally in the beverage packaging market owing to the consumer preference for single-serve portions, enhanced visual appeal and portability, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts Inc., San Jose, Calif. These factors have led beverage marketers to focus on using pouches and plastic bottles, which benefit from plastics’ lightweight and recyclability characteristics, the report says.
Plastic also is being used to standout in beverage categories where it doesn’t typically appear. Highland Park, Ill.-based Greater>Than released an all-natural sports/hydration beverage with a coconut water base in the first 20-ounce stock PowerFlex PET container from Amcor Rigid Plastics, Ann Arbor, Mich. The hot-fill bottle gives Greater>Than a unique shelf appeal by offering a glass-like appearance, a smooth feel and easy labeling, the company says. In addition, the bottle offers distinctive long-neck, panel-less packaging that stands out among competitive sports drinks, it says.
Societe de Vin Internationale LTEE, Laval, Quebec, made its debut in plastic packaging, introducing the first 1-liter PET wine bottle for the North American airline industry. The lightweight PET barrier container by Amcor Rigid Plastics is a 54 gram PET stock bottle that is one-eighth the weight of the previous 430 gram glass container. It is used for Societe de Vin Internationale’s 1-liter Claret wine format for its Costabella, Viejos Robles, Massaria, and Bergerie du Loup wine brands. The 1-liter bottle is a first in this format for Amcor, which previously developed smaller 187-ml. and 750-ml. containers. The container uses barrier coating technology developed by Germany’s KHS Plasmax GmbH.
With the increased use of plant-based packaging materials, compostable bottles are presenting an increasingly attractive alternative to recycled PET for beverage companies, according to a new “Drinks Biopackaging” report from United Kingdom-based Zenith International. Biopackaging use in the combined markets of Western Europe and North America rose by 47 percent in 2010 to more than 100 million liters, but volumes remain small as a proportion of total volume, the research group says.
Government incentives will be necessary if the market is to make a change, particularly in the area of drinks packaging, it says.
“While the environmental credentials of compostable bottles sit well with increasingly green-minded consumers, challenges such as price, separation from PET and composting facilities persist,” said Jenny Foulds, a senior analyst for Zenith, in a statement.
Biopackaging does have potential to improve sustainability in beverage packaging, and growing interest in locally available renewable crops might bring additional scope, Zenith says. Larger formats, such as 1.5- and 2-liter bottles and above, represent a relatively untapped segment, it adds.
“The use of recycled PET, however, continues to gain momentum and has overtaken compostable bottle formats,” Foulds added. “Biopackaging also has to satisfy concerns about the use of food sources for non-food products. Despite the difficulties, we foresee continuing strong growth in development projects. If the challenges can be answered, then volume can gain serious market share.”