Best Foot Forward
By Jennifer Korolishin
Secondary packaging helps beverages improve presentation and shelf appeal

Packaging is the face a beverage shows to the world, announcing its presence in the market with graphics designed to catch the consumer’s attention. But while the container plays a starring role, secondary packaging is increasingly moving into the beverage market spotlight.
Ranging from paperboard packs like the popular fridge pack and printed shrinkfilm that hold together a multi-pack or case, to handles and beverage carriers, secondary packaging ensures that beverages arrive safely at retail, provides for easy handling by the consumer and reinforces the brand.
“Beverage companies use a variety of substrates, including paperboard, corrugate, clear and printed shrinkfilm and plastic,” says Cliff Waddington, vice president of sales, food and beverage, for the MeadWestvaco Consumer Solutions Group, a global packaging solutions provider. Its beverage industry products include packaging converted from the company’s Coated Natural Kraft paperboard, Kraftpack uncoated paperboard and Klearfold foldable plastic.
Corrugated cases and paperboard cartons have long been standard secondary packaging materials; corrugated is a three-ply, rough, brown paper, while paperboard is a coated white paper. While corrugated is stronger than paperboard, the latter offers a better printing surface to showcase graphics. Usage is usually determined by the size of the pack — a 24-count package or higher usually employs corrugated, while 12- or six-packs lean toward paperboard packaging.
Printed shrinkfilm is also gaining in popularity in the U.S. secondary packaging market. It is already used in the bottled water market, but is gaining wider acceptance with other beverages.
“Printed shrinkfilm is economical and it offers high-impact graphics,” says Mark Pfeiffer, national account manager of the consumer plastics group for Exopack LLC, a paper and plastic flexible packaging company. “From the perspective of waste management, shrinkfilm takes up less space in the landfill, so that’s an advantage, as well.”
Handles and other beverage carriers are also widely used in secondary packaging, particularly for large beverage bottles and club store packages. PakTech, Eugene, Ore., serves club store vendors with injection-molded packaging handles for bottles, cans and other containers. PakTech also makes the equipment that applies its handles on-line after bottles are filled, capped and labeled, and before or after the bottles are case packed.
Roberts PolyPro Inc., a designer and manufacturer of plastic fixtures to enhance consumer packaging, also makes plastic beverage carriers, such as those designed for two-packs of large juice bottles, and application equipment.
Choosing secondary packaging
As secondary packaging becomes more important to beverage-makers, it is becoming better integrated into the overall design, production and marketing process.
“Secondary packaging used to be an afterthought, but now it is being developed much earlier in the process because it’s a differentiator on the shelf,” says Roberts PolyPro President Allan Sutherland. “We’re trying to partner with customers earlier in the process, rather than waiting for them to say, ‘We have everything designed and we need a handle on this bottle.’ As with anything — if you plan for it early enough, you can make sure your line accommodates it.”
Because beverage manufacturers choose secondary packaging more carefully, there are a number of factors that weigh into the decision.
“Probably the most important thing is fitness for use, making sure that the materials you’re using perform the job and are durable enough to go through the distribution channels, get to the store and still look good, have the customer be able to handle it easily and keep the primary container in pristine shape,” Pfeiffer says. “Graphics also play a big role. We can help customers size the package so that they get the full impact of top and side panel graphics, and even the bottom of the package, in some cases.”
Secondary packaging allows space for marketing, as more beverage-makers want packaging that serves as a billboard for their brands.
“Printed shrinkfilms are so important for that shelf presence,” Pfeiffer says. “We’ve seen a trend in recent years, we used to do a lot of six- and 12-packs and now consumers are buying in larger quantities through superstores or club stores, so we’re seeing more of a billboard effect with the graphics. Beverage companies want to have as much shelf impact as possible.”
Since all beverage companies are trying to save money and achieve efficiencies, pricing is another factor in secondary packaging choice. “Packaging cost is a big consideration in terms of wholesale and retail pricing,” MeadWestvaco’s Waddington says. “Beverage companies may want to go with a higher-end package to differentiate their brands, but only if they can get a higher price point in the marketplace to help pay for the additional packaging costs.”
Cost can also dictate a secondary package’s style. “In paperboard, there are three main types of products: wraps, usually showing the primary package on the end panel; fully enclosed, which would be something like the fridge pack; and the basket. The highest cost are baskets and fully-enclosed [packages]. The cheapest, because of the high packing speeds and smaller board footprint, is the wrap,” says Franck Vidal, manager of product development for Graphic Packaging International, a provider of paperboard and integrated paperboard solutions.
As club stores and superstores have popularized larger package sizes, the retail channel in which the beverage is sold has a big impact on secondary packaging.
“If, for example, a beverage is going to be in a club store, they’re usually going to go for a specific type of packaging to allow disappearing pallets, such as our z-flute carton structure, and reduce total packaging cost,” Vidal says. “If it’s going to a supermarket, shelf appeal as well as consumer convenience are key characteristics for the secondary packaging, but for a convenience store where they sell a lot of single-serve, the focus would be on easy access to the bottles or cans and retail dispensing.”
Pfeiffer adds, “We just worked with a national beverage company on a club store pack. They had previously used clear film wrapped around a printed tray and now they’ve gone to full ink coverage wrapped around plain corrugated. They’ve taken money from the corrugated tray and put it into the printed shrinkfilm. The pallets go straight to the store, the package is ready to go for merchandising and it looks really good.”
The package’s total weight matters, too, as secondary packaging needs to be durable and strong enough to support the primary packaging and protect it from damage. “The job of the packaging engineers is to determine a package’s size and weight for certain marketplaces,” says PakTech Marketing Manager Amie Thomas. “They choose our handles because they are injection molded and designed to be sturdy for large bottles and heavy product. PakTech handles ensure package integrity in the rough club store environment.”
Recyclability is another consideration. “Beverage companies are looking for ecologically friendly packaging,” Thomas says. “Our handles are made of HDPE, which is the most universally recyclable plastic, so they are an attractive solution for a lot of our customers, as well as environmentally conscious consumers.”
Looking at category-specific trends, baskets are being used more frequently in four- and six-pack configurations for premium products due to consumer convenience and the fact that the baskets don’t obscure the primary package graphics. An example is a new promotional six-pack beverage carrier from MeadWestvaco’s Kraftpak brand, which features high-quality litho printed graphics.
“In the beer category, the secondary packaging trend is in cooler boxes,” Vidal says. “Coors has a lined case that you can put ice in, and Miller and Anheuser-Busch are picking up on it. That just reflects the fact that people want to have on-the-go possibilities. We haven’t seen anything in the market that suggests it’s going beyond the promotion stage so far, but there’s a buzz around it.”
Market trends
In addition to the specifications for a particular package, general beverage market trends have an impact on the types and usage of secondary packaging. One driver is the need for flexibility and quick changeovers at the plant level.
“Beverage manufacturers want more and more flexibility in the machines to run different bottle sizes,” Sutherland says. “You usually have to dedicate a complete line to one bottle size. Plants just can’t do that anymore, so we’re building flexibility into the machines to run a variety of different sizes. We’ve done that for beverage customers that had, say, a four-bottle and a six-bottle case and wanted to do a quick changeover on the machine and run either one. Flexibility is a big thing that’s driving machine design right now because if you’re not running, you’re losing money.”
While flexibility on the line is a major trend, so is greater packaging innovation, as beverage-makers seek new ways to differentiate their products.
“In the last several months, we’ve seen stepped-up requests for package innovation and we believe that’s being driven by the slow-growth trend of the traditional beer and soft drink brands,”  Waddington says. “New product entries such as flavored waters and energy drinks,  as well as competition from the wine and spirits industry, have taken share from beer and soft drinks. There’s a push for package innovation to help differentiate those new entries and to try and rejuvenate the traditional beer and soft drink lines.”
Most of all, beverage manufacturers are relying more on their vendor partners to streamline the packaging process and provide an end-to-end solution.
“Beverage manufacturers are really looking for us to be a total solution provider,” Pfeiffer says. “They want us to help them come up with attractive configurations, and answer questions like ‘What’s the right size and shape,’ ‘What can be done with graphics,’ ‘What kind of technologies do you have to make our packages stand out on the store shelf?’”
But overall, secondary packaging is now demanding closer attention for the impact it has on a beverage’s presentation and consumer appeal. The Coca-Cola fridge pack is a prime example. Simply by changing the packaging dimensions to a more customer-friendly configuration, sales of 12-packs through Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, the company’s second-largest North American bottler, rose an initial 25 percent upon introduction of the fridge pack, according to the company’s 2002 annual report — an increase entirely driven by secondary packaging. BI
Back in black
Diageo released a makeover for the classic Guinness packaging. The more contemporary look will appear on Guinness Draught cans and bottles in the United States. Moving away from the traditional packaging in which the Guinness logo was featured prominently only on the front side of the cans and bottles, the new packaging will offer a mirrored version of the classic logo. The logo is streamlined with an enlarged harp and text that reads “Estd. 1759” in reference to the year Guinness was first brewed in Ireland. Both the holding bars and the Arthur Guinness signature have been removed from the logo. The signature now appears in silver text at the bottom of the cans and bottles. The primary color in the packaging remains black while the base of the cans and bottles will sport a shade of silver that fades into the traditional solid black. The Guinness Draught bottle neck and cap will no longer be white in color, in favor of a contemporary black.
Reenergized graphics
The Coca-Cola Co. has redesigned Sprite’s packaging graphics. The new package design features the familiar silver, green and blue color and the Sprite brand name with bubbles. The updated imagery is enhanced by the inclusion of a new “S” brand icon that will be featured on all packaging and marketing elements.
Strength for wine
Graphic Packaging International, Marietta, Ga., helped Tefft Cellars Winery, Outlook, Wash., develop a stronger wine-in-a-box product. Graphic Packaging’s Z-flute packaging combines lightweight with compression strength to withstand the rigors of shipping, stacking and consumer use. The “Z” stands for “zero” because unlike traditional corrugated paperboard, it has no flutes between the two exterior walls. For Tefft Cellar’s wine-in-a-box product, wine is first placed in a flexible interior bag, then hand-packed into the exterior Z-flute package. Two of the winery’s varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay — are part of a market trial for the Z-flute packaging.
Setting sail
Skyy Spirits LLC, San Francisco, developed new packaging for Cutty Sark and updated the brand’s premium look for only the third time since its launch in 1923. Designed to emphasize the Scotch’s “sociable, upbeat personality,” the bottle has a taller and slimmer silhouette, featuring a smaller, two-part label. Enhanced with embossing, especially in the depiction of The Cutty Sark — a clipper ship and the brand’s icon — the new packaging maintains the brand’s signature gold color and adds a new black and gold foil cap topper and increased use of black on the bottle.