The role of caps and closures has been to seal and preserve the product inside. But as the years go on, that job description keeps getting longer and longer. Beverage-makers are looking for tops that reflect their brand; keep the environment in mind; offer color, printing and form options; provide ease of use for consumers; showcase innovation; and maintain product integrity and safety.

“Customers are generally looking for technical performance, which guarantees product integrity and safety, and for on-shelf differentiation,” says Jean-Marc Philbois, president of Global Market Development - Beverage for Aptar Food + Beverage, a division of Aptar Group, headquartered in Crystal Lake, Ill. Likewise, consumers rate safety and hygiene high on their lists, followed by ease of use and functionality, according to Aptar research.

“Consumers are looking for innovation, not gimmicks,” Philbois says. “They expect closures to be sufficiently robust to withstand use on-the-go, guarantee product integrity and also be environmentally friendly.”

They also want closures to be easy to use, secure and strong enough to maintain product quality and prevent leaks, notes Jane Haywood-Rollins, global marketing services manager for Closure Systems International, Indianapolis.

“Specific closure needs and preferences vary depending on the target audience and the usage occasion,” she says. “For instance, flow rate is critical to an athlete drinking from the bottle, while ease of one-handed usage and spill resistance are important to on-the-go consumers in a car.”

And when it comes to production, caps and closures must meet beverage-makers’ expectations.

“Beverage-makers expect closure suppliers to deliver capping solutions that provide secure sealing, safe opening, consistent and consumer-friendly removal torques, effective tamper evidence, increased branding, application optimization, and cost efficiency,” Haywood-Rollins explains. “Excellent application performance and line efficiency are especially important to the bottling organizations.”


Not-so-heavy metal

The trend toward reducing the amount of material in a closure is great for promoting sustainability and reducing cost; however, it must be taken into consideration during production as well. Like plastic closure suppliers, metal cap manufacturers are receiving requests for less material in their caps and closures.

“When we look at reducing the metal in a closure, the closure still needs to function and provide the seal integrity for the package,” says Sheila Heath, director of marketing for metal closures and specialty packaging for Crown Holdings Inc., Philadelphia. “We know the limitations of the metal, and so we are always looking at ways to take cost out of the product and so are our customers. We are always doing that, but the most important thing is that the closure applies the way that it needs to at the speeds that these beverage packers are packing.”

Crown supplies a range of metal closures including vacuum twist, continuous thread, ideal and press-on closures. One of its newest offerings is the Orbit closure, designed to facilitate ease of opening on larger diameter packages, Heath says. It also offers promotional ends and tabs for beverage cans that are designed to make the product stand out and to entice shoppers at the point of purchase, the company says.

For soft drink and beer bottles, the company offers traditional twist-off and pry-off steel crowns. One such offering is the Oxycap, which features a special scavenger liner that absorbs oxygen molecules trapped in the headspace during bottling and prevents oxygen from seeping in through time. This absorption/barrier process keeps product flavor fresher and extends shelf life, the company says.

Primarily in the beer category, there is a separation between premium and mainstream brands and the type of cap they use, says Tom Hughes, marketing manager for beverage packaging North America at Crown.

“We tend to see the pry offs on mostly some of the upscale type of beers, like the craft beers or imports or other super-premium style beers,” he says. “And then the twist off is more on the mainstream premium or subpremium brands.”

For the consumer, it’s all about convenience and ease of use, he notes. Some people like using a bottle opener and others enjoy the convenience of being able to open the bottle on their own. It all comes down to personal preference. Nevertheless, he has noticed that consumers perceive pry-off caps to be more upscale, he says.

World Bottling Cap Holdings Inc., based in Carrollton, Texas, introduced the patented Easy Pull Bottle Cap, which features a ring for consumers to pull that releases the cap from the bottle. Instead of twisting a cap off by hand or prying it off with a bottle opener, this new cap allows consumers to pull off the cap easily by using just one finger. The cap can be used on pry-off glass bottles, twist-off glass bottles and aluminum bottles, and operates on existing bottling equipment.

“For bottlers, the [Easy Pull Bottle Cap] allows them to standardize their cap technology, inventory of bottles, and for brewers and/or bottlers, provide an important packaging innovation to introduce to the marketplace,” says Abe Frishman, president and chief executive officer of World Bottling Cap Holdings.

Offering a sustainability aspect, the Easy Pull Bottle Cap is available with a biodegradable liner. And like a traditional cap, the cap with biodegradable liner maintains the flavor, carbonation and integrity of the product, but without the difficulties associated with a twist-off or pry-off cap, Frishman says.

“Beverage-makers want the best possible seal on their product to maintain carbonation and hold up under vibration, movement, storage and during the transportation process of their products, while maintaining the flavor, quality and carbonation for extended periods of time until used by the consumer,” Frishman explains. “Additionally, the caps and/or closures used today must be able to move through the cap manufacturers’ and the bottlers’ equipment at very high speeds, so it must be durable as well as functional.”

While the cap already stands out because of its ring technology, coloring options also can help the beverage stand out on the shelf or in the cooler. The cap can be printed in various colors featuring a company logo, and it also can use thermochromic, or temperature-sensitive, ink so that when the cap is chilled, the ink changes color to indicate when the beverage is ready to drink.


Plastic’s differentiation

A report by The Freedonia Group, Cleveland, Ohio, predicts that demand for caps and closures in the beverage market will increase 3.5 percent annually to $2.9 billion in 2014, slowing from the pace of the 2004 to 2009 period as prices moderate and large-volume markets like carbonated soft drinks and beer experience declines or minimal growth, it states. The market research group notes an increase in demand for lighter weight, lower-cost plastic closures designed for use with shorter neck PET bottles, which have become the standard since 2008. A shift from cans to single-serving plastic bottles also will account for the increase, it adds.

“Many companies are moving to thin-walled bottles, short-height and/or smaller-diameter bottle finishes, non-crystallized bottle finishes and alternate beverage processing techniques that allow lighter-weight bottles to be used,” Closure Systems International’s Haywood-Rollins says. “These cost-reduction technologies can present operational, safety and product integrity challenges. To help overcome these challenges, [Closure Systems International] has developed a portfolio of lightweight and short-height closures that meet very stringent performance specifications.”

The company’s lightweight plastic closures suit both hot-filled and aseptically filled non-carbonated beverages. They feature superior venting in 28-mm. and 38-mm. sizes, she says. Closure Systems International’s Asepti-Lok V38 3S is a one-piece aseptic closure that incorporates a unique safety venting feature combined with the company’s high-performance tamper evidence system.

For hot-fill applications, the company’s Extra-Lok 38-mm. OD closure is one of the lightest weight 38-mm. closures on the market, Haywood-Rollins says. Its liner profile enables customers to reduce bottle finish thickness without compromising performance, she adds. It also withstands excessive pressure while maintaining a seal.

One of Closure Systems International’s newest short-height lightweight closures, the Sports-Lok mini, features a push-pull design that provides bottle finish and closure resin savings of about 20 percent, Haywood-Rollins says. It is available in 28-mm. and 26-mm. sizes.

Because of the wide range of consumers that drink bottled waters and sports drinks, Aptar Food + Beverage’s caps and closures offer ease of use, safety and convenience to appease a beverage’s target audience. Additionally, the company works toward making its closures sustainable. The company recently launched a sport closure that uses its low-profile 1881 neck finish, which features a 25 percent reduction in weight without compromising on performance, Philbois says. It also started using a recycling-friendly silicone called Swimming Silicone in all of its valved beverage closures.

“Consumer research shows that consumer preference is for packaging that is recyclable and safe from a disposal perspective,” Philbois says. “However, consumers are unwilling to give up packaging that keeps products clean, untouched by others and in good condition, which is precisely what our closures do.”

Another important consideration for beverage-makers and consumers is the functionality of the closure. In the early 2000s, Aptar Food + Beverage introduced a flip-top or hinged sports drink closure to the beverage market under the company’s legacy brand, Seaquist Closures, Philbois says.

“This was a breakthrough. Until then, the only dispensing closure around in beverage was the push-pull sports cap,” he says. “The flip-top sports cap brought with it a number of advantages: improved hygiene as the lid is non-detachable and is kept in place, ready to cover the spout; less risk of spills once the lid is re-closed; easy to open and close with one hand; no need to pull on the mouthpiece with teeth; [and] no risk of the mouthpiece detaching and becoming a choke hazard.”

Portola Packaging Inc., Naperville, Ill., has taken a different approach to cost savings and material reduction. Less than a year ago, it launched its Steri-Shield linerless plug closure technology for aseptic beverage packages. The category has traditionally used closures with thermoplastic elastomer or foil liners to achieve seal integrity for both low- and high-acid beverages, the company says. By eliminating the liners, the plug design helps minimize package cost and contributes to material source reduction, it adds.

“The challenge was to engineer a design that creates an effective cap-to-bottle seal for aseptic drink products without using a liner,” said Roy Robinson, vice president of business development for Portola Packaging, in a statement. “The plug design had to mate with the bottle finish inner surface to create an effective seal. It also had to withstand stringent aseptic filling conditions.”

The Steri-Shield linerless closures are compression molded using a proprietary resin blend that includes high-density polyethylene. The result is a lightweight closure that does not fail during the sterilization or distribution process, and can withstand an aseptic sterilization environment as hot as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the company says. The closures are available in 38-mm. to 43-mm. sizes with or without a tamper-evident band.

“Brand owners are constantly looking for ways to meet consumer needs,” Robinson said in a statement. “Not only does Portola’s new plug closure design deliver the desired seal performance, but it is easier for consumers to open because there is no liner to negatively impact torque.”


Dosing systems

In addition to lightweight, cost-effective plastic closures, value-added dispensing closures will further add to growth in the caps and closures market, according to The Freedonia Group’s report.

Dosing systems focus on ease of use for consumers and sustainability via energy savings, suppliers say. PowerCap–Liquid Health Labs, Deerfield, N.H., offers three different styles of dosing caps under its PowerCap brand.

“PowerCap has distinct advantages over traditional hot-fill preparations of functional drinks: PowerCap has been shown in a major university study to protect sensitive ingredients; it is less energy intensive due to it supporting cold filling, and therefore, is a ‘greener’ technology; and [it] can be utilized on lighter weight plastic bottles, further reducing the environmental impact,” says Ken Milligan, chief science officer and executive vice president for the company. “Additionally, the newly introduced PowerCap Universal fits on any traditional bottled water neck finish. This allows the consumer to conveniently transform standard bottled water into a functional beverage, and get multiple uses out of their water bottle throughout the day while still getting great-tasting functional drinks and reducing the number of bottles entering the landfill.”

In addition to the PowerCap Universal, the company offers push and twist dosing caps, which are both equally popular, Milligan says. A company that employs a full-time engineering team solely devoted to the dosing cap category, PowerCap has the expertise and ability to continue innovating, create custom solutions for customers, and also facilitate success throughout the supply chain, he adds.

All production is U.S.-based, which offers a quick turn-around time for supply, says Derek Hopkins, president of PowerCap–Liquid Health Labs. Plus, the company has the capacity to write long-term supply contracts. “We have the ability to meet production needs for small and large companies this year,” he says.

In addition to licensing its PowerCap solutions to beverage-makers, PowerCap–Liquid Health Labs develops its own products. Last Shot, a hangover protection drink, Nutrelle, a beauty beverage, and Fresh Healthy Stuff…In the Cap!, a health and wellness drink, were made to fit onto mainstream water bottles. Last Shot and Fresh Healthy Stuff…In the Cap! both use the PowerCap Universal push cap, which snaps onto to 26.7-ml. to 28-ml. bottles. The twist PowerCap fits on 26.7-ml. and 28-ml. bottles, and the push PowerCap fits on 28-ml. bottles, Hopkins notes. Fresh Healthy Stuff…In the Cap! can be purchased online, in select New England locations and was recently launched regionally at Kroger grocery stores.

Also capitalizing on the benefits of dosing caps, Pittsford, N.Y.-based Karma Culture introduced Karma Wellness Water. CJ Rapp, chief executive officer of the company, explains that the company started off with a vision of the product and its benefits, then designed and engineered the cap to meet those needs. The resulting cap features a translucent material, hermetic seal, large capacity and ease of use.

The hermetic seal protects the freshness and quality of the product inside. “Without an air-tight seal, variations in temperature and barometric pressure can adversely affect the contents inside and/or lead to leakage,” Rapp says.

To use the cap, consumers must peel back the tamper-evident label, push down to infuse the nutrients and vitamins, and shake the contents to dissolve the additives in the water. The Karma cap is clear or highly translucent, which allows the consumer to see the additives and gives the product a point of differentiation, Rapp says.

Whether a cap or closure is specifically designed for a product or selected among a group of options, it has a lot of expectations to live up to. The pressure is high, but innovation in the beverage market shows that they’re standing up to the challenge. BI