In the beverage market, brand owners are changing the rules when it comes to packaging. “Beverage-makers are pulling out all the packaging stops to create both unique and specific user experiences tied to a particular package structure or material,” says David Luttenberger, global packaging director for Chicago-based Mintel. The market research firm sees established retailers, brand owners and innovative packaging converters extending their reach into new categories, demographics and even geographies by offering a mash-up of ingredients, products or packaging styles that typically don’t mix, he says. Luttenberger offers Truett-Hurst Inc.’s PaperBoy wine bottle, which is made of a recycled cardboard shell with a plastic liner, as an example.

“In this process, … unique and sometimes experimental offerings are bolstered by a pack type familiar to a cohort but not typically familiar in a category, or a package format that breaks the norm within a category, or even a package that offers a functional element not traditionally associated with a use occasion,” he explains.

This approach to packaging opens up the floor to a plethora of emerging packaging types, including pouches, cartons, aseptic packages and bag-in-box packages, and gives them an opportunity to share the stage with the dominant glass, plastic and aluminum packaging types.

However, part of the process of helping these alternative packaging types become mainstream involves helping consumers to see the benefits and uses of these types of packaging. For example, flexible pouches have experienced the slowest growth in beverage packaging, but Reston, Va.-based PMMI projects that the packaging format will see increased adoption down the road, according to its 2014 report “Beverage Packaging – An Industry Assessment.”  The key to this increased adoption will be the release of new products targeted toward consumers who already are comfortable with the idea of beverages in pouches, like consumers of Kraft Foods Group Inc.’s Capri Sun juice drinks, the report states.

The convenience factor

Millennials who enjoy portion-controlled alcohol beverages in pouches also could be a possible target demographic for this emerging packaging type, Mintel’s Luttenberger notes. “Millennials also are interested in lightweight and portable alcoholic drink solutions, which support pouch growth in the alcoholic beverage market,” he explains. “One in five millennial respondents indicates they would like to see more pouches in [the] alcoholic beverage [market].”

Overall, 30 percent of consumers aged 22 and older cite portability as a packaging characteristic they look for when purchasing alcohol beverages at retail, according to Mintel’s February 2014 report “Beverage Packaging Trends – US.” For non-alcohol products, 34 percent of men aged 18-34 also seek portable packages, it states.

David Marinac, president and chief executive officer of ABC Packaging Direct, Cleveland, also predicts that convenience and portability will be a main driver for the stand-up pouch category. “People are on the go, running here and there, taking their beverages in their gym bags, baby bags, etc.,” he explains. “Having a spouted stand-up pouch versus a glass or metal can that can even be reused is a plus.”

In addition, 11 percent of surveyed consumers aged 18 and older indicated that they are interested in portable alcohol beverages in bag-in-box packaging, and 8 percent are interested in portable beverages in paper-based packaging, according to the Mintel report.

Because beverages packaged in bag-in-box formats typically hold multiple servings, consumers have the ability to fill up their own containers with their desired amount of beverage for on-the-go consumption and save the rest in the container. “We’ve done some research with consumers and moms, and what we’re finding is that a lot of them love and hate [some on-the-go packages],” says Curt Linson, commercial director for North American beverages at Scholle Packaging Inc., Northlake, Ill. These consumers appreciate the grab-and-go aspect of the containers, but sometimes the on-the-go size is too large for the use occasion, and some of the product is wasted, he explains. With bag-in-box, consumers can dispense the amount that they need for a given occasion without wasting any liquid, he says.

In addition, bag-in-box packaging offers the convenience of dispensing a beverage on tap, notes Brent Todd, vice president of sales and marketing for Parish Manufacturing Inc., Indianapolis. Consumers can use bag-in-box packaging to dispense their desired amount of wine or pre-mixed cocktail into their container, and retailers can use the packaging format for dispensing coffee in-store, he says. “There’s a cleanliness aspect to [using bag-in-box coffee in stores] so that when they’re done and they run out of product, they just replace it with another bag,” he explains. “It cuts down [on] the cleaning and things of that nature, so there’s a convenience factor.”

Cartons also offer convenience and portability based on their lightweight designs and range of sizes that includes on-the-go portions, says Suley Muratoglu, vice president of marketing and product management for Tetra Pak Inc., Denton, Texas. In addition, aseptic cartons do not require refrigeration prior to opening, thereby enabling easy storage in a purse, diaper bag or backpack prior to consumption, he adds.

Preserve and protect

In addition to convenience, consumers are making fresh beverage products without added chemicals or preservatives a priority, which puts the onus on packaging companies to develop packaging formats that can handle the demands of fresh, preservative-free products, explains David Mondrus, vice president of the beverage market sector for Scholle Packaging.

Twenty-five percent of “eco-fresh shoppers,” or eco-conscious consumers who combined spend more than $2.9 trillion dollars in groceries annually, view refrigerated cartons as one of the best packaging materials for freshness without preservatives, and 26 percent of these consumers say the same about flexible pouches, says Erin Reynolds, marketing director for Memphis, Tenn.-based Evergreen Packaging, citing data from a recent 2014 EcoFocus Trend Study.

Cartons, in general, offer the ability to keep oxygen out and vitamins and taste in, Reynolds notes. In addition, these qualities help to lock in freshness and keep products cold longer, she adds.

Taking this preservation quality up a step, aseptic cartons can store beverages without added preservatives or chemicals without the need for refrigeration, Tetra Pak’s Muratoglu says. The packages contain aseptically processed beverages, which are processed using a gentle heat treatment that avoids degradation of sensitive and expensive ingredients, he explains. The product then is heated to a high temperature for a short period of time, allowing the beverage to be preserved free of harmful bacteria and without the need for refrigeration or added preservatives, he says. This processing, combined with cartons’ ability to keep out light, moisture and air, allows aseptic cartons to maintain a product’s flavor and freshness for as long as a year without preservatives or refrigeration, he adds.

This type of processing and packaging is suitable for non-carbonated beverages and liquid dairy and dairy-substitute drinks, including 100 percent fruit-and-vegetable juices; nectars; fruit drinks; sports drinks; ready-to-drink teas and coffees; plant-based milks like almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk; coconut water; protein drinks; and functional drinks and shakes, says Bea Callanta, communications marketing manager at Sig Combibloc North America, Chester, Pa. 

GEA Procomac, a Hudson, Wis.-based division of GEA Process Engineering Inc., incorporates these aseptic properties into the familiar PET bottle format, says Pierpaolo Mattana, Procomac division manager. “PET bottles are nowadays the container of choice for cold aseptic filling applications,” he asserts. “Recent developments are … providing adequate barrier properties for most aseptic applications with sensitive products.” In addition, aseptic filling allows for the use of lightweight PET bottles, which reduces packaging costs, and freedom in bottle design allows a brand to extend its marketing appeal, he adds.

Mattana also notes that milk-based protein drinks, ready-to-drink iced coffees, fortified milks and flavored milks are driving the growth of this packaging type, as these categories are traditionally filled without preservatives and cannot sustain the hot-filling process for organoleptic reasons. He says the North American beverage market also offers much potential for this packaging type, but the most significant opportunity could come from switching fluid milk sales to ambient distribution, which would boost the demand for aseptic filling and packaging.

Aseptic properties also are making their way into the bag-in-box format, Scholle Packaging’s Linson says. “We’ve had a recent interest in fresh, aseptically packaged juice, and we anticipate the fresh product trend to reach the functional drinks sector soon,” he says. 

In addition to preserving beverages prior to opening, bag-in-box packaging also can protect the freshness of a product even after opening, Parish Manufacturing’s Todd points out. “When you’re talking about wine and some of those oxygen-sensitive products, you actually get improved product because you don’t have to vent it to the air, where oxygen would degrade the wine over time,” he explains. “You don’t have to introduce air in to vent it to let the product out, so it’ll actually keep longer in bag-in-box.” This, in turn, reduces product waste and increases sustainability.

Going green

Consumers also are interested in packaging sustainability in terms of reducing waste, according to the Mintel report. More than half of respondents of Mintel’s survey identified environmentally friendly packaging as one of their Top 5 most important packaging attributes.  More specifically, 49 percent of baby boomers, 44 percent of members of the swing or World War II generation — consumers born between 1933 and 1945 — and 37 percent of millennials say they view recyclability as an important packaging attribute, it states. Nearly three-quarters of all consumers say they try to recycle beverage packaging, it adds.

“Living consciously has become a growing mindset for consumers, which will only continue with the increased availability of green packaging and limitless information available to consumers through the Internet,” the report states. “People are questioning their impact on the environment and are becoming more aware of those manufacturers with sustainable practices.”

Pouches, cartons, aseptic containers and bag-in-box packaging all offer environmentally sustainable attributes, experts note.

For example, pouches require less energy to make, take up less space than rigid containers when full, and store and ship flat when empty, explains Liesl Harder Kielp, founder and chief operating officer of AguaSac LLC, Phoenix.

However, PMMI notes that some consumers are skeptical about the recyclability of pouches. AguaSac’s Harder Kielp argues that many other recyclable packages ultimately are not recycled by consumers either. Empty, flat pouches will produce less landfill waste than other packages, and evolving recycling technology will help reduce this waste even further, she says.

Cartons also are expanding in recyclability, notes Evergreen Packaging’s Reynolds. Because of the efforts of the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Carton Council, of which Evergreen Packaging is a founding member, cartons currently are recyclable for more than 51 percent of households across the country, where facilities exist, she says.

In addition, a 2011 Europe-wide life cycle assessment by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research that analyzed disposable PET bottles, disposable glass bottles and carton packages for non-carbonated soft drinks has confirmed that cartons in 200-250-ml, 1-liter and 1.5-liter sizes offer significant advantages with respect to carbon dioxide emissions and use of fossil resources, SIG Combibloc’s Callanta notes. Compared with a similarly sized monolayer PET bottle, 1-liter cartons, which have the greatest market relevance in the juices, nectars and juice drinks category, generate 28 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions, use 51 percent less fossil resources, and consume 24 percent less primary energy, she says.

Plus, when aseptic cartons and other aseptic packages are considered, this adds the sustainability bonus of requiring less refrigeration, Tetra Pak’s Muratoglu notes. 

Bag-in-box packages also come with their own share of carbon footprint advantages, Parish Manufacturing’s Todd says. “When we’re shipping out, we’re shipping an empty bag, whereas if you compare it to a rigid bottle or a rigid can or whatever the alternative package would be, we can get a lot more on a truck, which enables us to cut down on the amount of diesel fuel [and] the number of trucks and cut down on the [amount of] storage in a manufacturer’s facility.”

Some bag-in-box packages also are 100 percent recyclable, Todd adds. “The [corrugated] box is certainly 100 percent recyclable, and the things that aren’t, like plastics, are pretty inert, so they don’t cause problems if they hit the landfill,” he explains. “But hopefully, if it’s not recycled, it would go to incineration, because it burns clean and hot.” In addition, if the inner bag is made of linear low-density polyethylene film and fitments, it can be processed in the recycling stream, he notes.

 With the highly diverse opportunities for various beverage packaging types right now and on the horizon, Mintel advises packaging companies to continue to place an emphasis on eco-friendly, freshness and convenience attributes to continue to meet the needs of beverage consumers.