Innovation seems to be the key to success within the beverage industry. As with any other aspect of new product development, beverage-makers are looking for innovative caps and closures to seal and protect their products while also being appealing to consumers, both aesthetically and in their ease of use. As packaging suppliers offer an ever-increasing array of options to beverage-makers, suppliers of caps and closures are keeping in lockstep by providing a slew of innovative options as well.

“The fast-moving packaging industry is constantly reinventing itself to address the changing needs of consumers worldwide,” explains Jean-Marc Philbois, global market development president of Aptar Food & Beverage at AptarGroup, Crystal Lake, Ill. “For us, there are some fundamental trends like on-the-go convenience, demographics and economics, but it is always important to look ahead to see how all the trends will shape our future. Some key areas we are discussing today are demographics (age, ethnicity, income levels); the growing and continued awareness of health and wellness; and also the urbanization of the new population. Within these large mega trends, there are drivers and motivators [and] they influence how consumers behave in their everyday lives. This is driving growth in the beverage market and, significantly, the number of different and innovative on-the-go products on the shelf.”

The growing number of different package launches means that innovation and differentiation still are important to beverage brands and consumers alike, he adds.

“We are seeing some new innovations and also the consolidation of current trends,” Philbois says. “For example, the sustainable packaging trends and the healthier positioned products trends have often led to different filling processes and standards that require packages to adapt. It is important to partner with companies who understand this and who keep up with the filling process equipment and supplies.”

Sheila Heath, director of marketing at Crown Closures Americas, a business unit of Philadelphia-based Crown Holdings Inc., also highlights the importance of innovative caps and closures in the increasingly competitive beverage marketplace. “The changing landscape, whether in terms of greater package variety or evolving consumer needs, requires that all packaging manufacturers deliver innovation that is one step ahead of the market,” she says.

Due to the current growth of innovation within the caps and closures industry, further innovation should be expected moving forward, AptarGroup’s Philbois says. “Looking at current and future trends, we should see more and more innovative designs. Designs that are smart, even connected,” he says. “But these should still focus on functionality every time and answer the on-the-go and convenient experience that brands and consumers are demanding. Technology is moving at a fast pace, and there is no reason caps and closures will not move just as quickly.”

Additionally, Abe Frishman, president and chief executive officer of Plano, Texas-based World Bottling Cap LLC, notes similar trends going forward. “With more brands and/or products entering the marketplace, craft and others, there is an increased need to differentiate through innovation and provide the consumer with the convenience to open the beverage,” he says. “Products will continue to push the envelope for closure, including reducing material and adding features to differentiate the product from its competition.”

By providing innovation, beverage manufacturers can help their brands to stand out from the competition on the store shelves, Frishman adds.

Growing expectations

Although consumers’ on-the-go lifestyles can influence beverage-makers’ cap and closure selections, they also expect these products to provide a handful of other solutions, experts say.

Caps and closures are an aspect of a beverage’s packaging with which consumers frequently interact, which makes meeting these needs exceedingly important, Crown’s Heath says. “Consumer demand continues to be a critical driver for packaging innovation, including closures. Beverage packaging, in particular, needs to be convenient due to its grab-and-go nature. Closures have a lot to offer in this area,” she explains. “For example, improving openability, primarily by reducing opening torques, has been a goal for the closures industry for a long time and remains an area of focus for continued improvement. That is because the opening experience is critical, since it is often the first way consumers interact with a brand. If consumers cannot open the container easily, they are unlikely to enjoy the product and may instead turn to another brand out of frustration.”

World Bottling Cap’s Frishman also notes the importance of openability. “It all depends on the manufacturer’s location in the world, but ease-of-opening and innovations continue to be beverage-makers’ request for caps and closures,” he says.

Crown’s Heath adds that safety is another aspect for which consumers and beverage-makers are looking. “Metal closures serve as a barrier against oxygen, ensuring that the freshness, flavor and nutritional value of the drink are maintained,” she says. “The airtight vacuum seal also releases a distinctive ‘pop’ during the initial opening. This sound is a unique way for packaging to connect with consumers and has come to convey a message of security. The ‘pop’ is a reassurance that the merchandise has not been tampered with and assures consumers that they are going to enjoy a fresh and flavorful product.”

Sustainability and convenience also are having an impact on the caps and closures industry, according to Frishman and Heath.

In addition to their functional properties, caps and closures also offer beverage-makers with unique branding opportunities, Heath says.
“[C]losures are one of the areas of packaging that consumers interact with most often, making them prime real estate for branding and messaging and a vehicle to boost shelf appeal,” she explains.

Brands can utilize myriad decoration and printing enhancements, as well as embossing and de-bossing, to provide consumers a unique experience with their product, she adds. “Brands can also opt to print their logo on the central panel of a closure to build brand awareness or leverage the closure’s ‘skirt’ to print special messages and maximize the space used to engage consumers. Printing text or QR codes under the cap is another way closures can be used to highlight promotions and messaging and capture consumer attention,” she says.

AptarGroup’s Philbois echoes similar sentiments. “On top of differentiation through design and colors, the caps and closures can be a tool for the brand,” he says. “Being able to offer a spill-proof sports closure can be a strong selling point for a beverage brand.”

With the vast amount of options available to beverage-makers, Crown’s Heath notes that collaboration with a packaging partner is essential. “Today, there are almost as many closure varieties as there are types of packaging. Each addresses a different need, from improved performance, such as tamper-evident, dispensing or child-resistant closures, to convenience with screw-top, crown caps or snap-on caps,” she says. “The key is being open with your packaging partner and discussing topics such as how the consumer will use the closure, what the shelf life of the product should be and whether there are any specific challenges to take into consideration, such as an elderly consumer base. All of these pieces of information will help ensure the right closure solution is chosen.”

Innovative offerings

AptarGroup’s portfolio can accommodate cold-, hot- or aseptically filled products. Most recently, the company introduced its new Advantage closure that utilizes its SimpliSqueeze Valve technology as well as its Stay-With feature, which tethers the cap to the bottle, Philbois explains. The technology is being used in Europe, he adds.

“Another innovation we developed for this closure is the tamper evidence with [a] removable, no-tear strip,” he says. “This is just the first of several new developments that we are designing to meet future needs.”

Philbois adds that the SimpliSqueeze Valve, Stay-With feature and no-tear tamper evidence strip can be combined in several ways depending on a beverage-maker’s needs.

Crown also has embraced the power of technology for its innovative new offerings, Heath says.

“Crown has collaborated with Everything to help beverage brand owners harness the power of Internet of Things (IoT) technology by embedding real-time, connected digital intelligence into billions of everyday consumer packaged goods (CPGs),” she explains. “As part of this groundbreaking collaboration in smart packaging for CPG products, Crown will print serialized codes on metal closures that can be scanned by smartphones at the point of manufacture. These ‘digital triggers’ are integrated with the Everything IoT Smart Products Platform, giving each physical beverage package a unique software identity and data profile in the Cloud. The combination of smart packaging powered by smart software in the Cloud makes billions of packaged goods more intelligent, more interactive, more traceable and more valuable to CPG companies and their customers.”

The company also offers a full range of metal and composite closures, Heath says. “We also offer capping equipment as well as robust technical and mechanical support,” she says.

World Bottling Cap’s Easy Pull Bottle Cap is offered as a 27- or a 21-corrugated crown and provides the ease of opening a bottle without a bottle opener by utilizing a ring-pull and tab, Frishman says. “Trends within the beverage industry include convenience, ease of opening and reduction of materials,” he explains. “By using the Easy Pull Bottle Cap (EPBC), the consumer can open the bottle anywhere, anytime and without the need of an opener. Simply lift, pull and enjoy. For the bottler, the EPBC ensures the flavor of the product by keeping oxygen out and [carbon dioxide] (CO2) in and providing an exciting innovation for opening a bottle.”

Frishman adds that the EPBC uses a tinplate crown that utilizes a food safe and compliant liner, which incorporates a patented and enhanced biodegradable additive that allows that entire bottle cap and liner to fully degrade.

The company also offers its Reduced Gauge Crown, wine and Champagne crowns, and a medical ring pull crown, Frishman says. BI