Because of the pandemic, experts in the prognostication business have noted that beverages that boost immunity will be in high demand. However, the proliferation of immune-boosting beverages doesn’t just affect the liquid, but also affects its packaging as well.

“Aging consumers who once regularly consumed 2-liter carbonated beverages are now more health- conscious and looking for food and beverages that contain more nutritional value,” says Henry Zhang, director of marketing and market intelligence of rigid packaging for Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., Bolton, Ontario. “This increased awareness has driven multiple changes to market offerings, whether it’s smaller packages or more varieties of functional beverages with infused vitamins, minerals and supplements. This requires packages to be designed and manufactured to better protect this sensitive content.”

Zhang notes that Husky offers its Multi-Layer Technology for plastic packaging, which provides oxygen, carbon dioxide or a light barrier to keep beverages fresh and nutrient rich.

“The ability to precisely dose the barrier layer and adjust the content range enhances package shelf life, while providing a potential savings of up to 50 percent on barrier material costs for some applications,” he adds.

Jon Larson, director of sales for PET technologies at Krones Inc., Franklin, Wis., also notes how functional beverage trends are impacting the manufacture of plastic bottle packaging.

“There has been growth in low-acid and aseptic applications,” he says. “Our Contipure DN AseptBloc was recently approved by the FDA, and we see tremendous growth opportunity for this technology because of this trend. There has also been a growth in hygienic design, without sacrificing longer production runs and quick product changeovers.”

Speedy delivery

Beyond the proliferation of functional beverages, suppliers also highlight that the methods by which consumers are purchasing products is having an effect on plastic bottle manufacturing.

“The emergence of COVID-19 has turned same-day home delivery, drive-up grocery services, and other digital shopping services from a convenience into a necessity,” Husky’s Zhang says. “This has created a rapidly growing need for eCommerce that brings a wealth of new challenges and opportunities. Brand owners and plastic packaging producers must respond to market demands in a much faster way and change products more quickly to meet changing preferences. Faster package redesign and speed-to-market for new products are key to gaining a premium position and growing market share.”

To support this shift, Zhang explains that the company’s Next Generation Operating Model is a digitalized, end-to-end manufacturing system that enables the speed and flexibility that is required of today’s packaging equipment manufacturers.

“This system enables hardware to be configured through a web interface and then produced in a state-of-the-art laboratory through an automated process, enabling our customers to quickly and effectively respond to consumer demands,” he says.

Krones’ Larson notes that all the shifts resulting from the pandemic also is placing greater responsibility on today’s beverages manufacturers.

“This pandemic has put a spotlight on how well equipment owners and manufacturers react and adapt to a major economic interruption,” he says. “More responsibility has been put on the beverage-maker to perform at a higher level regarding troubleshooting and maintenance. There has also been strain on the equipment supplier to have parts and technicians available while dealing with travel and manufacturing interruptions. A beverage manufacturer should evaluate which suppliers navigated these challenges best or who, by going through this, has made the proper changes to better handle it if it comes again.”

Plastic bottles’ revolution

Like many industries, plastic bottle manufacturing has seen the growing influence that sustainability is having on the market. As such, suppliers are looking to be part of the solution.

“Because consumers are more environmentally conscious, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability is something they are increasingly demanding of the brands they choose to purchase from,” Husky’s Zhang says. “Brands are responding with bold commitments to sustainable, eco-friendly products and packaging solutions. Sustainability has become a predominant theme in the plastics packaging industry. Maximizing the use of recyclable and post-consumer resin (PCR), as well as making packages lighter, is in strong demand now and will continue to be in the years ahead.”

Zhang notes that the company has noticed two key trends: reduction in virgin plastic use and increase in PCR.

“A recent development is our new lightweighted 26/22 neck and closure system that can save up to 30 percent on resin use and reduce the carbon output of every preform and closure produced by 6 grams,” Zhang says in reference to the company’s efforts to reduce the use of virgin resin. “In conjunction with this is our new tethered closure design that complies with European legislation around single-use-plastic containers.”

The company also is supporting the proliferation of PCR. “Our latest-generation systems can not only increase the percentage of PCR content in each package but [also] enable the ability to manage different grades of PCR, while still being able to produce high-quality parts,” Zhang says.

Krones also recognized the impact sustainability was having when it developed Contiform 3 Speed, which maximizes output while reducing energy consumption, Larson says.

In comparison to the Contiform 3 Pro blow molder, Contiform 3 Speed uses 15 percent less energy, the company says.

However, sustainability is not the only revolution that suppliers forecast as impacting the plastic bottle market. Like many other industries, digital solutions look to be a larger part of the future.

“The future is going to be revolutionized by digitalization,” Zhang explains. “It will influence what consumers buy, how these products are delivered and how we communicate. Producers who want to remain competitive will integrate digitalization into their operations to not only streamline and automate the manufacturing process, but to also make transactions with customers faster and more convenient.

“Lower-volume, shorter-lifecycle products will also be more popular as consumers demand more variety,” he continues. “Producers will need to continue moving forward to not only deliver on the demand for more diverse food and beverage options, but also on the sustainability front to create a truly efficient, circular economy for plastics. All of these factors will play a big part in influencing how we design our new technologies.”