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Differentiation drives demand

In a mature market, brand owners need to make their products stand out and glass has the class to do just that, while lightweight offerings have further improved its environmental status. Jo Hunter reports

Glass packaging accounts for 60% of all glass production in the UK and in comparision with the rest of Europe remains relatively static. New research values the UK market at £622.7m and the short-term prospects are for modest growth, albeit at marginal levels. According to research firm Market & Business Development, business should grow to £658.8m by 2011, which at 2006 prices anticipates real growth of 6%.

How the industry will achieve this in a sector in which basic manufacturing technology has changed little in 20 years is the key. MBD and industry insiders believe demand will be driven by brand owners developing premium product lines to achieve product differentiation in an increasingly mature market.

Brewer Coors has for some time focused its efforts on creativity and innovation – it went through a sweeping corporate culture change ten years ago. The most recent evidence of this in the UK is the new common bottle design, also a lightweight project, for its Grolsch, Carling and Coors brands, which won Silver in this year’s Starpack Awards for innovation in glass packaging.

David Wiggins, head of packaging, dispense and graphics at Coors UK, says what began as a Containerlite project on the Grolsch bottle developed into a wider ranging review. “The first challenge was to get a lightweight shape, so we started looking at the traditional bottle,” he told a seminar at Auspack 2007. “We took 4,500 tonnes of glass out of that container – quite an achievement, and the engineers had done a really good job. But that wasn’t where we wanted to end up. What could we do with that bottle by being creative to get it to a place where we could push the consumer boundaries and use less glass?”

Using an eye-tracking tool from Leeds University, Coors set up three demonstrations for each of the bottle shapes with six lager bottles on a shelf.

They were able to identify hot spots that scored a high number of eye fixations, which included the Grolsch label. Research showed it was the strength of the design that consumers were looking at and that that caused disruption on the shelf, not the size of the bottle.

“We’ve learned from the consumer work that look is more important than size or height and that strong branding is what consumers look for, and they were attracted by differences not similarities,” Wiggins says. Coors reduced the diameter to make it slimmer, took the front label off and embossed it in the glass, and put on a wraparound silver background top label.

Wiggins says in addition to the saving on glass, the company also saved on the cost of the label, sized the bottle for the pallet rather than hand feel and optimised the diameter to make the best use of the outbound cube in distribution. The design was then applied to the Carling and Coors containers, keeping the neck label the same shape on all three bottles.

The bottles, manufactured by Owens-Illinois and Ardagh – the combined Rockware and Rexam glass business that merged earlier this year – weigh 190g, compared with 220g. With glass savings of 10,000 tonnes a year for all three brands and the pallet optimisation leading to lower transport emissions, the new bottles also won a Silver Starpack award in the category for best innovation to reduce waste.

Coors was beaten to gold in both categories by Adnams’ lightweight 500ml ale bottles produced by O-I, which were the first bottles of the type to weigh less than 300g, more than 40g lighter than previous lightweight bottles and 100g lighter than other beers in the 500ml category.

O-I has also designed and produced a 300ml glass bottle for UK filling of leading premium Spanish lager San Miguel. The amber bottle will be available alongside the existing 330ml pack and is said to give Scottish and Newcastle more flexibility when putting together multi-pack options for supermarket sales.

Paul McLavin, O-I sales manager in the UK says: “Around 40% of beer is now sold through the off-trade and, with drinks’ companies and government health agencies seeking to make consumers more aware of alcohol intake, smaller pack sizes make it easier to regulate drinking patterns.”

In March, brand owners, bottle manufacturers, retailers and technology experts teamed up for a new one-year project under the Waste & Resources Action Programme to cut 20,000 tonnes of glass from beer, cider and spirit packaging by the Spring of 2008. Scottish & Newcastle, Anheuser Busch, Coors UK, SAB Miller, Whyte & MacKay, Hall & Woodhouse, Fullers and Robinsons are among the industry participants, and the project also involves supermarket chain Morrisons and O-I, Ardagh, Allied Glass, Beatson Clark and Quinn Glass.

WRAP says that if each glass container in the UK were 10% lighter, 250,000 tonnes less glass would be required each year. Carbon emissions would also be reduced by 180,000 tonnes.

The Adnams bottle, which was already under development, was the first commercial application of O-I’s narrow-neck press and blow in lightweight glass technology.

Blow and blow manufacturing, which shapes with air, is considered to make the strongest containers. Press and blow can make very strong containers, but can also impart small particles from the surface of the plunger used to press the glass into shape before the final pack is blown out. Narrow-neck press and blow has the same potential problems, but it can produce taller, more refined bottles with narrower necks, which fit well with lightweight designs.

Ardagh spokesman Nigel Keenlyside says NNPB is not new, but what is now developing is its application. “Narrow-neck press and blow was developed in the 1980s. The technique was seen as the Holy Grail of using less glass while maintaining the integrity of the bottle and therefore cutting costs. The critical factor is distributing the pressure across the whole surface. We have been doing that for years, but it is now a matter of how efficiently we can do this.”

Ardagh Glass is now Europe’s third largest glass container supplier, after doubling its size with the acquisition of Rexam’s glass container business for e660m in June. It added 13 glass plants to the nine it operates in Germany, Italy, Poland and the UK, and now has 18% of the European market. Ardagh produced the world’s lightest 70cl spirits bottle for the Co-Op and its own-label finest blend Scotch Whisky at 298g. The Co-Op says it plans to move its own-label gin and vodka into the same bottles in a move it says will save around 20 tonnes of glass a year.

Keenlyside says: “Eventually you will hit a barrier; not only in the physical integrity of the bottle, but also one created by the consumer and the brand owner. They will begin to question what the bottle actually is. Glass has a premium feel and touch to it, and if that is lost then there will be a question over the container.”

This has been seen in the introduction of PET wine bottles and wine in pouch packs.

Proponents say there is no difference in quality and taste when compared to the traditional bottled wine, although with shelf life reduced to 12-24 months, the product is designed for early drinking. The latest plastic designs take up only two thirds of the space of the traditional glass bottle and a 12-pack carton in the new packaging weighs 9.8kg compared with 19kg for a carton of glass wine bottles. The empty packs can also be flattened. In other drink sectors a 10g PET bottle developed two years ago has now been reduced to 5g for a capacity of 100ml dairy drink, which is intended to replace HDPE containers.

Keenlyside says, however, that research shows PET bottles would have an uphill battle to gain market share in the alcoholic beverage sector. “Ardagh has conducted consumer tests and people just do not like the taste and feel of wine or spirits from a plastic container.” He believes that how technology is applied, rather than competition from other materials, is the key issue facing glass manufacturers, both on NNPB lightweighting and other manufacturing methods and products. He describes it as “customer science rather than customer service”. “In the past, a customer might come in with his designer wanting 3m bottles and to fill them on a fast-moving line. Sometimes you just had to say ‘sorry, it just won’t work’,” he says.

Ardagh has been applying new modelling technology to create realistic 3D prototypes, expand the complexity of the design, shorten lead times and improve quality. Shaping the contours of a glass container is becoming more important in brand differentation. Designers have turned their attention to the cross-section of a bottle, looking for interesting and complex shapes. O-I, for example, has produced a 330ml amber glass conical bottle with eight angular faces for a premium ale. These developments have to be carefully considered, not only for the integrity of the bottle, but also as alterations to the cross-section can affect stability along a filling line.

Ardagh’s Keenlyside says: “Our way is to work with everyone in the chain from research, design, production, logistics, warehousing and retail. We work with consumer research, design, CAD CAM technology and software to study shape – perhaps they want a container that has a more feminine touch, colour and tactility – while simultaneously making packs fit for purpose. Advances in design and prototyping have really been quite startling, allowing a faster, smoother route to market.”

While people within the industry and the retail sector believe the design process and greater use of NNPB technology will be important, and recycling is an ever-present issue, there are other clear trends and issues at the forefront in the glass sector. Embossing is making a return. An established addition to brands like Grolsch and used for features such as the iconic Anheuser Busch eagle, embossing is becoming more popular as a design enhancement. Secondary decoration also continues to gain popularity, along with the no-label look and coating which, although a smaller market, is also continuing to expand.

An MBD spokesman says: “Demand is expected to continue to benefit from manufacturers developing premium product lines to achieve differentiation in an increasingly mature market. The properties of glass fit this profile well and the stability of the economy is likely to afford sustained opportunities for these premium market sectors to continue.”


Contact details

Ardagh
T: +44 (0) 1977 674111; www.ardaghglass.com

Coors
T: +44 (0) 1283 513860; www.coorsbrewers.com

MBD
Tel: +44 (0) 161 236 6845; www.mbdltd.co.uk

Owens-Illinois
T: +44 (0) 1279 422222; www.o-i.com

WRAP
Tel: +44 (0) 1295 819900; www.wrap.org.uk

Ardagh has conducted consumer tests and says people just do not like the taste and feel of wine or spirits from a plastic container Ardagh has conducted consumer tests and says people just do not like the taste and feel of wine or spirits from a plastic container The smaller pack size of O-I’s 300ml glass bottle for San Miguel is said to make it easier to regulate drinking patterns The smaller pack size of O-I’s 300ml glass bottle for San Miguel is said to make it easier to regulate drinking patterns Lightweighting is a hot topic and embossing is making a return Lightweighting is a hot topic and embossing is making a return Ardagh Glass is now Europe’s third largest glass container supplier, having doubled its size with the acquisition of Rexam’s glass container business for €660m in June Ardagh Glass is now Europe’s third largest glass container supplier, having doubled its size with the acquisition of Rexam’s glass container business for €660m in June