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The packaging materials are competing against each other for the biggest swig of the soft drinks sector. Louise Hunt reports on developments across glass, board, metal and plastics

Glass

Glass is holding up well in Europe, says Pira, although it is under increasing pressure from developments in PET. For all the beverage markets, demand for glass bottles is thought to have fallen in the UK and Italy, while across other markets there has been a small increase in usage, with Spanish sales up by 3.6%. Further growth is anticipated in France and the Netherlands.

Chairman of Glasspac Andy Hartley explains how the premium image of glass is helping it to compete for market share in the soft drinks sector.

“Both plastics and cans have made major in-roads as the volume packaging material for soft drinks but reports of the demise of glass are, in the words of Mark Twain, “somewhat premature”.

In fact, I would argue that in the next five years the volume of soft drinks packaged in glass is set to rise. This will be driven by three factors: consumer preference, improvements in glass technology and a recognition by brand owners that glass can help build their brands like no other packaging format.

These three factors will mean glass is well placed to take advantage of the growing market for soft drinks, a market in which premium products packaged in glass will play a key role.

Energy drinks, adult juice and bottled water are all premium sectors best suited to glass packaging and sectors where glass continues to play a major role with brands like Tsunami, Amé, Purdys and Caledonian Clear.

Brand owners freely admit that glass can deliver attributes of quality and purity to their brands and these are factors that are hugely important to these growing sectors of the soft drinks market. Technical develop-ments in glass production have also increased the appeal of glass. Glass is lighter and stronger than ever before and advanced technology enables bottles to be manufac-tured using less glass which has obvious benefits in terms of ease of handling and reduced production costs.

New techniques allow glass to offer better brand definition than other packaging materials – logos can be embossed onto bottles, either in relief or as a debossed impression, giving prod-ucts a tactile finish. Progress in pressure sensitive labelling tech-niques means that products packaged in glass can now have the ‘no-label’ look, while the flexibility of shrink sleeves enable products to be branded from top to bottom.

A recent example has been Coca-Cola, where Rockware Glass was able to give the iconic contour bottle a seasonal look with the use of a specially designed festive sleeve. Rexam Glass is undertaking similar work for a World Cup version of the bottle, which features members of the England squad and the England flag in an eye-catching sleeve design from Decorative Sleeves.

One of the most dramatic improvements in glass design is the lead-time from concept to finished product. Designs which would have normally taken months to go from the drawing board to finished product can now be completed in a matter of weeks with the use of advanced CAD (Computer Aided Design) packages. These allow 3-D modelling and designs to be tested for strength and performance using the very latest software, reducing overall lead times enormously.

The third factor that will see a growth in the popularity of glass is the consumer. Glass remains consumers’ preferred packaging with 64% saying that food and drink tastes better out of glass. According to research from Glasspac, the packaging promotions arm of the glass industry, there is a clear consumer preference for glass:

  • 72 % believe glass is more natural than other packaging materials

  • 67% believe using glass is better for the environment than other forms of packaging

  • 66% of respondents prefer drinking from a glass bottle rather than a plastics container

  • 65% of consumers believe packag-ing products in glass suggests quality

  • 71% of consumers prefer to see glass bottles on the table rather than plastics containers

  • 75% of people believe glass bottles are more attractive than plastics containers

  • 67% of those questioned prefer the feel of glass to plastics bottles
  • "Some may think this is all speculation but there have been several recent examples of brands recognising the value of glass," concludes Mr Hartley.

    One of the most eye-catching examples is the special-edition ‘end-of-the-year’ Evian bottle. The ability of glass to produce more extreme shapes than PET enabled BSN Glass Pack to develop a sculpted water-drop shaped pack, designed to be seen as a “work of art” and fit to become a collector’s item.

    The bottle features a deep blue top and graphics on the base in blue shades depicting the Evian mountains which are a strong element of the brand identity, while ‘Evian 2002’ is directly printed in gold.

    BSN Glass Pack, mainland Europe’s second largest glass producer after Saint Gobain, offers a range of decoration and shaping techniques particularly suited to adding-value to premium soft drinks products and so-called gourmet waters.

    Glass was again chosen when mineral water production returned after a lapse of 30 years to England’s oldest spa town in North Yorkshire. Harrogate Spa Water, launched this Spring, is being produced into 300 and 750ml bottles for the grocery and food service trade from Rockware Glass.

    Available in still or sparkling, Rockware has given Harrogate Spa Water a modern identity featuring a distinctive black and silver livery with acrobats incorporated into the label design and embossed into the shoulders of the glass bottles.

    The acrobat design was chosen to support the healthy lifestyle image of the brand with the embossed figures depicting a different stage of a cart-wheel. When the bottle is rotated an animation effect is achieved.

    Board

    Quite apart from the delicate image of glass, cartons tend to be associated with commodity products. Yet their ubiquitous presence coupled with developments in graphics, closures and aseptic filling may just be keeping carton’s head above water as market figures take a dip.

    According to Pira, demand for liquid cartons in key Western European markets fell by 3% between 1996 and 2001 to 21.3bn units, as market share was lost to plastics containers due to declining milk consumption. Usage levels across juices and milk are forecast to decline further by 2.5% to 20.8bn units despite continued growth in sales to producers of juices and drinks, which are set to increase by 8% to 8.59bn units. Within the liquid cartons sector, however, aseptic packaging is set to register continued gains across fruit juices. Eastern European market share is also expected to grow.

    Tetra Pak category manager [beverages] Susan Frame lists the positive qualities of the liquid carton that should help prolong its long life:

  • Product preserving qualities
  • In particular, aseptic cartons which will preserve the product for up to one year without the need for additives or preservatives

  • Strong on shelf presence
  • The form of the package allows for excellent design coverage and brand identification with the consumer.

  • Distribution and logistics advantages
  • Before filling, the majority of cartons are distributed in reels to the manufacturers. This minimises the amount of space taken up by the packaging material in transportation and storage. The shape of the carton once filled is highly efficient in distribution compared to other packaging types.

  • Consumer functionality
  • Cartons have been continually improved over recent years and are appreciated by the consumer for their functionality in terms of opening, pouring, handling and reclosing.

    A launch that says a lot about the liquid carton market is the introduction of US company Welch’s grape and fruit blend juice range in 1-litre Tetra Brik Aseptic Slim ReCap cartons.

    Previously, the juices had been packed in glass bottles and were seen as very much a niche product. Wanting to capitalise on the current health-drinks drive, which has helped grape juice become the fifth largest variant sector, Welch’s decided to re-launch the range aiming to promote it as a far more mainstream product.

    When asked why cartons were chosen over glass Jo Wren, marketing manager of manufacturer Gerber Foods commented: “Glass is not the right proposition to make this a mainstream product. We believe cartons have more mainstream appeal in the chilled and ambient retail environments.”

    Other recent juice develop-ments for Tetra have included the launch of the Cirio Del Monte exotic world fruit range into a 1-litre Tetra Brik with Tetra SpinCap and Calypso Soft Drinks’ first venture into organic juices packed into a 250ml carton.

    A new Tetra packaging system is also in the pipeline that is set to offer a different shape of Tetra carton for liquid packaging.

    The 150ml aseptic carton produced on a Rexam Combibloc (now named Sig Combibloc) is proving a popular choice for the Fruitique Smoothie, aimed at the airline industry.

    Production at Fruitique is set to increase by 50% with the addition of a 1-litre Combibloc filling line to its existing single-serve aseptic filling system.

    Cartons also appear to be making the right impression in the strengthening nutraceutical drinks market. The 250ml Tetra Prisma Aseptic carton was chosen for the April launch of PWRTek protein drink from UK Fayrefield FoodTec. Other nutraceutical brands packed in cartons include Finish Valio Evolus and Pro Viva from Sweden. The carton trend may continue as developments are made into the ‘liquid breakfast’ that combines the nutrients of a breakfast into one drink.

    Metal

    As more emphasis is placed on creating packs with ‘personality’, the can industry has had to re-think ways of maximising pack potential. Caroline Archer-Reed, marketing director, Crown Bevcan Europe, explains some of the developments:

  • Canned soft drinks remain an ever present and popular sight the length and breadth of super-market shelves across Europe. However, increased competition from other types of packaging, continuing market consolidation and new consumer drinking habits, are forcing can-makers to work harder than ever to ensure that their product remains at the forefront of the industry. For Crown Cork & Seal, the solution lies in proactively developing new products, improving manufacturing processes, being even more cost-effective and strength-ening the customer inter-face.
  • Recent figures issued by Canadean, the leading body for beverage research across the globe, point to impressive growth in the sector. The last five years have seen the market for packaged drinks in Europe grow by 11%, with beverage cans registering an impressive 14%.

    Indeed, Beverage Can Makers Europe reports can shipments in Europe reaching 38bn cans in 2001 (an increase of 7% or 3bn additional cans compared to 2000).

    This excellent performance has been mainly driven by Eastern Europe, which has seen more than 30% growth, and Iberia (Spain and Portugal), which accounted for 5.7bn cans (+12%). Encouragingly, this performance has also been mirrored by the UK which, after a disappointing period, has finished 2001 with a 4% increase.

    Crown has been quick to respond to these developments. July 2002 will see the opening of a new $40M beverage can plant in Seville which will serve key Iberian customers and leave scope to satisfy further future demand.

    However encouraging these developments may be, can-makers simply cannot afford to be complacent. The battle for shelf space and ultimately market share in the soft drinks market has never been so crucial. As a result, the can has had to rapidly evolve. It is now no longer a passive vehicle for holding the product, rather a dynamic, integrated marketing tool used to enhance brand image, build brand loyalty, advertise the product, create desire and stimulate sales with promotions.

    To unlock the can’s true potential, more than ever can-makers are working closely with their customers to create innovative and ground-breaking solutions. At Crown, this activity has led to several major developments that have impacted on the market place in 2002 alone.

    March saw Crown at the forefront of the launch of the world’s first ever shaped can for the soft drinks market. A new ‘waisted’ easy-grip format can was developed for innovative energy drink manufacturer, Silver Arrow’s Spiked Silver product. Distributed across the UK, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and South Africa, this new can not only proved a world first, but also perfectly exemplified the unrivalled opportunities offered by shaped cans to communicate and ultimately enhance brand values through eye-catching and tactile design.

    A further pivotal development in the sector was to be the two-stage product development process, designed to revolutionise our promotional end offer. Under the new offer, Crown can now produce filled tabs, which can be coloured, incised or etched with a special laser application to create exceptionally high quality, finely detailed designs. This capability significantly increases the scope for promotional oppor-tunities afforded by cans. The use of lasers enables Crown to deliver fine detailed text – from images and logos to sequential numbers.

    This gives a much broader range of possibilities for promotional activities such as instant win type campaigns, tab collection schemes and tie in or co-branding promotions. The etching can be hidden or visible on the tab. This offers customers a unique way of differentiating their brands, both internally and externally.

    Looking further back, last year saw a revolutionary new self-heating can for coffee hit British supermarket shelves and this year will see efforts across the globe continue to develop a self-chilling counterpart.

    With soft drinks, manu-facturers increasingly mov-ing away from mass marketing and advertising to a more direct form of communication through packaging, the future for soft drinks in cans looks bright. With sales likely to be buoyant once again this year, the market is set to become one of the fastest growing worldwide.”

    Rexam Beverage Can is also adding to the developments in the can sector. At the end of 2001 it produced the first can in the Euro-pean market to incorporate coloured UV fluorescent ink with matt over-varnish for Britvic’s new 250ml Carbon energy drink.

    Other key de-velopments include a thermo-sensitive ink that changes colour when the can con-tents are cold enough to drink. Tactile inks and coatings are also in the pipeline

    to help differen-tiate premium brands while work on em-bossing and shaping and fluting con-tinues.

    Schmalbach-Lubeca, the first producer to offer asep-tic filling for cans, is plan-ning to instal an aseptic can filling line at Dutch dairy firm Refresco during mid-2003. It is claimed that this is will be the first unit of its type in the world to operate on a commercially relevant scale. The planned capacity is between 150-180M beverage cans a year. Customers will be able to use the patented technology to have functional drinks filled into steel or aluminium cans on a contract basis, eliminating the need for high capital investment.

    Plastics

    It is being suggested that plastics, particularly PET, may become the biggest threat to all material sectors in the soft drinks market. Pira figures reveal overall consumption of PET across soft drinks in key Western European markets to have grown by 71% between 1996 and 2001 to 49.3bn units. Increased consumption of carbonates and particularly bottled waters has been a major growth factor.

    As demand for carbonates begins to slow, usage levels will grow at a slower rate, although consumption is nevertheless set to reach 63.8bn units by 2006, representing an increase of 21% on 2001.

    Elopak marketing manager Peter Barnes explains the reasons for PET’s growing popularity.

    “Today PET possesses an array of packaging benefits, making it the most likely contender for drinks in the next decade:

  • Glass like, premium look

  • Extremely strong

  • Suffers no consumer complaints such as leakage and difficult opening

  • Recycling bottle to bottle makes closed loop for manufacture possible

  • Unique mouldable shapes permit brand individuality

  • Advanced closures – some brands even build their image around the closure, eg Robinsons Fruit Shoots
  • PET is now profiting from improvements in gas barriers, aseptic and hot filling techniques, oxygen scavenging plus excellent tamper evidence. Only milk is less able to benefit from this list, as it needs higher UV protection for its highly sensitive vitamins.

    But new product development in the long-life juice and soft drinks sectors is being liberated by an uninhibited use of PET aseptic and non-carbonated packaging.”

    Schmalbach-Lubeca is one company at the forefront of such developments. This Spring it del-ivered its first PET container for aseptically filled 100% fruit juice and juice/water mixes to Rapp’s Kelterei (Germany) and San Gemini (Italy).

    The process adapts multi-layer technology based on barriers already in use with PET beer bottles. It offers a shelf-life of up to nine months at ambient temper-atures.

    The company hopes to corner the growing market for aseptically filled fruit juices which are said to better retain vitamins and flavours than those that have undergone hot-filling.

    Another refreshing develop-ment is for Vilsa Mineralbrunnen which is launching an oxygen-enriched water. Schmalbach devel-oped a multi-layered PET container with passive barriers to maintain the high oxygen content.

    An advanced barrier material for PET has become available from Owens-Illinois Plastics Group, Food and Beverage Products. Named SurShield barrier, it is said to be 35-45% more effective at preventing permeation of carbon dioxide, compared to previous formu-lations.

    Its increased efficiency means less barrier material is needed, helping to reduce package costs. SurShield also opens up the possibility of a wider range of beverage products in smaller sized packages.

    An alternative to PET is emerging through the use of plastics additives from Milliken Chemical along with improvements in the ISBM process.

    The company claims that by adding its Millad 3988 Clarifying agent to PP it can produce comparable clarity and mechanical properties to PET at a lower cost. The process is suitable for hot-filled non-carbonated drinks.

    Milliken has begun an active programme with leading beverage companies around the world.

    Take up so far has been with mineral water companies in Asia and Latin America.

    It is now setting its sights on Europe and the USA.