#1 Coca-Cola: Still soft but not so bubbly

Once again, Coca-Cola Co. has made its way to the top as Food & Beverage Packaging’s No. 1 beverage packager in the world. You probably expected that. However, to be a worldwide player requires constantly being in the game. Coca-Cola is the world’s largest carbonated soft drink manufacturer, responsible for 1.5 billion beverage servings consumed worldwide daily. It’s no easy feat to stay on top: The non-alcoholic beverage industry is highly competitive.

Organic growth continues to build company coffers. During 2007, the company introduced several new products, including Dasani Plus enhanced water beverages, Vanilla Coke Zero and the Minute Maid Enhanced Juice line.

But acquisitions play a role, too. The company bought Fuze Beverage LLC, maker of Fuze fortified beverages, enhanced water, tea-flavored beverages, and sports and fruit drinks; Leao Junior S.A., a Brazilian herbal beverage company; and Energy Brands Inc., also known as glacéau, maker of enhanced water brands, such as vitaminwater, fruitwater and smartwater, and vitaminenergy.

This is a good thing: 2007 was a rough year for carbonated soft drinks, as well as bottled water (due to sustainability concerns with polyethylene terephthalate water bottles), so flavored and enhanced waters can keep consumers smiling when it comes to knowing that what they drink is healthy.

Coca-Cola was no stranger to the coffee market, either. The company performed joint ventures with Caribou Coffee and Illy to release its own ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee products, collaborating with Ball Corp. to package Caribou’s product in a 12-ounce Alumi-Tek aluminum bottle.

Coca-Cola also released two new innovations. The first is a 20-ounce Coke polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle, which provides easier grip while using 20% less material. The second is perhaps the most fascinating packaging innovation the company has to offer: the resealable can top, also developed by Ball, which is featured on Coca-Cola’s French energy drink, Burn. The can end features an integrated flat plastic opening mechanism that maintains traditional look and stackability, and also doesn’t affect aluminum recycling due to its small size.

“Intensive research was carried out to deliver a consumer oriented solution,” says Coca-Cola France marketing manager Vincent Bouin. “The resealable end marks a major advance in beverage packaging, and the French Trade….welcomed the innovation with enthusiasm.”

The company works hard at sustainability efforts, using recycled-content PET in more than 17 markets worldwide, as well as recycled material to make up half the material in its aluminum cans. It financially assists recovery and collection systems from around the world, is a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and works with community recycling organizations.

Coca-Cola is also building the world’s largest plastic bottle-to-bottle recycling plant, in conjunction with United Resource Recovery Corp, which is expected to be operational in 2009. It will produce about 100 million pounds of food-grade recycled PET for reuse each year, the equivalent of nearly two billion 20-ounce bottles.  F&BP