In August 2012, United Dairy, an independent family-owned dairy with plants in Martins Ferry, Ohio, Charleston, West Virginia, and Uniontown, Pennsylvania, quietly began a trial run of a new gallon jug produced in its Martins Ferry facility and rolled it out without fanfare to eight of its retail customers. Some in-store consumer polling was conducted and was uniformly positive, which encouraged United Dairy to move forward in January 2013 to full implementation at all three of its plants. Since then, United Dairy has produced 80 million of its new EGOJUG™ gallon beverage containers and saved 1.7 million pounds of HDPE plastic over the ensuing twenty-two month period.
Mid-America Machining, Inc., a Brooklyn, MI-based manufacturer of extrusion blow molds and tooling, invested heavily into the design and developed its patented jug and tooling over a two-year period through multiple design iterations. The primary goals of the development were to significantly reduce the amount of HDPE needed per unit, while integrating other design advantages and minimizing the operational changes that dairy plants would have to endure.
The average industry bottle weight ranges from 60-62 grams, but the new Mid-America patented design weighs only 52 grams. "Having a customer as committed to making the new bottle succeed as United Dairy has been is the key to this industry breakthrough," states Peter Lobbestael, vice president of Sales for Mid-America Machining. Lobbestael went on to say, "We believe that we have achieved all of our stated objectives with the development effort, and the feedback we received from United Dairy was instrumental to our success."
United Dairy, which sells branded and private label milk and other dairy beverages to retailers in nine states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Maryland), decided to brand the gallon bottle used for its own United Dairy beverages as EGOJUG™. "After two years of experience, it is clear that the market has embraced the new bottle shape," says James Carson, vice president of United Dairy. "We have been pleased with the ease ECOJUG™ has been accepted by consumers and retailers. One huge reason is that despite differences in our three plants, the new bottle that Mid-America designed has fit effortlessly into all our systems, from blow molding, through conveying, to capping, loading, and distributing."
According to Tim Griglack, director of operations for United Dairy, "The ECOJUG™ has performed very well with our standard Silgan Plastic Solutions Closures Neck Finish and has been very well received. The ECOJUG™ is blow molded on our existing blow molding equipment, which did not require any modifications other than installing the Mid-America designed and patented molds and tooling. Leakers have been dramatically minimized. Also, milk crating, which is still the most economical way to distribute product, has required zero changes. A surprising benefit of the conversion that we did not anticipate is the fact we have actually increased production throughput while simultaneously improving operational efficiencies."
Mid-America Machining also engineered end-product benefits for the packaging itself. The new jug has a handle that is easier to grip, has a more solid feel, and has been relocated to allow it to naturally vent much sooner in order to help with pouring. Another improvement has been the real estate devoted to labeling. United Dairy applies a single label to two sidewall panels, which enables a much larger "billboard" space. United Dairy has used this larger label to promote additional health and consumer benefits of its beverages, as well as the environmental value of ECOJUG™. The larger label is especially important given increased competition from non-dairy based beverage alternatives. Also notable is the fact that no modifications were required to the labeling operation when United Dairy switched to the larger label.
Critical to United Dairy quality control has been the ability to run a more consistent bottle than they ran with the conventional milk jug, which has helped the company put more funding back into the production process in order to increase throughput speeds. "In the past, with old style molds, our operators had a tendency to add more plastic in order to compensate for any process inconsistencies," notes Carson. "With ECOJUG™, our operators now have a built-in incentive to run it as designed with less plastic. The weights are more consistent than the conventional jug."
United Dairy has integrated ECOJUG™ into all of its beverage lines: white milk, chocolate milk, orange juice, teas, water, orange drinks, fruit punch, Tampico beverages, and mixes. Mid-America Machining's patents on the gallon jug process and tooling encompass a family of sizes including 1/2 gallon, quart, and pint, and the company looks to build upon the successful introduction it has enjoyed through United Dairy.