A more contemporary ready-to-drink tea bottle helps Lipton make a better connection with consumers and, in some countries, meet them for the first time.

Creating an ownable equity around the world can strengthen a brand’s position in the marketplace. But it doesn’t come without a set of challenges, especially in the beverage category.
In a joint venture between Pepsi and Unilever, Pepsi Lipton International (PLI) set out to make a global packaging change for all Lipton ready-to-drink teas, beginning in 2005, after it realized that its current bottle-and overall marketing strategy-was missing the mark with consumers.
The Lipton Leaf bottle, a modern form that communicates the brand’s repositioning, is now in more than 60 percent of intended markets and has been widely accepted by bottlers worldwide. Getting there, though, was a test in technical creativity.
“The challenge right up front was the reality that each country around the world can have its own technologies, its own requirements from a physical bottle size, material configuration and filling type,” says Stuart Leslie, president of 4sight Inc., the structural branding firm charged with creating the new packaging. “So we needed to come up with a universal equity that could be applied to multiple formats.”
A more effective approach. The marketing team at Lipton wanted to switch gears and begin focusing more on the vitality of the brand and its natural attributes.
At the time, according to Mark Lollback, chief marketing officer of PLI, most of the world’s ready-to-drink teas were packaged in industry hot fill bottles. “They were non-descript with similar shapes and the only thing that made them look different was the label,” he says. “We wanted Lipton to stand out on-shelf and make a statement about being modern, vital and natural. Separating the form from the rest of the industry was really important to us.”
The bottle, therefore, became a focal point of the redesign. According to Leslie, structure is one of the most powerful tools for communicating to consumers. “The language of form is the language the consumer trusts implicitly,” he says. “We’ve been trained over the years as consumers to not trust, or at least to be skeptical of, what we read. Form is a language consumers understand but can’t speak to, and it seems to be the language that says the most to them about the actual brand.”
Lollback agrees that the priority was to get the best form. “We wanted something very different and wanted to push the boundaries of current hot fill technology,” he says.
The new bottle would find its way to shelves in existing as well as new international markets, where consumers would see the ready-to-drink teas for the first time. Lollback says that while his team is responsible only for product outside the United States, it recognized that the current bottle both in the U.S. and what was coming off the lines internationally mimicked carbonated soft drink bottles, which are often simple and plain. The emphasis for this project, he notes, was on creating a bottle that “had less what we call ‘CSD codes’ and more natural vitality codes.”
So how does a company communicate vitality with a three-dimensional form? The design team chose a swirl that symbolizes unwinding energy for the 18- to 29-year-old target market. “But not in an energy drink, over-your-head Mountain Dew kind of way,” says Leslie. “A more subtle, swirling water, active refreshment. It’s energy, but it’s refreshing and soothing.”
A simplified version of the signature Lipton leaf-the element that best symbolizes the brand-was also added, with the Lipton logo running through it. “The logo is literally of the leaf, so the brand would be tied directly to the naturalness of the leaf while having this dynamic element travel through the entire bottle in three different places,” says Leslie.
A technical challenge. Through the design process, the team had to ensure the look would remain consistent on any bottle throughout the world, whether hot fill, aseptic or glass.
Addressing the technical challenges of each material was key. “We ended up with a shopping list of all the materials and filling technologies that could be used to create this product around the world,” says Leslie. “Our role was to create a series of elements and equities in shape, treatment of logos and form so we have something that has a similar identity around the world.”
In India, for example, returnable bottles made of very thick glass are used. “They reuse the same bottles for 10 years,” Leslie says. “The bottles have to be the same diameter and height so when they’re brought in, cleaned and refilled on the filling line, they all run the same. That’s a huge technical challenge because it doesn’t give you a whole lot of freedom.”
Add to that the fact that PLI demands the same volume in all bottles and that each can fit within a very narrow footprint and size envelope. “It really takes some stretching of the concept to get there, so we have to ensure that we have a design that is as flexible as possible and that’s not too dependant on any one format for it to be successful,” Leslie says.
Designs are always created for hot fill bottling first, because it most dramatically impacts shape, he notes. “We know that anything we do in hot fill can generally be adapted to aseptic and glass more easily than trying to go the other way.”
The swirl is repeated under the label of the hot fill bottle. And while consumers see it as a dynamic swirling grip, in reality it’s all about hot fill functionality, Leslie admits. “It’s where the bottle is able to contract as the product cools without making a kink in the bottle or deforming. So it’s a very controlled way for the bottle to shrink, but the consumer sees it as a grip feature.”
Using “implied ergonomics” versus “actual ergonomics”, the bottle gives consumers the feeling that it can be taken anywhere. “The label area is the narrowest diameter, giving you the feeling of having a secure grip,” says Leslie. And increased utility features are always a good thing. “People don’t generally drop any bottle; it doesn’t fall out of their hand. But when it’s contoured to the hand, they feel like it was made especially for them.”
“It’s a very nice tactile experience,” says Lollback, adding that in traditional hot fill bottles the middle panel section is filled with straight up and down, chunky panels, which don’t accept shrink labels very well. “What 4sight was able to do was twist those panels for us, making the bottle feel much better in the grip of the hand.”
Keeping the label contained in the middle section of the bottle wasn’t all about ergonomics, though. To fully communicate the high quality, consumers need to see the clarity of the product. Tests in every market have shown that consumers associate clarity with purity-and that goes a long way when selling tea products.
Whether the Lipton Leaf bottle is sitting in a cooler or on-shelf, the contours built into it refract light, helping to tell the brand story. “If you look at a round bottle with no features on it, you’ll see a darkness to the tea, but if you build features in and they reflect light differently, you start to see shards of light and dark colors so it makes it very dynamic and speaks to the vitality of it,” says Leslie. “In addition to the shapes, the color of the product changes because of the refractions going through it. Full-wrap graphics can be very impactful with color, but you don’t really see the product and it doesn’t communicate the product attributes as well as the partial shrink we ended up with.”
The shrink wrap on the hot fill bottle exceeded expectations, says Lollback. “It had some movement and dynamism because the label was actually twisted as well, not just a boring flat label.”
While the graphics had to remain strictly intact, PLI’s global packaging manager Emmanuel Chivot says there were some cases where shrink wrapping was not an available technology. In those instances, a non-shrink wraparound label was used, and Lollback’s team worked with 4sight to keep the integrity of the design at the top and bottom of the bottle. “We had the texture and detail and could see through the product, but the label section was straight,” Lollback says.
“It’s not the ideal bottle but [it] looks better than what we had in the past,” says Lollback. “Our Holy Grail was the original bottle, but you can’t do that everywhere. Bottling equipment is a lot of infrastructure, and we have to work within those parameters while at the same time try and bring alive the differentiated, proprietary bottle.”
The worldwide launch. The new bottle launched first in China during a test market. Lollback says it was a natural starting point because the bottling unit in China did not require a change in bottling technology, and it also held similar beliefs regarding packaging.
“The Pepsi/China team, like us, is very passionate and believes that almost every brand should have a unique and proprietary bottle,” he says. Prior successes of launching proprietary bottles, particularly in non-carbonated beverages, helped the cause.
“When we briefed 4sight we said, ‘Guys, here’s our best chance. We need a new bottle for the rest of the world but we have a real customer who needs it ASAP, so let’s put all our effort and energy behind getting the China bottle right. Once we’ve cracked that we’ll use it as the base to roll out across the world.’”
Distribution into Eastern Europe soon followed. “Improving the marketing mix and packaging in this industry is a very critical part of positioning,” says Lollback, “so we were trying to drive it very hard through our important markets of Eastern Europe.”
Markets in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Australia now also have the new bottle and Lollback says there’s still more to come.
“These things take a long time and, where possible, these changes need to be linked to business needs as well,” he says. “Just going in and trying to do it without it being linked to some business need is quite difficult, so we used different opportunities to make it happen.”
Lightweighting the bottle-making it both cheaper and more environmentally friendly-was a key factor in getting it accepted. “The bottlers are businessman,” Lollback says. “They want to make sure that any change they’re making to the business is either going to help them sell more or it’s going to help them reduce costs and therefore improve margins and be able to invest more. They don’t just do it out of charity.”
Ultimately, though, having a differentiated bottle is seen by all as a critical part of a brand’s success. “In most parts of the world, we position ourselves as a premium above carbonated soft drinks, so, if you’re in the same bottle, most consumers struggle to understand why they’re paying more for something that looks exactly the same,” Lollback explains. “If we’re going to command a premium and help consumers understand this is a more natural product and deserves a premium, we need a pack that says that for us.” BP