Innovative Package Structures Differentiate Single-Serve Drinks

By William Makely
Aluminum bottle keeps beer colder; PET container for organic juice achieves high clarity; hot-fill PET bottle sheds its panels.
In packaging, we usually think of structural innovations in relation to physical package advantages: greater container strength, lighter weight, improved barrier properties, dispensing convenience, etc. But the physical structure of a package speaks for the brand as well—its strength, its openness to innovation, its consideration for the comfort and well being of the consumer.  
The act of developing an innovative package—of making the effort to present a product in a special dress—itself enhances the brand in consumers’ eyes.
The appearance of a package and its feel in the consumer’s hand are the front line of interaction with the consumer, and many structural innovations aim at enhancing that contact. But not all. And not all are strictly shelf-presence oriented. Many deliver enhanced performance for both consumers and marketers.
Look at these recent introductions in single-serve beverages.
Colder beer … cooler can
Pittsburgh Brewing Co. has always been an innovator. It introduced the first pop-top beer can and the first resealable twist-off cap, setting a precedent for its latest introduction, an aluminum beer bottle.
“Pittsburgh Brewing and our Iron City brand have a long history of innovation,” says Vice Chairman Joseph Piccirilli. “All have not only been revolutionary, but successes as well because they have been rooted in delivering true consumer benefits. This aluminum beer bottle—the first of its kind to be launched nationally—is unbreakable and keeps beer colder longer than glass bottles—up to 50 minutes longer—and longer than cans, because its aluminum is three times heavier than that of a can.”
The bottle, made by CCL Container of Alcoa aluminum, was introduced in August 2004. The brewer shipped 20,000 cases to customers in 30 states. It sold out in less than 24 hours. The next day, the bottle was the most viewed photo on Yahoo! News.
The aluminum bottle gives the Iron City brand greater visibility in a crowded, image-conscious market. But it also gives consumers measurable benefits: colder beer, an unbreakable bottle and a resealable cap. The combination is hard to beat.
Another brewer, Molson Canada, needed a way to differentiate its canned premium beers from competitors. In Canada, the can is the fastest-growing packaging choice for beer, so competition for visibility is increasingly stiff.
Molson chose specialty cans for Molson Cold Shots—a family of specialty beers. The 8.4-ounce (250ml) cans, made by Ball Corp., are slim and distinctive—projecting a sleek, classy look for their premium contents. And, they are the first specialty cans introduced into Canada.
“Specialty cans offer the benefits of the can,” says Peter Amirault, Senior Vice President, Business Development and Innovation, Molson. “Quick chilling, go-anywhere portability and easy recycling, but in a variety of heights and diameters that can be custom-tailored for specific kinds of beers or for consumer segments.”
That’s the innovation: a can that can vary with the marketplace and the brand segment to lend its uniqueness to the individuality of the product.
Clear as glass
“We previously used opaque containers made of high-density polyethylene,” says Wade J. Groetsch, President of Blue Lake Citrus, talking about his company’s line of premium organic juices, Noble. “But at consumer focus groups we conducted, the top request was for a container to let consumers see the product.”
Noble juices, he points out, are found in the supermarket produce section, literally steps away from the citrus fruit, but the packaging didn’t adequately present the product’s all-natural, premium status.
“Consumers want to see what they’re buying,” Groetsch says. “They pay a premium price for premium juice in the fresh produce section, and they want to see it. So we switched packaging to better convey our product message.”
Solution: new bottles extrusion blow molded from Eastar copolyester, a plastic from Eastman Chemical Co. that offers the clarity of glass as well as a more effective oxygen barrier than HDPE.
For years, one wish of hot- and warm-fill packagers has been to somehow eliminate being held hostage by the vacuum panel, so that they could feel free to design bottles that better suited their products. Panels feel uncomfortable to users, they interfere with stable labeling, and they look (to consumers, who don’t know why they exist) dumb.
This summer, Graham Packaging introduced its proprietary Active Transverse Panel (ATP) bottle, the industry’s first panel-free hot-fill polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle. The initial version of the container—a 15.2-ounce bottle that looks like glass, with subtle, simple lines unimpeded by vacuum panels—has been adopted by Honest Tea of Bethesda, Md., which produces a line of organic teas.
“We wanted to develop an exciting package that complements our glass line while allowing people to enjoy our tea in new places,” says Seth Goldman, Honest Tea Co-founder. “And we wanted to do it in a way that didn’t compromise our brand or our commitment to sustainability.”
Goldman says the ATP bottle “has a sleek, eye-catching look—an elegant look that captures the high quality appearance of glass.” And converting to plastic in the ATP bottle is helping Honest Tea widen the appeal of its organic products beyond natural foods to gain access to new market segments where breakability and weight are issues. One example: Honest Tea in the ATP bottle is now being served aboard Independence Air flights.
Technical horizons
These innovations currently enhancing brand image and shelf presence are only the tip of the iceberg. There are other novel technological advances just waiting to be incorporated into a new generation of packages.
Surface modification technology improves print quality.
Ciba Specialty Chemicals is presenting a new, patent-pending technology, Ciba Prime IT. The first durable surface modification technology for plastics, Prime IT improves adhesion of UV-curable inks, coatings and adhesives.
Conventional treatments to improve “wettability” and therefore adhesion are not stable and surface modification is uneven, resulting in variations during printing and coating processes. Prime IT really makes it stick. It physically modifies the surface of the plastic, allowing durable chemical bonding and high-quality printing.
Polymer additive provides ultraviolet protection for PET.
Ultraviolet (UV) protection for PET containers is essential to assuring extended shelf life and the protection of UV-sensitive formulations, such as beverages with unique tastes, nutritional benefits and color. While some PET additives provide UV absorption through the 370 nanometers (nm) range, Milliken Chemical’s studies have shown that only when 95 percent of 390 nanometer UV light is absorbed is complete protection achieved.
In response, Milliken has developed  ClearShield, a homogenous polymer additive that provides UV protection at the 390 level. ClearShield is FDA compliant for beverage and food applications and can be effectively integrated with PET containers at either the resin or the container forming stages.
“A PET container with UV absorbers at the 390 level,” says Michael Purcell  of Milliken Chemical, “can assure a consistent consumer experience and protect the significant investments that branded products companies make in bringing a product to market.”
Liquid nitrogen injection enables warm-filling of PET packaging.
By introducing a liquid nitrogen (LN2) injection system into the warm-fill process, GRAFCO PET Packaging Technologies now makes it possible for customers to warm-fill products in conventional lightweight PET bottles. Converting a filling line to use LN2 is both easy and affordable, with minimal equipment. The result is the ability to warm-fill and still enjoy the benefits of PET: higher clarity, greater consumer acceptance, recyclability, and increased oxygen barriers.
GRAFCO injects a small drop of liquid nitrogen into a filled container just prior to capping, achieving two vital functions. Oxygen content is greatly reduced in the headspace, substantially decreasing oxidation of the product and, when LN2 hits the atmosphere, it immediately reverts to a gas, expanding to 700 times its original liquid volume, which maintains bottle rigidity in warm-fill applications.
GRAFCO’s liquid nitrogen solution opens a new level of design freedom for filling applications. Now products can be warm-filled in PET containers at up to 175 degrees without the need for expensive heat setting or extensive sidewall ribbing.
With these tools waiting in the wings, imagine what the future has in store. BP
The author, William Makely, has written extensively on packaging and technology. Contact him at