It’s no secret that sustainability has risen in importance as a packaging consideration, but it can still be startling to see how strong consumer preferences are in relation to this issue today.

In Trivium Packaging’s 2020 Global Buying Green report based on data from a global survey of more than 15,000 demographically representative consumers, more than two-thirds of participants identified as “environmentally aware.” In addition, almost half (47%) indicated they would refuse to purchase products in packaging they considered harmful to the environment.

Data like this is causing many brands to re-evaluate their packaging materials to ensure they are delivering products in packages that align with consumer preferences.

One solution that is gaining momentum is aluminum bottles. Surprisingly versatile, aluminum bottles offer outstanding strength and protection against UV light and oxygen. Suitable for beverages, aerosols and personal care products, aluminum bottles offer benefits that align with consumer preferences while creating new opportunities for brands.

Of course, any packaging change must be evaluated thoroughly, and brands moving to aluminum should consider the impact of the change on product positioning, packaging formats and production.

Brand Considerations

Sustainability is one of the key drivers of change in packaging today, and aluminum has real and perceived value in this area. Aluminum recycling is straightforward for consumers and the material has consistently high recycling rates. The U.S. recycling rate for aluminum cans was 53% higher than that of plastic bottles in 2018, according to data published by the Aluminum Association and Association of Plastic Recyclers, respectively.

In addition, aluminum offers something few packaging materials can: It can be recycled and reused infinitely without being downgraded. Aluminum recycled for the 100th time retains the same quality as aluminum recycled for the first time. As a result, nearly 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today.

The benefits of an infinitely recyclable material such as aluminum aren’t captured in a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment (LCA) as they occur “beyond the grave” as defined by these LCAs. This is causing more brands to turn to cradle-to-cradle LCAs to get a more complete picture of material sustainability. A cradle-to-cradle, or circularity, LCA considers factors such as material recycling rates, recyclability and yield during recycling in the material assessments.

While these factors can be quantified through a cradle-to-cradle life cycle assessment (LCA), they also are intuitively understood by consumers, enabling aluminum to effectively support brand positioning that emphasizes sustainability. For example, Proud Source Water is capturing market share from well-established competitors through sustainable positioning supported by the exclusive use of aluminum bottles.

Aluminum bottles can also be an effective solution for brands seeking to establish a premium position or differentiate in crowded categories. The natural reflectivity of aluminum bottles supports high-impact packaging that stands out on store shelves. The bottles, while lightweight, have a solid, premium feel and provide an excellent canvas for brand graphics. Brands like energy drink manufacturer Uptime and deodorant manufacturer Nivea have chosen aluminum bottles to reinforce their premium positioning.

Where the qualities of aluminum bottles align with brand goals, the transition to aluminum can strengthen the brand position and create differentiation that is more effective.

Package Design Considerations

One of the benefits of aluminum as a packaging material is its ability to be formed into virtually any shape. Much more than a one-shape solution, aluminum bottles are available in a range of standard shapes and sizes and can be customized to meet re-packaging design goals and enhance packaging functionality.

Brands making the transition to aluminum are surprised often by the control they have over the packaging format. Beyond the spectrum of standard heights and diameters, they can customize beverage bottles with distinctive necks or add soft contours to a personal care product bottle to connote elegance or enhance ergonomics.

This flexibility also extends to closure options. Beverage manufacturers can choose crown or metal threaded closures. The availability of threaded closures in a material that protects against UV and light exposure makes aluminum a particularly attractive option for wine and spirits manufacturers introducing single-serve, portable packaging. Bottles used in the personal care and beauty segment are fully compatible with existing pumps, foamers and misters.

Packaging design teams will benefit from working with application specialists at aluminum bottle manufacturers to fully understand their options and determine whether a standard or custom bottle is the right solution for a particular project.

Packaging graphics should also be reconsidered as part of the move to aluminum. These bottles aren’t dependent on labels as with other packaging materials, and this creates new opportunities for creative teams to showcase their brands to consumers.

Graphics are printed directly on the bottle using full-color, high-resolution printing and can be enhanced by coating and finishing options. Specialized inks enable matte and gloss printing on the same package to add a dimensional quality to brand graphics while soft-touch inks can provide a rubberized feel to products used in wet environments such as soaps and shampoos. Refillable aluminum bottles also have the advantage of extending the impact of brand graphics over multiple uses of the same bottle. Again, working with the bottle manufacturer can help brands take full advantage of the decorative options available with aluminum bottles.

One additional finding from the “2020 Global Buying Green” report that brands should keep in mind as they design graphics for aluminum bottles: 53% of consumers are actively looking for recycling or sustainability information on packaging. Including information such as the Metal Recycles Forever logo can reinforce packaging sustainability, educate consumers and encourage recycling.

Production Considerations

The extent of changes required to filling lines to support aluminum bottles will depend on the specific configuration of existing lines, and if the brand is supporting a new product that requires additional filling capacity or transitioning an existing line from glass or plastic to aluminum. Most glass lines can swing between glass and aluminum without modification, while plastic bottling lines may require modifications to existing bottle handling equipment.

An additional option to consider is outsourcing the filling process. Third-party fillers and packers are fully equipped to handle aluminum bottle refilling. This can be an ideal solution for brands testing new products or seeking to get new packaging to market faster.

Aluminum bottle production is inherently scalable, providing the ability to grow from small runs to large-scale production. This scalability allows brands to move seamlessly from the initial sample bottle to a pilot program to full-scale production.

There may also be supply chain impacts to consider, particularly in relation to costs associated with leakage and damage from existing packaging materials. Aluminum bottles can minimize or eliminate leakage and associated damage because the strength of the bottles allows them to withstand impacts that would crack or break other packaging materials. This quality may even open new transportation options for some beverage manufacturers. For example, a manufacturer who is avoiding shipping by rail because of the potential for product damage will now have that mode available to them.

Aluminum delivers the sustainability consumers are seeking while supporting premiumization and increasing shelf appeal. Working with an experienced aluminum bottle manufacturer and leveraging the capabilities of third-party fillers enables brands to make the switch to aluminum with minimal impact on existing operations.