Beverage brands: initiatives and improvements

27 April 2018

Global initiatives from beverage brands and sustainable practices are pushing innovation within materials. Sonia Sharma finds out what improvements are being made and how the industry is meeting consumer demand.

The beverage packaging market is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.19% during 2017–21. At the same time, consumers are demanding value from their packaging and are more aware of sustainability, so brand-owners must improve their packaging and make better use of the materials available to them.

As responsible sourcing, eco-friendliness and ethical practice become stronger selling points, using packaging to draw attention to the use of sustainable materials can boost perceptions of a brand’s credibility and trustworthiness.

One of the latest trends to have been cemented into global brand-owner strategies is the importance of lightweighting. This enables vendors to reduce transportation costs, encourage recyclability, lower their carbon footprint and save resources during filling.

Belu has introduced two new initiatives with lighter materials. It launched a 750ml sports-cap bottle with 50% recycled PET, and its lightest-ever glass bottle – Ethical Glass. “Glass is an energy-intensive product to produce, so creating a lighter bottle with less glass reduces the weight of goods, which means that they can be transported using less energy,” said head of operations David Balhuizen.

Lighting the way

Aluminium is one of the lightest materials that is capable of providing a complete protective barrier. Beverage cans, for example, are extremely light but very robust. The Speedstar Super Sours sparkling energy drink was recently launched in a two-piece can with a printed matte finish. This material is also suitable for enhanced decoration techniques, as the combination of the finish against the natural surface of the can results in an attractive metallic effect.

Sprite’s new carbonated beverage package comprises six aluminium can designs, each featuring a different animal character. Areas of thermochromic inks have been incorporated into two areas of the design – a speech bubble background shows half a message that is pale blue, before changing to a darker shade with chilling. As the can becomes warmer, the second half of the message appears in white.

Craft beers are also capitalising on aluminium’s versatility. The can for Union’s latest unfiltered lager, for example, has an all-over embossed pattern of tessellating rectangles and squares, and is printed in white with a subtle pearlised effect. The single, bold colour creates presence, while the raised surfaces add a tactile element.

The shapes of aluminium cans makes them particularly suitable for filling-machine magazines, increasing accuracy, minimising product waste, and reducing the likelihood of explosions for pressurised products. For bottled beverages, filling accuracy also means that closures or caps must be fitted properly, without overfilling.

Fanta has used Sidel’s fill and cap machines for its new elder flower and lemon-flavoured carbonated beverage. This custom-tooled clear-blue PET bottle has a ‘waisted’ lower body shape with a series of ribs forming a spiral design that is twisted at the bottom.

The shape defies the common industry conception that PET bottles must be symmetrical to prevent weakness and deformaties when subjected to the pressure created by carbonated liquids.

Circular economy

The life cycle of paper packaging for hot beverages has recently come under scrutiny. Costa Coffee introduced its nationwide recycling scheme in more than 45 stores across London and Manchester in 2017. “Costa wanted to make it as easy as possible for the public to recycle their used coffee cups,” said Jason Cotta, managing director at Costa UK and Ireland. “Research in Manchester and London shows 40 cups a day are left in stores, which means there is the potential to recycle 30 million cups a year. What’s more, the fact that Costa will accept competitors’ cups means that figure could be significantly increased.”

Research in Manchester and London shows 40 cups a day are left in stores, which means there is the potential to recycle 30 million cups a year.

Starbucks, meanwhile, has introduced paper-cup recycling bins in 20 stores across London. The receptacles indicate where consumers can dispose of excess liquid, remove the sleeve and lid, and stack their cup separately.

“This new design is a significant way to test not only how cups can be recycled in our stores, but also how people will embrace the new behaviour” said Simon Redfern, vice-president corporate affairs, EMEA. “To help tackle it, the strategy focuses on increasing ways to reduce, reuse and recycle – and these new bins provide a way for customers to help make a difference. Starbucks is asking customers to help it test this new approach so it can learn what works.”

The ‘circular economy’ is becoming a top priority for brands, and the recyclability of materials is greatly valued by customers. To that end, Coca-Cola’s pursuit of a 100% plant-based beverage package has been aided by its new PlantBottle; the brand aims to replace all PTA with plant-based PET for its entire range of plastic bottles by 2020.

The company states that it has found a way to make monoethylene glycol from plants, which is “why we say our PET plastic is partially (up to 30%) made from plants”. The packaging material looks and performs much like traditional PET, but careful sourcing gives it a lower carbon footprint. “Coca-Cola’s vision was to maximise game-changing technology, using responsibly sourced plant-based materials to create the globe’s first fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made entirely from renewable materials,” stated Nancy Quan, global research and development officer at the world-famous beverage producer.

The pack can be recycled into new PET bottles or other products made from recycled PET. PlantBottle also has the potential to reduce the amount of petroleum used globally and to increase the use of renewable materials. Currently, the plant-based part of this material comes from sugarcane-based biomonoethylene glycol, although the company expects these components to be derived from waste, such as fruit peels, bark, corn cobs and stalks. “It’s the next step on our journey to making all of our PET packaging from renewable resources,” explained Quan.

PlantBottle now accounts for 29% of the company’s packaging volume in the US, and 8% globally, making the brand the world’s largest consumer of bioplastics.

“As we promote the adoption of PlantBottle packaging, Coca-Cola has learned of its ability to help it build emotional connections with consumers,” a spokesperson said. “PlantBottle packaging is available in more than 30 global brands and has proved to be a top differentiator for many of these, particularly its water portfolio, which is led by Dasani in the US.

“Coca-Cola also introduced the technology across its water portfolio in key markets, such as Russia and Italy, and continued to roll the technology out across certain juice and tea brands including Simply, Minute Maid and Gold Peak.”

Glinter is also using PET in an unconventional form. The material has been used to produce a soft drink can that mimics the appearance of a drinking glass. Injection-stretch-blow moulding creates a clear distinctive PET can with an aluminium end.

It’s incredible to think that, in the near future, the industry will be able to use a renewably sourced packaging material that does not compete with food production and contributes to a better planet.

Collaborating to meet a key industry objective

Plenty of R&D has gone into how brand-owners can manipulate materials to produce more sustainable packs. Danone and Nestlé Waters have joined forces with Origin Materials to develop a PET plastic bottle made from bio-based material to form the NaturALL Bottle Alliance. The aim of the collaboration is to increase the use of bio-based PET plastic bottles on a commercial scale to 75% as early as 2020, scaling up to 95% by 2022.

The project will use biomass feedstocks to avoid using resources or land that might otherwise be used to produce food for humans or animals. R&D will focus initially on cardboard, sawdust and wood chips, but other biomass materials – such as rice hulls, straw and agricultural residue – might eventually be explored.

“The goal is to establish a circular economy for packaging by sourcing sustainable materials and creating a second life for all plastics,” explained Frédéric Jouin, director of Danone’s Packaging Research Centre. “Danone believes it’s possible to replace traditional fossil materials with bio-based packaging alternatives. By teaming up, and sharing expertise and resources, the alliance can move faster in developing 100% renewable and recyclable PET plastic.”

The first samples of PET with more than 60% bio-based materials will arrive in early 2018. Klaus Hartwig, head of R&D at Nestlé Waters, said, “It’s incredible to think that, in the near future, the industry will be able to use a renewably sourced packaging material, which does not compete with food production and contributes to a better planet.” He said that it “made perfect sense” for Nestlé Waters to join forces with Danone to “develop this innovative technology” in a large-scale production effort. Hartwig added that the company is also proud to be part of such an “exciting journey”.

As research into increasing bio-based content continues, it is hoped that using completely sustainable packaging will be achieved soon.

Costa has introduced a UK-based scheme to recycle millions of used coffee cups.

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