The complete package – inside the soft drink and luxury sectors

14 September 2015

The beverage sector is experiencing growth across a number of segments. Beverage Packaging Innovation goes deeper into two of the biggest growth areas, delving into innovation in the soft drinks sector with PepsiCo before speaking with packaging experts from Absolut about developments in the luxury sphere.

The soft drinks market is on the rise, despite worries about the impact of sugar on consumer health. Accounting for three quarters of the total number of packaging units, a steady 3-4% growth is anticipated over the next five years.

As one of the key players in this market, PepsiCo is well versed in the changing needs of consumers, and has adapted its packaging strategy accordingly to ensure that it can deliver the innovation required to change and grow with the market.

"We take a holistic approach to packaging," explains Denise Lefebvre, vice-president of global beverage packaging at PepsiCo. "We examine new technologies and look closely at consumer trends, then we team up with our internal partner organisations, such as marketing and supply chain, to come up with the best ideas that are going to meet the needs of our consumers and customers.

"We have a robust ideation process that includes trendsetting, foresight and then collaboration with our internal partners. We then take those insights and concepts, and work with our design team - we have an in-house team that is very strong - and we see the concept all the way through to execution and operations.

"By this time, our engineers have done a lot of robust work around modelling and different capabilities so that we have really sharp development once we lock in the concept and innovation," Lefebvre continues. "Having these development tools and processes in place is important when you have a large system like ours because it helps us execute flawlessly across that system. The goal, of course, is that when the package reaches the consumer, it's true to the design thinking behind it - and to the marketplace."

On the double

Lefebvre cites the recent redesign of the 28oz PET Gatorade bottle as another example of how emerging packaging technologies solved a business problem.

"What we were after was a sleeker look to the bottle, and two technology unlocks allowed us to get there," says Lefebvre. "First, we partnered with our suppliers to develop a new technology for absorbing the internal vacuum pressure that builds up when a hot-filled PET bottle cools down. Not only did this allow us to do away with the not-so-sleek vacuum-absorbing sidewall panels that are typically used but it also meant shaving 6g from the bottle weight."

The injection/stretch blow-moulded PET bottle went from 45 to 39g. An additional development involved labelling. Instead of buying shrink-sleeve labels that are cut from a continuous tube and dropped over individual bottles, PepsiCo now takes advantage of new packaging machinery technology that lets it form a sleeve label from flat film.

The flat label stock comes in a continuous roll of oriented polypropylene. The new machinery cuts individual labels to length, and welds the leading and trailing edges before dropping the formed label over a bottle. From there, the bottle's passage through the shrink tunnel is pretty much the same as it is with any other shrink-sleeve label, but because PepsiCo doesn't have to pay a label supplier to form film into a continuous tube, the new label costs less. It also shrinks tightly against the bottle sidewalls, contributing to the sleeker look that was the initial goal.

Moving from from the mass market to premium

PepsiCo is not alone in this attention to detail, but this focus on marrying consumer insight with packaging development is leading to a number of new packaging formats and configurations that continue to protect and enhance the product while helping brand-owners to reduce waste and inefficiency.

At a recent round table on the packaging industry, a rather important observation was made by one of the leading retailers: premium and luxury are different concepts. Luxury alludes to a product that might not have a function beyond being unobtainable to the mass market and to provide status, while premium is a value consideration. For example, there are premium craft beers on the market that cost £5, which most drinkers can afford, or there are luxury Champagnes costing £15,000 that most people can't.

To better explain some of the developments in this fast-growing market, and including both ends of it, Absolut's head of packaging development, Eric Naf, and director of PDR and R&D Anna Schreil provide insight into what is driving the luxury and premium drinks market.

"We pay great attention to all aspects of packaging," says Naf. "The reason behind this is simple: Absolut is a premium vodka brand with an iconic identity and a high level of creativity that have been communicated through the product itself and in advertising over the years. This has also created an expectation among consumers that Absolut should provide fresh perspectives and bring personal solutions to life.

"Regardless of material, every detail is considered in order to form a complete product offering and brand experience. Our bottle has no label, but paper is predominant in another part of the package: the shipper case. Many producers think of outer boxes as just a cost that should be minimised; wesee it as part of the package and, thus, it should of course convey the brand image. We put a lot of effort into the shipper case designs to not only meet functional demands, but also create a high-visibility impact with high-quality print and a contemporary look.

Message on a bottle

However, it isn't just the materialsthat play a part when it comes to the communication and perception of luxury. In terms of what he feels provides the luxury feel of the package beyond the materials, Naf believes the answer lies with the bottle itself.

"The iconic bottle shape in combination with stylish and contemporary graphics is key to the perception of Absolut, including various flavours and special editions," he says. "We often collaborate with artists who use our bottle as a canvas for a personal interpretation of the brand. This is very inspirational to people and adds personality to the brand.

"One expression that got a lot of attention was the Unique edition released two years ago - a limited edition of four million bottles where every single one had a unique colour combination and pattern. However, in the end, it's rarely a single element but a combination of a concept and various attributes that makes up the result.

Nafs also points out that there are numerous trends that, as one of the leading premium spirits makers, Absolut is able to see in packaging.

"To be personal and individual has been a trend for quite some time, and it is a special feeling to have an object that is made especially for me or to be able to select according to my preferences," he says.

"A related trend that remains strong is craftsmanship and authenticity. Real quality and attention to detail never really go out of style but are more in demand now than before.

"Finally, sustainability is growing in importance, for luxury products as well. A product is more than the physical item and the thoughts behind it; how it's produced is as important as the thing itself. A product needs a compelling story, and that story has to be relevant and true."

Schreil takes up the theme, bringing up some of the product launches that encapsulate trends in luxury and premium spirits.

"For the trend towards unique and personalised products," she says, "we created Absolut Unique and Absolut Originality, where the focus is on individuality, craftsmanship and artistic expression. In the case of Unique, we produced four million individually designed bottles, and for Originality, we infused the glass itself with a streak of colour, again in a quantity of several millions.

"Each bottle was different, and each consumer was able to enjoy the quality of the product with an enhanced brand experience. Another interesting trend is the evolution of hybrid products. Enhanced by the mixology movement, traditional category codes are getting blurred as brands from different categories are taking cues from each other.

"In the US, we launched one of our most innovative products, Absolut Tune, which is a sparkling fusion of Absolut Vodka and sauvignon blanc," she continues. "We also launched Absolut Amber, which is Absolut rested in oak barrels. These changing flavours and combinations also drive changing packaging formats to set the new products apart on the shelves in stores, clubs and restaurants.

"Finally, following decades of globalisation and standardisation, consumers are looking for new forms of authenticity and craftsmanship, and products with a genuine background and history. Part of this movement is Absolut Elyx, which is a single-estate, handcrafted vodka produced with wheat harvested and distilled within a 15-mile radius in southern Sweden. The packaging has to align with this message, which is why craft or artisanal materials are employed to ensure consumers understand this is low volume, high quality and that time has been taken in its production to ensure it is hand-made by experts for their enjoyment."

With double-digit growth expected in spirits, wines and specialist drinks across multiple regions and countries, this trend will continue to drive innovation and growth.

Show of Originality: Absolut’s use of colour-infused glass led to millions of unique bottles that fuel the perception of a luxury product.
The Absolut Elyx packaging was designed to convey the handcrafted nature of the drink.

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