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SPECIAL REPORT: Packaging – uniqueness counts

To create shelf stand out and yet be eco-friendly, resource-conserving low-cost packaging technology is needed.

“Less is more” is the consumer’s motto when it comes to beverages: less additives and preservatives and zero sugar. With packages the opposite is true, for they have to be individually designed, promise product quality and possibly offer extra utility as well. Such consumer behaviour is not exactly kind to the environment. The packaging sector is countering this with resource-conserving and low-cost packaging technology.

“As real as knowing where you belong” – with this slogan of the new Ruhr district edition of the Brinkhoff’s No. 1 beer brand, the Dortmund Brinkhoff’s brewery is targeting the hearts of people in the area. On the labels of the special edition, the company is showing 40 sights from 21 Ruhr district towns. Brinkhoff’s No. 1 is also supplying the information to go with them, with a description of the pictured sight on the reverse of the peelable labels. Local patriotism and beer-drinking – a sure source of sales. “Our edition has really gone down well,” says Brinkhoff’s marketing manager Andreas Thielemann.

If you want to sell your product successfully, you have to make it stand out. This applies particularly to the embattled beverage market. The times when mineral water, beer and schnapps were sold in standard bottles are long gone. Thanks to the unstoppable rise of alcoholic mixed drinks and aromatised soft drinks, beverage diversity has become almost overwhelming. Without professional brand building, i.e. a communication strategy that makes one’s own brand the must-have for a certain customer group, spring owners and breweries no longer have a chance in this highly competitive market.

“The general goal is to create a visual vocabulary that can be seen, felt and understood within five seconds or less,” explains brand expert Terri Goldstein of The Goldstein Group, a US marketing company. While Brinkhoff’s with its home-region labels chooses a relatively low-key vocabulary, other beverage manufacturers are taking more elaborate measures – by embossing brand names in the bottles and using colours and memorable motifs so that no two bottles are the same. Individualisation is the name of the trend that is growing in popularity in the beverage sector.

A bottle for every occasion
One of the pioneers of this trend is the Swedish company Absolut Vodka. In 2012 it launched its Absolut Unique series, a limited edition of four million glass bottles that are above all two things: colourful and unique. Because no two bottles are alike. To enhance this effect, each bottle bears its own number – like limited prints of a work of art. Consumers love this, and Absolut Vodka now ranks among the most popular distilled beverages worldwide.

The trend towards uniqueness can also be observed with multi-way bottles. Every major beverage manufacturer uses individualised containers today in order to appeal more directly to target groups. Beverage manufacturer Sinalco, for example, has introduced a 0.5 litre multi-way bottle for its lemonades so that it can access smaller households as well. For its part, Staatl. Fachingen in Hesse markets its mineral water in special faceted bottles that it sells in three different sizes exclusively to restaurants.

However, although individual beverage packages generate higher sales, they have their drawbacks. Elaborately designed bottles drive up development and production costs and burden the environment. To counteract the littering of towns and the countryside, countries like Germany have set themselves the goal of high re-use rates in the beverage package sector. The growing share of individualised multi-way bottles is encouraging the opposite, however: return rates are falling, transport distances from the bottler to the consumer are growing and the life-cycle assessment of multi-way bottles is deteriorating. All the same, individual bottles are often lighter than comparable standard multi-way bottles, which offsets this effect to some extent. Nevertheless, the growing diversity of bottles is increasing the complexity of sorting and pushing up costs.

More and more beverage manufacturers are therefore reverting to one-way plastic bottles and cans. In Germany, the Bund Getränkeverpackungen der Zukunft was even founded last year to advocate a renaissance of one-way bottles and cans. Its lobbying has evidently been successful, as, according to information from NABU, the German nature conservation organisation, the one-way package rate in Germany has already reached 50 per cent, and the figure continues to rise. Benjamin Bongardt, head of resource policy at NABU, is concerned: “The environment only benefits when we choose the right beverage package solution and make it increasingly efficient. A single multi-way bottle replaces up to 50 one-way bottles – and is additionally recycled at the end of its life. One-way is therefore synonymous with active resource wastage.”

Package manufacturers are therefore faced with major challenges. How can they make containers even more attractive and consumer-friendly? And how can they conserve resources and go easy on the environment at the same time? The performance profiles of packaging machines are also becoming more exacting: “We have to think about how bottlers can boost the energy efficiency and eco-friendliness of product packaging at lower cost,” says product manager Jochen Forsthövel of Bavarian filling technology and packaging machine manufacturer Krones.

At Interpack 2014 in Düsseldorf from 8 to 14 May 2014, visitors can see for themselves the strategies and products that companies are using to address the needs of the market. interpack promises an abundance of exciting impressions, as packaging specialists are working flat out to innovate and cut costs.

Saving materials on a broad front

One of the main focuses at Krones, for an example, is to develop PET bottles and in doing so cut down on valuable material. The company’s new 0.5 litre “PET lite 9.9 carbonated” bottle weighs only 9.9 grams – about a third less than conventional PET bottles of this size. The container’s special design nevertheless ensures that it stands firm and can be safely transported. Krones is also innovating with PET bottles that can be filled with hot product, e.g. fruit juice. These bottles usually have to have a stronger design as they readily shrink on exposure to heat. Krones’ novel NitroHotfill process keeps containers stable during filling by raising the internal pressure with nitrogen. “We can thus achieve weight savings in both the bottle body and mouthpiece,” explains Product Manager Forsthövel.

French manufacturer BTC Concepts is showing the direction that plastic bottle development may soon be taking. By screwing three individual bottles together to create a single large one, the Paris company has created a three-in-one container whose innovative design alone sets it apart from other bottles. (Pictured left - photo: Deutscher Verpackungspreis). The BottleClips concept also conserves resources, as the bottles save storage space and hence fuel during transport. The consumer for his part wastes less product, as the three bottles are opened one after the other.

Cost-cutting innovation can be found not only in bottle design, production and filling, but also in downstream labelling. Krones’ new DecoType direct printing system is capable of embellishing uneven surfaces with a digital inkjet process – so there is no need for a special label and the associated adhesives materials. But this does not mean the end of classical labelling. Here, too, there is huge innovation potential, as the Italian specialist PD Labellers is demonstrating with its new Adhesleeve rotary labelling machine. To save energy, the machine operates with acrylic adhesive to bond the labels instead of a hot-melt adhesive. PE Labellers also claims that Adhesleeve is capable of using labels 30% thinner than conventional ones.

The Dortmund KHS company sees itself as the “First choice in technology and service” in beverage packaging. At interpack, the specialist in packaging solutions and filling plant is presenting its new KHS Innopack Kisters TSP A-H-TPFO packaging machine, which, it claims, is particularly versatile in its use, cuts costs in production and sets new standards of sustainability. “The machine is modular and thus also equipped for future needs and customer wishes,” explains KHS expert Frederike Arndt.

A special feature of the machine is that, thanks to a special device, it has recently become capable of packaging PET bottles in fully enclosed packages. The advantage of this is that these packages are stronger than current conventional shrink packs, thus ousting extra cardboard trays for stability and reducing the input of materials. The wrap-around shrink packing process for packages in the new KHS Innopack can also be performed in a shrink tunnel with either electric or gas heating. “Energy costs can thus be reduced by up to 50% over conventional electric heating,” Arndt explains. There is also an energy-saving package that can be optionally integrated in any shrink tunnel variant. Here, a roller shutter system automatically closes the opening for product inlet and outlet during packaging machine stoppages to facilitate extra energy savings of up to 20%.
All the above mentioned packaging companies will be exhibiting at Interpack, Dusseldorf, 8-14 May.

Pictured top: Unlike any other, Absolut Vodka is spearheading the trend towards individual bottles. (Photo: Deutscher Verpackungspreis)

Pictured above: According to KHS, its new packaging machine all-rounder is particularly versatile in its use and operates inexpensively and sustainably. (Photo: KHS)

Pictured below: Saving energy, modern labelling machines need less and less electricity by dispensing with energy-intensive thermal processes like hot gluing. (Photo: Krones).


31 March 2014 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor