Elisabeth Skoda and Tim Sykes explore the latest trends and developments in the fast-moving beverage packaging industry.
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Petra Westphal from the German beverage trade show drinktec identifies four main trends as impacting on consumer behavior with regards to the beverage industry in industrialised countries.
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"Firstly, the consumer is increasingly looking for 'natural' products made from natural ingredients and manufactured on a sustainable basis. Also, the consumer prefers products with health benefits. Thirdly, the drinking of the beverage has to be a pleasure. Last but not least, convenience is a strong factor. The packaging has to protect ever more sensitive beverages, be ever more precisely tuned to the point of consumption or purchase and conform with ever tighter regulations concerning its carbon footprint and sustainability," she explains.
Packaging mirrors society
The way beverages are consumed have changed dramatically in the recent past, on-the-go-consumption is a big factor, and habits of home consumption have also changed.
"Increasingly product packaging is becoming a mirror of society, it has to be tailored ever more precisely to specific needs," says Ms Westphal."With a sports drink, for example, the consumer expects a different size of packaging and a different type of closure to a probiotic yoghurt that in one sip delivers a daily dose of vitamins." The increasing number of singles also is an important factor. "In countries where there are many single-person households, the trend is more towards smaller packaging units than in countries where people have larger families."
An example of packaging developed in response to this kind specific consumption context is German company Drinkinbox's new bag in box system under the name of 'Table Fountain'. The name refers to the features of the new packaging. No matter what position the container is in, Drinkinbox allows users to tap its contents. When using previously available Bag in Box systems it was either necessary to have a sub- frame to tap its contents or it had to be placed at the edge of a table or a sideboard. With Drinkinbox Table Fountain, liquids can be tapped right away in any position. A glass can be placed below the tapping device without the help of sub-frames or table edges.
At drinktec in Munich in September this year, a wide range of innovations will be presented to a global audience. "In terms of filling technology, aseptic will be a big topic at the show," Ms Westphal predicts. "With regard to sustainability, attention will focus on packaging made from renewable materials, and efforts to further reduce the ratio of materials used to packaging volume. Recycling and carbon footprint will certainly also be two big themes. drinktec covers as diverse a range as the beverages world itself."
Global demographic shifts are driving changes to the ways, times and places in which people want to enjoy their beverages. Economic development is leading to a rise in consumers who lead busy lives away from the home, both in their professional and leisure time.
"One of the key demands from consumers has been to provide products which lend themselves to on-the-go consumption. Some of the key features that are sought after include the ease with which the consumer can drink straight from the carton, the ease of handling and the ability to reseal the package securely," Libby Costin, global portfolio marketing director at Tetra Pak, told Packaging Europe.
To meet this demand Tetra Pak has launched a range of new products recently.
"We have recently developed the new Tetra Brik® Aseptic Edge portion packs to deliver a convenient product for consumers and a flexible solution for customers," she explains.
Building on the success of the award-winning Tetra Brik® Aseptic 1000 ml Edge, the new Tetra Brik Aseptic 200 & 250 ml Edge packages provide the flexibility to consume on-the-go whilst also catering to the increasing number of single-person households. With a large sloping top and contoured side panels, the Tetra Brik Aseptic Edge portion packs deliver additional branding opportunities for customers and enhanced handling for consumers.
"Customers are increasingly seeking products that combine excellent design with practical features which deliver the best consumer experience, making necessary the innovation of products which stand out on the competitive supermarket shelf through a unique shape or a package design, allowing our customers to maximise their branding opportunities," Ms Costin explains.
Demographic trends are impacting upon the requirements of retailers and brands in other ways. "Populations across many of our markets are ageing, especially in the developed world, so we are constantly assessing how we can improve the handling of our packages to ensure we help our customers meet the needs of this consumer group," says Ms Costin.
"An example of how we are developing our product portfolio to meet some of these demands can be seen with our recently launched Tetra Gemina® Aseptic Leaf package. The TGA Leaf builds on the functionality of the TGA Square package, known for its unique gable top, designed to achieve the best possible flow and providing the package with an elegant appearance. TGA Leaf maintains these key attributes, while the shape of the package body is new, with the addition of four leaf-shaped panels making it easier to handle but also ensures the product stands out on the crowded supermarket shelf."
Adding to the trends already mentioned, Caroline Archer from Crown Bevcan notices a continued growth in home consumption of alcoholic beverages across Europe. A troubled economic forecast, combined with a bumper year of sports in Europe in 2012 meant that many consumers decided to stay at home, and grab a chilled drink from the fridge. The growth in mixed drinks, such as gin and tonic, whisky and cola, vodka and fruit juices, packaged in metal cans, epitomises this trend as consumers entertain at home rather than visiting bars and clubs.
Another interesting trend is the continuing fragmentation of the beverage market, with new products being targeted very specifically at selected consumers. For example, where once energy drinks were targeted at an overall youth/sport market, they are now being designed and marketed for consumers that are health conscious, students, women, professionals, etc. This growth in diversity is driving increasing diversification in can sizes and can designs, as each brand seeks to reach its target through its packaging, and express its brand universe.
"In the current economic climate driven by consumers' 'buy in bulk and save' mentality, value products are on the rise, making the beverage industry experience an increased demand for multipacks," Ms Archer concludes.
In the current economic climate, customers are increasingly looking for ways to be more competitive in supply chain performance, including operational cost reduction, increasing operational efficiencies and quality. Customers also need the confidence that the appearance of the package containing their products will be the same throughout the supply chain, from the factory to the shelf. Ensuring that the package reaches consumers in good condition is not an easy task, especially today with goods being transported from one side of the world to the other and sometimes under tough conditions.
"Tetra Pak works with trusted partners to deliver cost savings and logistical improvements in the delivery of our packages from the plant to the retail shelf. But being cost effective is not the only consideration: the physical protection of the package, which in turn protects the product, as well as the secondary packaging's functionality and shelf appeal are also of critical importance," says Ms Costin.
Uwe Tews, director of market intelligence at Elopak, underlines a focus on showing consumers that a product is made with care and this includes sustainable and responsible packaging. "Customers are very focussed on costs but are looking for more flexibility in production terms for increased speed to market with more products in different formats," he explains.
"Elopak works in close partnership with all its customers to provide bespoke support to their individual requirements and challenges. A good example is the introduction of the Easy Grip, which improves handling, for DELTA FOODS S.A. in Athens, who wanted a new point of difference on shelf," he continues.
Cans also offer a range of benefits in the supply chain. "One of our customers' key requirements is that the supply chain be optimised to run as efficiently as possible. Metal cans are a highly efficient pack style in terms of the supply chain, because of their cubic efficiency, stackability, ease to chill, and robustness, all of which help manufacturers distribute more products down the chain, in optimal condition," says Caroline Archer.
In response to the trend for more engaging packaging, Crown recently launched the Flix™ technology. Developed by Crown's Innovation Team, Flix™ was a result of a creative development project, exploring ways to make beverage cans more interactive. It was designed with premium promotions in mind, including instant win campaigns, and consists of a triangular plastic disk which clips underneath the base of a beverage can. Releasing Flix™ is easy: consumers simply use a coin, or another disk, to send it spinning from the can base. The promotional opportunities the disks present are numerous, as they can be printed with brand logos, product information or other graphics. It is ideally suited to high value-high impact promotional campaigns with valuable or collectible giveaways.
Another example is Crown's patented SuperEnd® beverage ends, which meets the industry demand for sustainable packaging. The SuperEnd® is designed to use 10 per cent less metal than traditional beverage ends, providing significant sustainability advantages.
"A recent example of design innovation responding to these consumer demands is the 360 Full Aperture End, which lets the entire can lid of beverage cans to be removed, turning the can itself into a cup and enhancing the consumer experience," comments Ms. Archer.
Design and innovation are key for other pack types as well. "New market trends and consumers' changing expectations require that bottle designs and shapes constantly evolve," says Franck Hancard, packaging director at Sidel. "Beverage producers place high value on the design and marketability of their packaging products, but also require top quality performance and high safety standards. In addition, bottlers and converters attach significant importance to sustainable production processes, which require less energy consumption."
"Sidel puts its know-how in differentiating customers' packages and optimising costs. The accent is put on design, light weighting and productivity," he explains. The latest examples of innovative bottling design include the FreeShape™ bottle, the Cluster bottle and the Stack & Pack concept, all offering maximum levels of flexibility and creativity. Modulomold™ adds to the concept of flexibility by allowing different bottle designs to be produced in a single mould using removable mould inserts with quick and easy change-overs.
With FreeShape™, PET bottle shapes are no longer constrained by the choice of filling technology. FreeShape™ offers the possibility of using a similar bottle design for both hot fill and aseptic filling. This development is based on Sidel's in-depth knowledge of material characteristics, aseptic packaging, hot filling and blow moulding technologies.
The secret of FreeShape™ lies in its specific patented bottle base profile, which acts like a membrane or piston: it pulls up and falls depending on the contained product's volume variations. This solution responds to the packaging needs of sensitive products such as juices or teas filled at temperatures between 85 and 92°C, which lead to bottle swelling during hot fill and then shrinkage when the liquid is cooled.
Sidel has recently come up with a new packaging concept that signals a new approach to product promotion: rather than placing bottles on a shelf, the Cluster™ bottle bundles a number of short-neck bottles using green neck rings that are attached to a main branch resembling fruit hanging on a tree. The customers in the shop simply "pick" the bottles they wish to buy. Cluster bottles are suitable for a range of different products, from water and flavoured water to sensitive beverages including juices and dairy. The bottles can be light-weight and can be made of recycled material and/or biosourced material. Because of their attractive design, they are an ideal 2nd-life package for possible reuse at home.
Stack & Pack bottles are practical and functional and require no cardboard sheets in between layers on a pallet. A base design with a deeper-than-usual concave indentation enables simple and efficient stacking, compact and organized assembly of products and a significant reduction in faulty products. As Stack & Pack bottles fully optimize the use of storage space, it is possible to fit more bottles on a pallet. Overall, these bottles make handling, transport, storage and shelving all extremely easy and efficient.