When it comes to sustainably fashionable packaging options for multipack beverage can carriers, traditional plastic rings are passe and recyclable paper collars are in vogue.
In a three-way partnership with WestRock and Grupo Gondi, Mexico-based brewer Grupo Modelo transitioning from plastic ring carriers to CanCollar Eco Packaging. Unlike a wraparound paperboard pack that encloses the cans, CanCollar Eco uses a cleverly designed flat piece of paperboard with notched cutouts that lock under the can tops. As with previous CanCollar designs, it’s free of glue.
This makes Corona beer brand owner Grupo Modelo the first major beverage brand in North America to adopt the new technology, which represents an investment of around $4 million.
So-called little changes on a unit level multiplied at scale yield a huge environmental gain. In the first phase alone, the improvement is projected to eliminate more than 100 tons of plastic waste in the Yucatan state of Quintana Roo. The estimate is based on a 2x3 standard can-pack format, and plastic ring finished package weight of 8 grams/pack for 12 million packs.
The bigger picture is that the innovation helps advance the company’s sustainability goals by eliminating the brand’s use of plastic rings in Mexico.
“At Grupo Modelo, we are continuing to evaluate various alternatives for plastic rings in the packaging of beer cans,” says Soqui Calderon, regional director of sustainability. “This is how we discovered CanCollar Eco, a new solution developed by WestRock and produced in Mexico by Grupo Gondi. Made from recyclable paperboard, this innovative packaging uses the least amount of material required to hold and to keep our beer cans secure through the supply chain.”
The move will eliminate plastic rings on all multipack cans sold in Quintana Roo in two phases:
- The 6-pack 355ml Corona Extra, Montejo and Modelo Especial can rings are being replaced.
- In early 2022, the first high-speed CanCollar Fortuna machine for the application of the CanCollar Eco packaging will be installed to eliminate the use of plastic rings in six-packs across Mexico. These include 355 million cans of Corona Extra, Montejo, Modelo Especial, Barrilito, Negra Modelo and Victoria, as well as the 4-pack 473-mL cans of Victoria, Modelo Especial, and Corona.
Grupo Modelo’s two biggest challenges.
Calderon discloses to Packaging Digest their two main challenges when choosing an option to replace plastic-ring carriers.
“First, we needed technology capable of complying with all the necessary production requirements,” he explains. “These are high production velocity, reliable equipment, and a machine with the adequate measurements to fit in our breweries.
“Second, we wanted a solution that generated the least environmental impact possible. There is no point in eliminating the plastic rings if the alternative has a big environmental impact. The CanCollar Eco solution uses the least material possible.”
The brewer considered different alternatives over a period of many months. Apart from the benefits noted above, the brand liked that the CanCollar application equipment was fast and reliable.
The project got underway in 2020. For initial testing and scaling, Grupo Modelo used WestRock’s Chunk machine that permits manual application of the CanCollar packaging for small volumes.
“This allowed Grupo Modelo to more easily conduct evaluation of the packs which is critical at the early stages of a packaging transition,” explains David Martin, WestRock's VP of beverage sales. “They then moved to the mid-speed Corsair machine to support their Phase One rollout that included 6-packs of Corona Extra, Montejo, and Modelo Especial cans.
“In early 2022, the first high-speed CanCollar Fortuna machine (shown below) will be installed to support the Phase Two scale-up to eliminate plastic rings on 6-packs and 4-packs throughout Mexico.”
A video of the machine appears below.
Martin points out that the CanCollar Fortuna automation platform is uniquely adaptable to accept a wide range of different CanCollar designs to meet diverse needs in an evolving market. These include CanCollar Eco Plus, which offers additional billboard space for branding and an option for sleek cans; CanCollar Shield, which provides full can-lid coverage and enhanced branding; and PremCollar, which features 360-degree billboarding and barcode masking.
- The CanCollar supplied by Grupo Gondi is made of a single-ply of WestRock CarrierKote paperboard to ensure high-strength in wet conditions.
- Unique tooth design creates a tight fit with the cans and enables a minimal use of materials.
- Prior to launching this design in the market, extensive testing was conducted to ensure it would hold up through the supply chain and in customer use situations.
- Grupo Modelo is also using the CanCollar Eco Plus design, which has the same robust properties as our CanCollar Eco design, but is engineered specifically for use with sleek cans, enabling strong can retention.
Previous CanCollar beverage implementations in Europe, Japan.
The CanCollar was first launched in 2017 with a focus on craft breweries in North America, which resulted in implementation by more than 120 craft breweries now using CanCollar Classic packaging, according to Martin.
“Since then, WestRock’s materials science and structural design teams have optimized the design for improved sustainability,” he says. “Also, our automation engineers have developed the CanCollar Fortuna line of machinery for applying the package at high speeds.
“This new generation of CanCollar designs with high-speed automation has now been adopted by a range of large soft drink and beer companies across the globe including with Coca-Cola European Partners in Spain in 2020, Asahi Breweries in Japan in 2021, and now with Grupo Modelo in Mexico in 2022.”
WestRock implemented the CanCollar Eco paperboard can-ring technology with Coca-Cola European Partner in Spain in 2020, becoming the first European country to rollout these sustainable rings, which are used on on 4- and 6-packs of sleek cans. The use of CanCollar through this partnership was projected to save more than 18 tonnes/19.8 tons of plastic annually.
WestRock launched with two additional large beverage brands in Europe in 2021.
Asahi Breweries, one of the largest Japanese beer companies, introduced CanCollar Eco Plus technology to the Japanese market where it unitizes standard beer cans.
“This is projected to reduce their paper usage by 8,000 tons and the CO2 emissions associated with material production by 7,400 tons,” Martin notes.
All these glue-free designs are recyclable wherever beverage cartons are accepted, according to Martin who offers advice to all brand owners transitioning to sustainable packaging:
- Packaging changes impact many areas of the business from operations, to supply chain, to brand management. Bring all stakeholders to the table to ensure you have alignment on key objectives for the transition including your sustainability goals, the brands and SKUs that will be changing, the volume associated, and the operations that will be impacted.
- Make sure you have a partner that takes steps to understand your supply chain, thoroughly tests solutions, and iterates to optimize packaging performance and sustainability.
- Find a partner with expertise in materials, structural design and automation — the interface of these three things are critical to success.
- Consider the flexibility of the packaging automation that you choose for your transition, thinking through future SKUs and packaging designs, and the ability of your equipment to accommodate those needs.