Innovative packaging can play a central role in a company's effort to differentiate itself in a competitive marketplace. In the European beer market, one company that has adopted creative packaging as a way to stand out in the crowd is Heineken. In '98, Heineken began offering several of its most important European beer brands, such as "33" Export in France, Dreher in Italy and Cruzcampo in Spain, in 0.5-L, 660-mL and 1-L plastic bottles.
The company responsible for producing these bottles is Owens-Illinois in Etten-Leur, The Netherlands. Relating the genesis of the project, Chris Meesters, director of operations at O-I Etten-Leur, says: "Heineken wanted a package that would combine the lightweight and reclosable advantages of a plastic bottle with the high quality standards of a glass bottle. They wanted to offer their clients a new, convenient packaging option without reducing the quality of the beer, and our product makes that possible."
As a leading global supplier of plastic packaging, O-I produces more than 5 billion plastic containers every year. Drawing on its extensive knowledge of plastic packaging and on its experience as the world's largest producer of glass containers for the beer and spirits industry, O-I, which uses the SurShotSM process to mold the bottles, offers a special patented five-layer plastic bottle for beer. The outer, middle and inner layers of the bottle are made from virgin polyethylene terephthalate. Sandwiched between them are two layers of O-I's proprietary barrier material, ShurShield™, which O-I says "serves as an excellent active and passive barrier for oxygen and substantially improves protection against carbon dioxide permeation."
Explains Meesters, "The barrier material plays a very important role in our plastic beer bottles. In order to improve shelf life and ensure product quality, our bottles need to prevent oxygen from entering the container, minimize CO2 losses and provide ultraviolet protection. Thanks to this special barrier material, plastic Heineken bottles have a shelf life of six months."
For the three nonbarrier layers, O-I uses a multipurpose copolymer PET resin, Voridian PET 9921W, which can be used in applications ranging from wine and liquor containers to food packaging. The resin, which is produced by Voridian, a division of Eastman Chemical Co., consists of condensation polymers produced by a continuous melt-phase polymerization process followed by a solid-state polymerization process.
These three layers also play an important role in the bottle's success. The Voridian PET insures no scalping, flaking, or peeling from the container's outer layers and protects the barrier material layered inside. In addition, with Voridian PET 9921W, O-I is able to produce bottles with little or none of the "off-taste" that occurs with low-quality PET resins that have higher acetaldehyde levels. Voridian has provided the resin comprising the nonbarrier layers since Heineken launched the bottles in '98.
In addition to its performance advantages, PET beer bottles also allow for some intoxicating design options. Notes Meesters, "One of the advantages that plastic beer containers have over glass bottles is that they can use more complex bottle designs. Our Cruzcampo bottles feature an embossed image of their logo–a man drinking a mug of beer–on the lower part of the bottle. The excellent molding capabilities of the resin allow us to reproduce logos crisply and clearly onto the bottles without blurriness or residue."
Both brewers and consumers alike can also appreciate plastic beer bottles' other benefits. They are shatterproof, lightweight, reclosable and safer than glass, which makes them ideal for customers at public venues like sporting events or concerts, notes Meesters. "Convenient and attractive, plastic packaging allows beer brands to differentiate themselves from the competition."
Poised for growth
So far, O-I has enjoyed great success in producing PET bottles for Heineken. "Sales have gone up consistently each year," Meesters notes. "As consumers become aware of these advantages and accustomed to seeing beer offered in plastic bottles, the market for plastic beer bottles will continue to grow."
More information is available:
Bottles: Owens-Illinois, 419/247-5000. Circle No. 237.
PET resin: Voridian Co., 423/229-1000. Circle No. 238.