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Drink bottle goes panel-less, ribless

Natural beverage marketer MD Drinks, Inc., Santa Monica, CA, has launched Function™, a line of physician-developed, all-natural, nutrient-enhanced beverages it deems functional beverages, in a domed-top, 16.9-oz, PowerFlex™ polyethylene terephthalate bottle from Amcor PET Packaging (www.amcorpet.com). Derived from science, the fruity beverages were developed when physician Alex Hughes, M.D., teamed up with a Harvard Business School friend and other physicians and founded MD Drinks to develop beverages that combine great taste and convenience with scientific research. Hughes became concerned with drink brands claiming to serve a “functional” purpose. “Nothing in the market had true functionality, and no beverages were taking advantage of deregulation from the 1990s, which made a lot of new, intriguing ingredients available,” points out Hughes, a surgeon at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Hospital.

Dr. Hughes and his colleagues initially decided to pursue a rather different niche for the line—as a cure for hangovers. “Hangovers are a specific need and lend themselves nicely to word-of-mouth marketing,” he says. Soon, development began of the company's first “functional drink” named Urban Detox™, which contains a proprietary ingredient blend said to addresses hangover physiology. The drink is formulated to boost the immune system and help support healthy lungs and sinuses in the face of air pollution and second-hand cigarette smoke. As Dr. Hughes explains, the product development grew larger in scope and soon, two more functional products surfaced: Brainiac™, which contains an “antioxidant synergy” that helps support a healthy memory, mood and mental clarity, and Youth Trip™, which is designed to help keep wrinkles in check with its oral ultraviolet skin protectants. The drinks also aim to improve mental acuity and support strong connective tissue and bones. “We wanted to take new ingredients and use cutting-edge science to create a line of functional beverages that offer real benefits to consumers that they could feel,” explains Dr. Hughes.

With the drink formulations perfected, the product developers had to find a technical partner. “We selected Wild Flavors in Cincinnati,” Dr. Hughes adds (see related article on p. 42 of this issue). “They're one of the largest and most advanced flavor houses in the country, and experts in developing leading, nutrient-enhanced beverages. This relationship enables us to break new formulation ground and use ingredients that have never been used before in beverages.”

Breaking new ground meant MD Drinks also had to choose just the right packaging, and a unique bottle was critical to the line's success. “Because our drinks are cutting-edge, we wanted the bottle to symbolize a unique look,” Dr. Hughes says. “First, we looked at screen-printed glass, but then began to explore PET.”

MD Drink's first look at plastic bottle designs was a conventional, hot-fill PET container with panels. But the company really wanted to find a bottle that we could call our own, Dr. Hughes points out. Soon, copacker H.A. Rider and Sons (www.hariderandsons.com), of Watsonville, CA, brought the PowerFlex bottle to the company's attention. With smooth, rib-free walls, the patented bottle has no panels, is smooth and can be hot-filled at temperatures up to 185 deg F. Sidewall panels are usually necessary in hot-fillable containers to absorb the distortion that can occur as a hot beverage cools to room temperature.

Through a combination of design and manufacturing techniques, the bottle's base has a unique diaphragm that draws upward as the liquid cools. It has the geometric characteristics to enable the inverted, cone-shaped diaphragm to deflect upward as the vacuum is created.

Thus, PowerFlex would be unique, MD reasoned. After the bottle is capped, the filled liquid cools, which, in turn, pulls an internal vacuum that must be dissipated structurally. Not only do the bottle design and vacuum-absorbing base eliminate sidewall panels, but the large label panel is completely smooth, so it provides a clean billboard for graphics. The absence of sidewall panels can also make the bottle easier to label.

MD Drinks was intrigued. Notes Amcor PET Packaging's vp of business strategies David Andison, “They don't have to worry about mislabeling or missing the vertical bars in applying labels, nor do they have to worry about any ripple effect of labeling over the bottle panels.”

MD Drinks uses a stock, 16.9-oz PowerFlex in a domed-shoulder design with a 38-mm neck finish. This version allowed the company to launch quickly without additional tooling costs. Amcor's version takes hot-fillable bottle options to a new level. “Bottles with panels create constraints that dramatically limit design options and a brand owner's ability to use the container to creatively market the product,” explains Andison.

Up until now, many beverage bottlers didn't have a PET alternative that could meet both hot-fill and esthetic objectives for premium juices, teas and isotonics. The geometry of the straight-wall design gives PowerFlex great top-load characteristics. Notes Andison, “The straight wall has no points of stress concentration, which removes the potential of bending.”

Amcor assisted the company in its forge through the hurdles and tribulations of the bottle's initial production runs. Says Dr. Hughes, “They were really helpful. They were available during all stages of the bottle's development.”

The beverages are distributed on the west coast and in the southwest, with a national expansion expected soon. More product varieties are also in the works. “We still see the unmet demand for beverages that contain ingredients that work,” concludes Dr. Hughes. “We are going to satisfy this demand.” With that kind of thirst for performance, MD Drinks is on its way to toasting a healthy success.


More information is available:
Amcor PET Packaging, 734/302-2272.www.amcorpet.com.
H.A. Rider and Sons, 831/722-3882. www.hariderandsons.com.
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