Corrugated brew carton celebrates Canadiana

Anne Marie Mohan

January 29, 2014

10 Min Read
Corrugated brew carton celebrates Canadiana

From the natural spring water, select grains of malted barley and premium hops used in its recipe to the shimmering, gold-foil, maple-leaf pattern on its packaging, new Confederation Ale from The Robert Simpson Brewing Co. Ltd. of Barrie, ON, pays homage to Canada and to the "spirit of the country's appreciation for fine beers." Named after Canada's 1867 celebration of independence and unity, Confederation Ale was launched in December 2004 in Ontario and has since taken home honors for both the beverage and its packaging.

Says Peter Chiodo Jr., president of Robert Simpson, "The whole idea behind the brew was to create a brand that encompassed every element of beer culture and the processes of the brewery, right through to the packaging. In fact, the packaging is the pinnacle of the product, because in order to differentiate ourselves as a new brand in a really hyper-competitive market, we had to be able to stand out."

Giving the premium ale the desired shelf presence is a gorgeously printed, foil-laminated, corrugated carrier from Smurfit-Image Pac, a div. of Smurfit-MBI ( that beckons to consumers with its rich, red-and-gold color scheme, along with beer lore designed to enhance the fine-beer drinking experience.

Robert Simpson, described on its product's packaging as a "picturesque brewery nestled in historic downtown Barrie," takes its name from the town's first mayor, who took office in 1836 and was a "renowned brewmaster," says the company. Mayor Simpson, according to Barrie history, built one of the nation's first steam kettles on the shores of the town's Kempenfelt Bay—a tradition that Robert Simpson Brewing Co. follows. But it wasn't just the scenery and the allure of Mayor Simpson's craft that motivated the company to launch a handcrafted beer; it was the opportunity to partake in the booming microbrewed beer segment, which Chiodo says is growing at an annual rate of 26 percent.

The company's first offering, Confederation Ale, is a light, cream ale that Chiodo describes as a "stepping-stone beer," from which the company can develop other styles. During its first year on the market, the beer sold out eight times, according to Chiodo. In 2005, it was recognized with a gold medal for Best in Category in the Canadian Brewing Awards. Presently, the beer is available in 243 locations in Ontario.

Critical in establishing Robert Simpson's reputation as a premium, upscale microbrewer has been the sophisticated packaging for its Confederation Ale. The beer is presented in 12-oz green, longneck glass bottles from Anchor Glass (813/884-0000) that are cartoned in a glossy, richly decorated corrugated container. In development for approximately 18 months, the packaging displays a painstaking attention to detail. "I think I spent four days of my life just tweaking the design of the box hand holes," joked Chiodo, during a recent visit with PD.

Graphics for Confederation Ale's labels and cartons were designed by Zimmerman Rose Columbus, Inc. (, also of Barrie, which incorporated the Canadiana theme throughout using a pattern of overlapping maple leaves, along with line art of four 19th-century brewers, including Mayor Simpson, pictured third from the left. Brewing culture is commemorated through copy, including tips on how to pour the perfect pint, the finer points of tasting premium beer and beer-volume conversion rates from metric to imperial sizes. A detailed description of the recipe and process for brewing Confederation Ale is printed on the bottom of the carton.

Additional copy on the top of the carton explains how to use the Brewmasters Thermometer™, located on the back of each bottle. Printed onto the label, the thermometer uses a special, low-temperature, thermochromic ink from Chromatic Technologies ( that turns from white to blue when the beer reaches the "optimum beer-serving temperature" of 38 deg F. The bottle's front, back and neck labels—in gold, metallized foil—are converted by Printera Corp. ( But consumers' first "touchpoint," with the product, as Chiodo calls it, is the litho-printed, corrugated carton, and so it had to be meticulously executed. To take the carton from Zimmerman's design concept to the final package, Robert Simpson chose Smurfit-Image Pac, due to the corrugated converter's creativity.

Smurfit-Image Pac, Ontario, located in Toronto, is one of three Image Pac facilities established in the early 1990s to produce corrugated consumer packaging and point-of-purchase displays. Smurfit-Image Pac's plant, which manufactures preprint, postprint and litho-laminated corrugated containers, encompasses 200,000 sq ft and has an annual capacity of 46,000 tons. Originally a producer of brown-box shipping containers only, the division has invested nearly $20 million over the past several years to transform itself into a producer of high-end graphics specialty corrugated packaging.

Relates Wally Petrac, manager of corporate marketing and design for Smurfit-MBI, "Previously, we had some multicolor equipment in our facility, but we invested in more state-of-the-art equipment because our clients were asking for greater shelf impact.

"Everyone on our plant floor, from our press operators on up, understands that ultimately what we're producing is going to be on a retail shelf in a retail environment, so consistency and quality are critical."

Among the plant's major pieces of equipment are a 300-ft-long, 87-in. corrugator from BHS Corrugated ( that can produce E-, B-, C-, EC- and EB-flute corrugated sheet, and a 63-in. Asitrade single-face laminator from Bobst (, producing B-, E- and M-flute. While preprinted flexo and litho labels are done by outside sources, Smurfit-Image Pac provides multicolor flexo postprint services via a seven-color, 50380-in. Masterflex 203-A matic flexo press from Bobst and a 48387-in., five-color Rotaflexo 2000 press from Cuir CCM S.A. ( Other equipment includes three specialty gluers and three folder-gluers from Bobst that allow the company to produce four- or six-corner packages, as well as preglued hymes bottoms for self-forming cartons.

Unique to Smurfit-Image Pac, explains Petrac and sales manager W. Jeff Abbott, are the variety of complementary services provided by the division that enable it to act as a one-stop shop. The kraft and white rollstock materials used to produce the corrugated sheets are custom-made by Smurfit's mills in the U.S. and Canada, while prepress work—including artwork, color separations and proofs—is done in-house by the company's Image Pac Graphics division at its design centers in Vancouver and Toronto.

Also speeding project turnaround, Smurfit-Image Pac operates its own steel-die department to manufacture job-specific dies for its die-cutting machines on-site. Finally, it retains a one-third ownership in SCI Canada (, which supplies its preprint customers with multicolor, flexo-printed rollstock for conversion to corrugated containers at Smurfit-Image Pac

"For the client's benefit, we try and control as much as we can here, so that if there is any disruption in the manufacturing process, we can react as quickly as possible," says Abbott.

In the case of the Robert Simpson beer carton, Smurfit-Image Pac's involvement ran the gamut from helping to finalize Zimmerman's graphic design to developing the carton's unique structure.

The Confederation Ale carton, in six- and 12-pack sizes, is constructed of 29 ECT E-flute corrugated, with a kraft inside liner and a litho-laminated label. The cartons are a nonstandard size, with a glued manufacturer's joint and a full-flap, "123" bottom feature. As mentioned, the die-cut hand holds were designed to offer the greatest ease in carrying and to prevent the flaps from rubbing against the bottle necks.

As Zimmerman neared the end of the design process for the carton's artwork, the designer, along with Smurfit-Image Pac and Annan & Bird Lithographers (, which supplies most of the litho-printed labels for Smurfit-Image Pac, consulted to ensure that the graphics could be reproduced. Relates John Bird, vp of operations for Annan & Bird, "The biggest challenge [of this project] was working with Smurfit and the designer to come up with graphics that would achieve the results they were looking for, but still be reproducible on press."

According to Chiodo, much trial and error was involved in the selection of materials, ink types and ink colors to get the best "reaction." The final label is a silver, metallized polyester film laminated to a .010 board. The film is printed in a 150-line screen with full ultraviolet inks in opaque white, three process colors and two spot colors, plus a spot UV coating on a six-color KBA Rapida 162a large-format press from KBA North America ( equipped with an interdeck UV dryer.

The litho label is supplied to Smurfit-Image Pac as a sheet that is fed into the Asitrade single-face laminator, where it is adhered to a single-face corrugated board, as the board and flute are constructed.

Once the label is laminated to the board, the material is cut into a four-up (six-pack) or a two-up (12-pack) sheet and is loaded onto a Bobst SPO 160-S Autoplaten® automatic die-cutting press, equipped with a Dynaload automatic loader and a Dynabreak prebreaker that prebreaks the nicked cartons to keep productivity high.

Separated carton blanks are then fed into a Bobst Post 3115 Matic gluer that adds a strip of glue along the outside of the manufacturer's joint. Glued cartons are bundled via an EAM-Mosca ( SX-1000 strapper.

Last year, Confederation Ale's elegant carton was presented with a gold award in the Brand Marketing Category in the Packaging Association of Canada's ( National Packaging Competition. In addition, its unique, temperature-sensitive label took home a gold in the Labels category in the same event. According to Chiodo, the meticulous care taken in the design and execution of Robert Simpson's debut ale was well worth the effort.

"You have to be passionate about your packaging because it displays your product," he says. "Confederation Ale is a premium beer, so when it came to packaging, we had a little more of a margin to work with. This has allowed us to have an unbelievable presence in the market."

More information is available:

Smurfit-Image Pac, a div. of Smurfit-MBI, 416/259-8421.

Anchor Glass Container Corp., 813/884-0000.

Annan & Bird Lithographers, 800/565-5618.

BHS Corrugated Maschinen und Anlagenbau GmbH, 49 (0)96 05 91 92 10.

Bobst Group USA, Inc., 973/226-8000.

Chromatic Technologies, Inc., 719/592-1557.

Cuir CCM S.A.S, 33 (0) 3 21 69 25 25.

EAM-Mosca Corp., 800/456-3420.

KBA North America, Inc., 800/522-7521.

Packaging Assn. of Canada, 416/490-7860.

Printera Corp., 416/299-0303.

SCI Canada, 905/858-8855.

Zimmerman Rose Columbus, Inc., 705/735-6800.

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