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Shaped sports-drink pouch stands up to competition

There's no sugar coating it: New Gleukos(TM) sports performance beverage provides serious energy replenishment and hydration, according to its developer, Gleukos, Inc., Portland. Introduced in September in a custom-designed, 16-oz flexible standup pouch that provides equally unique functional benefits, Gleukos was created by former Nike employee Mark Jensen to address what he felt was a lack of energy-enhancing ingredients in existing sports drinks.

"The answer was glucose," Jensen explains. "The most simplified form of energy the body can use, glucose requires no digestion. It is instantly absorbed by the bloodstream and muscles, giving athletes immediate energy."

Gleukos is made from pure cane sugar that is transformed from fructose to glucose in what the company calls a "special refinement process." Each 8-oz serving of the drink (each pouch holds two servings) provides 17 g of carbohydrates and 70 calories, meant for consumption "before, during and after activity to elevate, maintain and restore the body's natural glucose levels."

Gleukos is currently available in two flavors—Lemon and Punch—at participating 7-Eleven stores nationwide; Gleukos, Inc. says that new flavors, including Peach, Melon, Berry, Orange, Lime and Citrus, will be introduced about every two months.

In designing the beverage package, Jensen envisioned an innovative format that could sprint ahead of competitive sports-drink packs in functionality and ease of use. The result is an hourglass-shaped standup pouch from Ampac Flexibles—Converted Products, a div. of Ampac Packaging, LLC (www.ampaconline.com) that is easy to hold and can be conveniently slipped into a pocket during activity.

According to Jensen, the pouch is 80-percent lighter and takes up 50-percent less space than rigid beverage bottles.

"Packaging for the competition in this category is big and bulky," says Jensen. "We wanted a slender-looking, lightweight alternative. We also feel that graphics are everything. The ability of the package to showcase what is inside the pouch is an important element." The pouch is made from a proprietary, foil lamination gravure-printed in black and silver, accented with stimulating, neon colors that match the beverage flavor.

Making the pack spill- and leak-proof is Ampac Flexible's Smart Spout(TM) fitment/valve combination, which consists of a polyethylene-based fitment with a spout and a silicone valve, combined with Seaquist Closures' (www.seaquistclosures.com) EZ Turn Cap.

Thirsty consumers can access the beverage by squeezing the product through the spout, or by placing their lips around the spout and drawing the liquid up through the valve. If the pouch is inverted when the consumer is not drinking the beverage, the valve holds the product inside the pouch, while keeping out air and contaminants.

Before Gleukos could go to market, however, there were several packaging challenges that had to be addressed. To meet Gleukos' marketing requirements, Ampac engineers had to design a pouch that could stand up on the shelf despite the taller profile and narrower base. "We had to make sure that the height-to-width ratios could hold the required sixteen ounces and still be stable enough to stand up at retail without any point-of-purchase assistance," says Craig Rutman, director of sales and marketing, Ampac Flexibles, Minneapolis.

Another challenge involved mating the fitment to the pouch. The sloping-shoulder design of the pouch "flares in" at the top, resulting in a very limited gap in which to insert the fitment assembly. To work within this very tight insertion tolerance, Ampac modified its Hensen Packaging Concept (www.hensen.de) spout inserter. This enables the mandatory leak-proof seal—created by applying a heat source on the two opposite sides of the material/base assembly—to be formed.

To meet Gleukos' high-quality graphics requirements, Ampac prints the pouchstock on a gravure press, Toshiba's (www.toshiba-machine.co.jp) Sectional Drive GSN 120 (acquired by Ampac with the recent purchase of Kapak Corp. [www.kapak.com]). When the eight-color press was installed in the Minneapolis facility in 1999, it was the first of its type in the U.S. According to Rutman, the press comprises new technology that relies on a shaftless (sectional) drive and hollow, reusable cylinders, to dramatically reduce costs and bring gravure quality to an affordable level.

The ability of the package to showcase what is inside the pouch is an important element.

"On a traditional gravure press, there is a main drive shaft that drives all color stations simultaneously," Rutman explains. "Regardless of the number of stations that are actually being used, the entire press has to be shut down at the end of each job and all the stations cleaned.

"The new Toshiba press has been designed so that each station has its own servo-drive system. This gives the plant significant scheduling flexibility and a dramatic reduction in downtime."

Rutman estimates that the cost of engraving cylinders for the sectional-drive press is approximately 25-percent less than that for traditional gravure cylinders. Each cylinder for the Toshiba press is encased by a steel shell, which is then covered with a layer of copper. To create a cylinder for a job, the top layer is engraved and plated with chrome. When it is time to reuse the cylinder, the chrome layer and the etched part of the copper are stripped. Then, the copper is rebuilt to the correct cylinder diameter and is re-etched and rechromed.

"Up until recently, high-quality gravure printing was used for longer print runs to justify the high cost of cylinders," relates Rutman. "The new technology makes high-definition printing [175-line/in. resolution] cost-effective for a variety of flexible packaging applications.

For the Gleukos label, Ampac uses four colors printed with a solvent-based ink from INX Intl. Ink Co. (www.inxinternational.com) and cylinders etched by Southern Graphic Systems (www.alcoa.com/sgs/).

Rutman says the main challenge in successfully reproducing the stunning graphics designed in-house by Gleukos, Inc. was to match the background from flavor-to-flavor. "We did a lot of production work upfront," he explains. "We optimized the files to make sure we got consistency in the background. Once we did that, we were able to print fairly easily.

"Graphics are a critical component of most consumer packages—even more so when a marketer is trying to launch a new product and get consumer attention in a highly-competitive category such as beverage."

The final challenge in producing the unique standup pouch for Gleukos was ensuring that it could be filled at commercially acceptable speeds at the contract packager, The Jel Sert Co. (www.icebars.com) in West Chicago, IL. To accommodate filling, the spout's base has been engineered with a patent-pending, molded feature that allows the pouch to slide onto parallel rails positioned on either side of the fitment. This allows the flat, flexible pouches to be moved through the filling process easily and efficiently.

Created for a new age and a new consumer, Gleukos' packaging advises athletes: "Don't hit the wall, go through it." With its innovative format, shape, dispensing cap and graphics, Gleukos likewise goes beyond existing barriers.

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