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Smart solutions pour forth for beverage delivery

In the past 20-plus years, the beverage market has evolved from boring to booming. Pre-1980s, consumers' beverage choices could be counted on less than two hands; milk, coffee, carbonated drinks, tap water, tea, sugared kids' drinks and alcoholic beverages comprised the lot. Most beverages were packaged in large volumes for home use, or were sold as mixes for preparation by the consumer. Canned beers and sodas were meant for consumption in one sitting.

With introductions such as single-serve milk bottles, aseptic juice boxes for kids, bottled water and ready-to-drink tea and juice containers in the 1980s and 1990s, not only did the scope of beverage choices explode, but also their occasions for use. Today's beverage options address every age group and an endless number of "need states," or reasons for use, such as refreshment, fun, hydration, celebration, indulgence, health and more.

Continuing its evolution, the beverage industry is now testing the marketing potential of intelligent packaging. Enhanced package designs, as well as new materials and components that interact with the consumer or the beverage, are being introduced that provide greater convenience and enjoyment, and encourage the growth of new beverage categories.

Nutritional additives kept fresh with 'wedge'

Developed jointly by Ball Packaging Europe (BPE) (www.ball-europe.com) and Degussa FreshTech Beverages LLC (www.freshcan.com), new FreshCan® Wedge technology is a patented delivery system that enables dry ingredients, such as vitamins, to be dispensed into a canned beverage when the can is opened. "FreshCan technology is 'pulling the tab' on a completely new market segment," says Dr. Ralf Jäger, vp of marketing and sales for Degussa. "We believe that it is the biggest breakthrough in beverage packaging since the ring-pull itself. It paves the way for a paradigm shift in how we think about what can be delivered as a beverage product."

Last October, the first commercial application of the wedge became available with the launch of the new Defense™ Vitamin & Mineral Supplement beverage line (A1) from New York-based Brain Twist, Inc. Offered in Natural Orange and Lemon Lime flavors, Defense combines zinc, pectin, calcium, Vitamin C and Vitamins A, B2 and E in a beverage formulated to combat the germs that cause the common cold and flu. FreshCan Wedge technology was selected for use with the product to maintain the effectiveness of the drink's vitamins and minerals.

Explains Dr. Stewart Gibson, an independent research scientist who evaluated the beverage, "Scientific studies have clearly demonstrated that vitamins are not stable in normal beverage products and that the longer they stay in contact with liquid, the weaker they become. Such sensitive substances begin to degrade and lose potency almost immediately when mixed with the liquid beverage at the time of production. In addition, shelf life and exposure to light promote further loss of their potency."

Defense is packaged in a traditional, two-piece aluminum can holding 14.5 oz of the beverage. Inside resides the FreshCan Wedge, a two-compartment, polypropylene device containing 10 mL of dry ingredient (A2, p.26). Cylindrical in shape and having a total volume of 25 mL, the wedge is activated by a change in pressure. Explains Jäger, "Opening of the can results in an immediate drop in pressure inside the can. Because of its special design and construction, the wedge cannot adjust to this sudden pressure drop, so its lid pops off immediately. The contents of the wedge are then automatically released into the beverage where they dissolve, and the beverage is ready for consumption."

In its earliest development in the late 1990s by BPE (then Schmalbach-Lubeca), the wedge consisted of a device fixed to the bottom of the can. Through many iterations based on prototypes produced by RPC Bramlage GmbH (www.rpc-bramlage.de), the wedge evolved into a floating, watertight component that is designed to move away from the opening of the can during beverage consumption. Meanwhile, in 2000, Degussa (then SKW Trostberg) began developing ingredient formulations to fill the wedge. Degussa also worked with partners to engineer an automated filling system to insert the ingredients into the wedges, as well as a wedge-insertion machine to put filled wedges into beverage cans. In 2001, Ball licensed the wedge technology to Degussa.

So far, Defense, which Brain Twist president and CEO Larry Trachtenbroit says has paved the way for the company to create a "whole new platform of functional beverage products," has received an "overwhelming" response from consumers and retailers. The product is being sold nationally in 7-Eleven stores and via Amazon.com, as well as in select retail stores in the Northeast at a suggested retail price of $2.49.

Degussa adds that other potential applications for the technology include milk drinks or sports and energy drinks, which can be enriched with vitamins, probiotic additives or trace elements.

Spill-proof cap eliminates mess, puts kids in control

Custom-designed to appeal to kids' passion for juice, while meeting parents' needs for less mess, a healthier juice alternative and greater convenience, new Waddajuice™ all-natural juice (B) uses a proprietary, spill-proof beverage cap and eliminates the heat seal under the closure, making it easier for kids to grab and go. The brainchild of Jordan Kerner, founder and CEO of Waddajuice LLC, Westport, CT, with help from Snapple founder Arnold Greenberg, the juice-packaging concept mimics a sippy-cup style, but has been modified into a kid-friendly sports cap "in order to be attractive to kids of all ages," notes Kerner.

Waddajuice, in Apple, Orange, Wild Berry and White Grape varieties, was launched last October in an 8-oz polyethylene terephthalate bottle (supplied by Zuckerman-Honickman [www.zh-inc.com] and molded by Ball Corp. [www.ball.com]) that is topped by the proprietary cap. While two previous versions of the package, launched in August 2003 and April 2004, "were spill-resistant," says Kerner, "the current version, through a lot of hard work, is truly spill-proof."

The patented, triangular-shaped plastic cap is fitted with a silicon valve that provides an airtight bond between the cap and bottle and controls the flow of liquid. A seal on top of the spout prevents air from entering, eliminating the need for a heat seal under the cap, while a removable overcap keeps the cap sanitary until use.

Central to the operation of the cap is the silicon valve, which is supplied by Forest City Technologies (www.forestcitytech.com). The valve restricts juice flow until pressure is applied either through sucking or squeezing of the bottle. This is made possible by a cut in the valve that, when activated by air pressure, allows the juice to flow. Explains Kerner, "Silicon is the only material that has a memory and goes back to its original form as such." The cap with valve is manufactured by Euro Moulds, Inc. of Mississauga, ON.

Kerner adds that the elimination of the heat seal under the cap makes the beverage even more manageable for younger consumers. "It allows a child to easily remove the seal [on the cap] and drink, without help from parents, but at the same time keeps the vacuum, which ensures shelf-stability," he says.

The beverage, packed by Castle Co-Packers of New Kensington, PA, provides nearly 20-percent more liquid than a typical apple juice box, Waddajuice LLC relates, but contains only 50 calories, 14 g of carbohydrates and 13 g of sugar. Additionally, the juice delivers 100 percent RDI of Vitamin C, 10 percent of calcium, 10 percent of four essential B vitamins and purified water to help in hydration. Waddajuice is available through the company's website (www.waddajuice.com), as well as in select retail outlets in the Northeastern U.S. for $1.49.

Illuminated bottles brighten beverage-marketing options

A new packaging concept from U.K.-based Cognifex Ltd. (www.cognifex.com) is shining a fresh light on brand marketing. Using a tiny, electronic unit with an LED and silicon chip, with a self-contained button-cell power source, Cognifex has found a way to illuminate plastic and glass beverage bottles for marketing and promotional purposes (C).

Says Bryn Griffiths, cofounder (with engineer Jon Duncan) and managing director of Cognifex, "Brands are finding it harder to get dialogue with consumers. Consumers are being bombarded with commercial messages, and market fragmentation means there is more choice than ever before. Brands can try and shout louder than their competitors, using large advertising and marketing spends to cut out any noise their competitors are making. But we realized that most brands can't afford this, and so they have to behave differently.

"We set ourselves the challenge to come up with the next big packaging innovation for the drink industry so that brands could behave differently. Illuminating containers is about behaving differently; it's about differentiating yourself from everyone else and interrupting the time-strapped consumer in ways they least expect."

In development for three years, the Cognifex unit is designed to fit on the bottom of a standard-sized beverage bottle and can be triggered in a number of ways. These activation methods could include manual depression of a switch, pulling of a tab, removal of the cap or lid with a special opener, an infrared (IR) signal, magnetic switching or an external radio-frequency (RF) signal. Once triggered, the LED will illuminate the bottle and its contents for a predetermined period of time.

According to Griffiths, the bottle can be illuminated in almost any color, including red, white, blue, green, yellow and even ultraviolet (UV). "Ultraviolet is perfect for illuminating UV-sensitive labels in darkened environments," he says. Combinations of colors can also be used—for example, red fading into blue, fading into white—as well as flashing or pulsing patterns. In order to transmit properly, the light must be able to pass through the bottle, so clear containers are optimal. Likewise, the bottle's contents must be able to transmit light, not absorb it, advises Griffiths.

Depending on what the brand owner is trying to achieve with the illumination effect, the Cognifex device can be designed to function for anywhere from a few minutes to several months. For example, Griffiths relates that units for beverage bottles that are activated upon opening have been designed to run down after about 30 minutes "because there's no requirement for the devices to illuminate once the beverage has been consumed." For on-shelf marketing purposes, he says, the unit could be designed to provide a pulsing effect for up to six months.

Another possible application envisioned is for sweepstakes or promotional campaigns, where bottles could be illuminated remotely to indicate a winning package, or winning bottles could emit a different color than regular bottles.

While the technology is not presently in commercial use, Griffiths says that Cognifex is involved in ongoing discussions with a number of beverage brand owners and hopes to launch the first application later this year. Brand owners opting to use the technology will be provided with a license and with mass-produced Cognifex units (sourced from the Far East), designed to the brand owner's color, time and activation specifications. The devices can then be attached to the beverage packaging during bottling.

Concludes Griffiths, "Consumers are becoming increasingly adventurous; they want fun and to be entertained, and they want premium and indulgent products. Illuminating a container will differentiate a product from the masses on the retail shelf, increase sales volumes and provide the consumer with a positive experience. Packaging must get busy consumers' attention and then shout 'Buy me!'"

Straw system makes milk drinking fun

According to a recent study by The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) (www.milknewsroom.com) that surveyed 300 schools in the St. Louis area to learn what it takes to make milk a more popular choice among American school children, when kids are offered a variety of milk flavors, such as vanilla and strawberry, in colorful, kid-friendly packaging, they choose milk more often. Long hoping to achieve just such a response, Peter Baron, founder, inventor and director of Unistraw Intl. Pty. Ltd. (www.unistraw.com), Australia, has been engaged for the last seven years in perfecting a milk-flavoring solution that is mess-free, convenient, wholesome and tasty.

Officially introduced at Germany's Anuga food and beverage tradeshow last October, Sipahh® milk-flavoring straws (D) employ the patented Unistraw® system, which enables flavor "beads" to be dissolved in a beverage as the liquid passes through the straw. The system has three elements—a straw, filters and flavor beads—that together eliminate the drawbacks found with previous flavored-straw products, Baron says.

The system's first component, the straw, is made from transparent, recyclable, food-grade PP, mixed with a food-grade plasticizer/toughener that prevents the straw from cracking or splitting. The straw measures approximately 0.26 in. dia and is 7.08 in. long. Also made from food-grade PP, filters heat-welded into both ends of the straw use a patented cone shape that allows an optimal flow of liquid through the straw, while keeping the company's UniBead flavor beads inside.

Each straw holds approximately 4 g of UniBeads, which are 0.08-in.-dia, round beads that can be dissolved into a beverage to add flavor, vitamins or other ingredients. The UniBeads are manufactured at Unstraw's facility in New South Wales, using processes and equipment developed by the company. Likewise, straw assembly and filling is accomplished through machinery designed by Baron with help from machine design specialists. The patented Unistraw Filling Machine is a "state-of-the-art, fully automated and patented machine that produces products based on the Unistraw system at a rate of approximately 200 per minute," relates the company.

While the company's Sipahh milk-flavoring straws are now being produced in-house by Unistraw, David Levin, marketing director for the company, says that future applications will also involve the licensing of the Unistraw technology and manufacturing equipment to external organizations. "The U.S. is one such market where Sipahh will be produced on Unistraw filling machines under license," he says. The product is expected to launch in the U.S. in select markets this year, he adds.

In Australia, Sipahh hit the retail market in October in Chocolate, Strawberry, Banana and Caramel varieties. "Sipahh tastes great and offers a unique, fun milk-consumption experience for kids," says Levine. "Sipahh contains natural colors and no artificial flavors or preservatives and adds only a half-teaspoon of sugar to a glass of milk." Packaging formats include a 10-pack canister for supermarkets, a 3-pack for C-stores and single straws for sale in schools.

Levine relates that since its introduction, Sipahh has experienced "an incredibly strong start." He adds, "Locally, we're currently experiencing week-on-week growth, and causing the milk-flavoring category to grow by more than twenty-five percent. Naturally this has delighted retailers, who continue to put their promotional weight behind the brand."

Other applications envisioned for the Unistraw system include the delivery of vitamins and other nutrients, nutraceuticals and bioactive ingredients or pharmaceuticals into beverages.

Color-changing coffee lid is a hot item

Another innovation of Aussie origin, the Color Changing Disposable Lid (E) from Smart Lid Systems™ (www.smartlidsystems.com) provides consumers with a visual indicator of product temperature for beverages in paper or polystyrene coffee cups. Infused with a color-changing additive, the Smart Lid coffee-cup lid goes from "coffee-bean brown" to glowing red after being placed on a cup containing a hot beverage.

"As the takeaway-cup market evolves, the distinction between thermally insulated cups, once the domain of foam cups alone, is fast becoming blurred," says Nick Bayss, managing director for Smart Lid Systems. "Paper cups now feature corrugated portions, thermal retardants and all manner of thermal barriers, which means that end-users can no longer judge the temperature of their beverages by touch. So, how do they currently test the temperature? With their mouths! With the Smart Lid System, a consumer can tell straightaway that their coffee is hot just by looking at the lid, making the color-changing lid the safest lid on the market."

A further visual indicator ensures that the lid has been placed securely on the cup. When the lid changes color, a dark ring forms around its edge if it is attached to the cup properly.

The lid is made from virgin high-impact PS, which is mixed in the cold-pellet state with a color-changing additive from Matsui Intl. (www.matsui-color.com) that has been approved for food contact by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For manufacture of the lid, Smart Lid Systems has secured a 20-year licensing agreement for the Australia and Asia Pacific region with Rema Industries & Services (www.rema.com.au), an Australian-based manufacturer of disposable plates and cups. Bayss relates that manufacturers in both Europe and the U.S. have also expressed interest in the system, but there are no agreements currently in place.

Regarding the style of the smart lid, because there is no retooling of equipment required to produce it, the lid can be manufactured in either flat or dome styles, and in virtually any size. For test-market purposes and for launch at the end of Q1-06, Rema has been producing the lids in 8-, 12- and 16-oz sizes for use with paper or foam cups.

According to Bayss, while the lid can be designed to change color at virtually any temperature, Smart Lid Systems has found that a range of 100 deg F to 113 deg F, from when the lid begins to change color to a full color change, best reflects the average serving temperatures of hot beverages. As the lid cools, it gradually returns to its initial brown color.

Another aspect being promoted by Smart Lid Systems is the lid's potential as a marketing tool, whereby an advertising message could be printed on the lid that would only appear once the lid changes color. For example, text printed in brown ink on the lid or on a clear sticker applied to the lid would only be visible when the lid was in a hot, or red, state.

To gauge consumers' reactions to the color-changing technology, Bayss says that Smart Lid Systems tested the lid in a variety of large cafes in its hometown of Sydney, and "the response has been overwhelming." He continues, "Of the cafes surveyed, extremely high percentages of respondents said they thought the concept was fantastic and is required by the industry, and a high percentage said they would take the product on once it is released."

While Smart Lid Systems' first foray into color-changing packaging is focused on coffee, Bayss says that there are many more potential applications for the technology, as consumers continue to purchase more and more takeaway foods and beverages. "At this stage, we are planning on exploring the takeaway soup market in particular," he says.


More information is available:
Ball Corp., 303/469-3131. www.ball.com.
Ball Packaging Europe (BPE),49 228-557-0. www.ball-europe.com.
Castle Co-Packers, 724/339-4040.
Cognifex Ltd., 44 870 199 5515. www.cognifex.com.
Degussa FreshTech Beverages LLC, 49-211-65 04 10. www.freshcan.com.
Euro Moulds, Inc., 905/624-7534.
Forest City Technologies, 440/647-2115. www.forestcitytech.com.
Matsui Intl., 800/359-5679. www.matsui-color.com.
The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), www.milknewsroom.com.
Rema Industries & Services Pty. Ltd., 61 2 9630 7988. www.rema.com.au.
RPC Bramlage GmbH, 49 4442 881-0. www.rpc-bramlage.de.
Smart Lid Systems, 614 03 485 858. www.smartlidsystems.com.
Unistraw Intl. Pty. Ltd., 61 2 8338 8600. www.unistraw.com.
Zuckerman-Honickman, Inc., 610/962-0100. www.zh-inc.com.
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