Donna Berry

Fluid milk processors around the country are giving traditional translucent plastic milk jugs-the same jugs that have been around for almost 40 years-a new look. Some dairies are adding color to the resin, making the jugs opaque. Some true innovators are even reshaping the jug, making it easier to pour and store.

It was in 2001 and 2002 that Dairy Foods magazine and DMI teamed up to produce a series of five supplements entitled: Packaging Opportunities for Fluid Milk. (These supplements can be downloaded by clicking here.) The supplements include a variety of ideas on how to improve fluid milk packaging, ranging from modifying shape and size to selecting materials and labels. It is with great pride that Dairy Foods and DMI can report that in less than two years later, a number of dairies around the country have updated their packaging, specifically the half-gallon and gallon plastic milk jug.

For example, in October 2003, Dallas-based Dean Foods Co., under the Land O Lakes label, rolled out the new "easy pour" bottle. (The Land O Lakes brand is used under license from Land O'Lakes Inc, Arden Hills, Minn., which is the part of the country where the new gallon is available.) Sold throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul, the redesigned gallon incorporates a stabilizing thumb groove and handle, making it easier to maneuver.

"We believe that this design is ground-breaking," says Pat Graiziger, v.p. and g.m. of Dean Foods North Central. "Gallon bottles can be bulky and difficult to handle, especially for kids. The easy pour bottle has a comfortable handle and a centered spout that allows for ease, stabilization and accuracy when pouring.

"We talked to many consumers about what they would like to see in a new and improved milk bottle," says Graiziger. "To follow-up on our successful launch of the FlavorTight bottle, we now combine those features into our new easy pour bottle. The new design delivers three key consumer benefits: It is easier to hold, easier to pour and easier to store in the refrigerator."

The FlavorTight bottle is an earlier innovation by Dean Foods, which is a result of adding a white color concentrate to the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) to help prevent light oxidation. (For more information on light blocking efforts, click here.)

A number of companies have incorporated color into bottle resin in order to block out harmful ultraviolet (UV) light rays in dairy cases. After years of research, it has become clear that light degrades the taste and quality of milk. Some essential vitamins in milk, including vitamin A and riboflavin, begin to break down when exposed to the fluorescent UV lights often found in dairy cases. UV light also changes the flavor and fresh taste of milk.

"The white jug is our way of ensuring that consumers get the best-tasting milk possible," says Steve Feldkamp, executive v.p. of Umpqua Dairy Products Co., Roseburg, Ore. Umpqua Dairy phased out its old plastic half-gallon and gallon jugs in the fall of 2003, replacing them with "light-blocking" opaque plastic jugs.

At the end of December, Marigold Foods LLC, Minneapolis, rolled out its own version of a gallon jug that is easier to use. Sold under the Kemps brand, the new easy pour bottle is described as "pours like a pitcher."

"Nothing has been done to a gallon package since gallon packages were first developed in the 1960s," says Rachel Kyllo, v.p. of marketing for Kemps. "We believed there was an opportunity to distinguish our brand."

One of the most significant benefits of easy pour gallons is that children can pour their own milk without spilling. The ergonomically designed container makes handling much easier for small hands and fingers.

Marigold Foods touts other features of the Kemps bottle including that it's sturdier than traditional milk jugs and has an off-center, easy pour spout. The larger front panel provides space for an oversized label, which assists in brand building.

And when it comes to commodity products such as gallons of white milk, packaging is the way to differentiate.