A Bit of Everything

by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
Contributing Editor

Bottles, jugs and cartons meet most needs, and there’s no shortage of thoughts about them.

Bottles, jugs and cartons — what can one deliver that the others can’t? We invited several suppliers of packaging and related components to weigh in on this broad topic.
Q: What are the latest technology and trends in bottles, jugs and cartons?
Richard Szyperski, technical product manager, Evergreen Packaging Equipment, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: It is the continual increasing importance of shelf life in both dairy and juice operations. The focus on high hygiene and food safety has pushed the market into more sophisticated packaging machines that control the environment around the filling process. The trends are for higher barrier properties to be able to retain the nutritive value of the product over longer distribution cycles. Barrier structures are continually being developed and improved. Differing distribution strategies are making producers take another look at aseptic technology for other package types. 
Kelly Rosvold, general manager, Portola Packaging Canada Ltd., Richmond, British Columbia: Dairies are looking for longer shelf life, to reduce their costs of product returns. Portola has partnered with an R&D company to implement a process that has proven to accomplish this goal. There is increasing demand for UHT products, which require special processing and a special container, allowing for non-refrigerated storage. Customers are starting to inquire more often about the availability of full-sleeved containers.
Nils-Erik Aaby, vice president, Elopak Inc., New Hudson, Mich.: Extending the shelf life of refrigerated products — ideally, without the expense and complications of aseptic — is a major issue for dairies. Most are already delivering several states away on a daily basis, and maintaining freshness is crucial. Ultra-clean filling does exactly that, with minor changes in packaging and none in processing.
Emilio Llosa, marketing manager, food & beverage, Owens-Illinois, Perrysburg, Ohio: In terms of glass containers, O-I is seeing growth in the dairy beverage market attributed to the trend toward organics. Additionally, major customers are looking to differentiate new products, for example, Starbucks Frappuccino and Ben & Jerry’s milkshakes.
Giovanna Prestes Lemos, marketing and communications manager, Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill.: The carton bottles we are developing will enable customers to tap into the growing ambient market for plastic bottles at a system cost on par or better than APET/AHDPE filling line at similar capacity. In addition, the carton bottle combines the taste, nutritional value and safety of aseptic carton packaging with the functionality and appeal of plastic bottles. Aseptic carton bottles captivate all the natural goodness of the product inside, providing better product quality than APET/AHDPE bottles.
The unique design of the carton bottle enables manufacturers to differentiate their brands and create on-shelf product “stand out.”
Brian Glasbrenner, global business development manager, NatureWorks LLC, Minnetonka, Minn.: We believe that plastic resin made from a renewable resource will be a future trend. Research proves that consumers are very aware of the benefits and will go out of their way to purchase products that are packaged bottles and containers using our plastic.
John Theis, market segment manager, Sonoco, Hartsville, S.C.: Shelf-stable, single-serve packages. 
Q: What advantages does one type of container have over the other?
Szyperski: Cartons have extremely high graphics capabilities in a package format that has a more favorable cost when compared to other types of packaging. Our various gable-top package formats give new attractive paper-based packaging options that allow for great shelf presence and a billboard effect for graphics, giving the producer the ability to market his product at a very competitive cost structure. Spout closures provide the producer and end consumer an easy-to-open package that is also easy to close. Gable-top packaging machines have lower operating costs than bottle fillers in certain markets, such as the extended life dairy and juice markets. All functions — form, fill and seal — are completed on one machine platform utilizing minimal floor space.
The ability for different shapes and sizes in bottles allows for product differentiation. This is an effective feature for the producer. This feature, however, comes at an additional cost to the producer. Not only should the cost of the bottle be factored in, but also the cost of the cap, label or shrink-sleeve. Increases in resin prices have negatively impacted the cost of bottles. Along with that, the extra capital equipment to perform these operations and the floor space consumed must be accounted for. High-speed bottling lines utilize significant amounts of water and chemicals for bottle sanitation.
Rosvold: Plastic has the advantage of light weight, which significantly reduces shipping costs. The bottles can be filled and capped on inexpensive rotary fillers, and the bottles are easily resealable. New advances in plastic bottle manufacture and capping procedures have increased shelf life to, in some instances, exceed that of gable-top containers, primarily where the paper container uses the fold-close pouring spout. Plastic costs slightly more than paper. Paper requires a very expensive, high maintenance erector/filler. Glass is the most expensive container, and is heavy. Glass is non-gas permeable, which may extend shelf life, but leaves the product open to UV degradation.
Aaby: Consumers have identified paperboard cartons with fresh, quality milk for decades. One reason is paper’s superior light-blocking ability, which protects the flavor and nutrients. Many people also find the package sizes and pouring more convenient in paper than in plastic. And they appreciate that paper is a renewable resource.
People also like something new once in a while, so they respond positively to the slim, modern profile of the Curve™ and Diamond™ cartons. Both designs stand out on the shelf, and the Diamond design also allows a larger cap to make pouring more convenient than ever.
Llosa: Glass offers a premium image which can help set new dairy products apart and communicate purity and safety. And due to its inert nature, it will protect the product inside from contamination and degradation. This is important for dairy products when it comes to shelf life and the preservation of taste.
Murray Bain, vice president of marketing, Stanpac Inc., Smithville, Ontario, Canada: Various packages have characteristics that will work in different situations. For example, our glass milk packaging will appeal to perhaps an organic or premium product that is produced on a local farm and sold in high-end markets, while a common plastic container will offer some economies in distribution channels of a national or regional company.
Vickie Vermeire, marketing manager, Solo Cup Co., Owings Mills, Md.: No container is inherently better than another; each has its advantages. Scrounds are great for space utilization in a retail freezer, while rounds differentiate the product. We offer both scround and round paperboard containers to meet each customers’ unique needs.
Lemos: We believe aseptic technology is an innovation that solves many challenges and issues facing consumers, manufacturers and the environment. Many advantages exist when utilizing aseptic processing and packaging and Tetra Pak cartons.
Glasbrenner: High-density bottles are strong and relatively cheap, while PET provides other advantages for smaller packages, such as single-serve bottles. PLA plastic is most like PET both in form, function and price. All can be recycled with HDPE and PET, affecting the majority of plastic recycling. Because PLA is so new, the recycling infrastructure is not set up to handle it. Another benefit of PLA is that it is compostable. The plastic bottle or package a consumer uses today and disposes of outside of recycling — and only about 23 percent of all plastic is recycled — will be on the planet forever.
Pam Parris, director of marketing, Blue Ridge Paper Products Inc., Canton, N.C.: While sales increase with plastic bottles, they are often cost-prohibitive. In fact, the added cost of the plastic bottle translates to about $6 per student per year. Whereas the new, enhanced paperboard carton, combined with simple, but great marketing initiatives like [Blue Ridge’s] Milk Rocks! increase milk sales and can actually add about $3 per student per year to the bottom line of school systems.  In addition, paperboard cartons are made from a renewable resource: trees, grown and harvested under sustainable forestry practices.
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.