Beverage Makers Leveraging Structural Design in Packaging

When it comes to beverage packaging, designers are using structural innovation to make every part of the pack perform.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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The beverage market, with its myriad niches, is notoriously competitive. To grab shoppers' attention and/or improve product quality, makers of beverages ranging from vitamin water to bourbon are leveraging the structural design of packaging components such as closures, bottles and labels.

An intriguing example in the closure category comes from H2M Beverages LLC, Pompton, Lakes, N.J., which makes and markets 989 OnDemand vitamin-enhanced beverages. In addition to functioning as a reclosable closure, the H2M cap acts as an airtight reservoir for the 100 percent natural product's active ingredients. These comprise nine vitamins; 84 ionic minerals, including iron; and five electrolytes, including calcium and magnesium.

To release the contents of the closure into the bottle, which is filled with water, the consumer twists the top of the cap clockwise. This opens the reservoir and lets the ingredients, which are liquid, flow into the water in a swoosh of color.

"We call it a liquid theater," says Charles Musumeci, CEO of H2M Beverages. He adds that the closure is "actually a container functioning as a cap." Before the reservoir is opened, the container within the cap protects the vitamin-mineral solution from air, light and anything else that could degrade it or reduce potency.

After opening the reservoir, the consumer opens the bottle the regular way (shaking it beforehand is optional), gripping the bottom of the closure and twisting it counterclockwise. Directions explaining how to use the cap are prominently printed on the back of the bottle, including both text and illustrations.

The three-piece closure/delivery system is made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and the bottle is polyethylene terephthalate (PET); therefore, both bottle and cap are recyclable. The bottle is decorated with a transparent full-body shrink sleeve that includes a perforated tamper-evident neckband. Each bottle holds 19 fluid oz.

The H2M closure is designed to provide an "exact dose" of vitamins and minerals when the reservoir is opened fully, Musumeci says, adding that the cap also lets consumers add less than a full dose to the water, if they wish. And the cap offers "the ease of putting [the active-ingredient mixture] in your bottle without squirting it on yourself or in your vehicle."

The 989 OnDemand products are filled in a clean-room environment in Lynchburg, Va., using the brand owner's patented two-stage filling process. The zero-calorie, stevia-sweetened product comes in six flavors: Pomegranate Blueberry, Orange, Grape, Lemon-Lime, Punch and Kiwi Strawberry. To protect the vitamins and minerals from thermal damage, the products are cold-filled.

Two drinks, one bottle

Vimto Soft Drinks Ltd., Newton-le-Willows, United Kingdom, made a splash in the sports and energy drink categories with an eye-catching structural design for its Extreme Sport and Extreme Energy drink bottles. The products launched in the U.K. this June.

Branding and design firm bluemarlin, London, created package graphics for both products, as well as a bottle structure that works for both the carbonated offering, Extreme Energy, and the still beverage, Extreme Sport. The Extreme Energy version of the 500ml bottle is opaque, and the Extreme Sport version is transparent.

"It was a big debate, a big challenge and a fabulous achievement, to utilize the same bottle form for two products with such different carbonation pressure levels," says Guy Williams, creative director-structure, at bluemarlin.

The detailed sculpting on the bottle was designed with extreme sports, and the young men who enjoy them, in mind. Skateboarding, graffiti, street culture and other aspects of the countercultural's "extreme" worldview fueled the structural design.

"There are a number of challenges to creating a uniquely sculpted PET bottle," Williams continues. "One of the main challenges is dealing with the pressure of carbonation, which wants to blow out any detailing in the design form. This issue is also true to a lesser degree with the blue [Extreme Sport] bottle, which although a nominally ‘still' product … is still under pressure from added nitrogen. To counter this flattening pressure, the design has to be skillfully crafted, balanced and strengthening in the same way the hoops of a barrel work."

He adds, "The second main challenge is to keep the plastic weight down while generating the extra ‘gnarly' skate-park aesthetic. Beyond these two key issues, the usual structural performance [issues], such as top load, squeeze-ability and tool construction, still apply."

Innovations in decorating

As with closures and containers, beverage-packaging decorating techniques continue to grow more creative. Among these innovations is a pressure-sensitive wood-veneer label made with real wood. Jim Beam's limited-edition American Stillhouse Clermont Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey was the first product to use the veneer label, which was developed by Multi Packaging Solutions, New York. The whiskey launched this July.

"Because it was a limited edition, Beam wanted something unique and different. The veneer plays [on] the bourbon, which is aged in wooden barrels," says Shawn Nevitt, printed packaging manager for Jim Beam, Deerfield, Ill. The label is made from cherry veneer backed with a thin PET film. Multi Packaging Solutions digitally prints the labels at its facility in Lansing, Mich.

A key challenge in developing the veneer label was assuring that it could be applied on Jim Beam's existing high-speed packaging line. In fact, it is running on that line, though somewhat slower than Jim Beam's regular pressure-sensitive labels, according to Nevitt.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill., took a different decorating tack for its Protea Chenin Blanc and red-blend wine. The Protea bottles are printed using a screen-printing technique in which nontoxic white ink is fused to the glass at a high temperature. The package is finished with a natural cork and standard foil capsule.

Fashion designer Mark Eisen created the Protea package graphics, paying homage to the wines' South African provenance with visual allusions to the protea flower (national flower of South Africa) and the Dutch trading history that shaped South Africa's Western Cape wine region.

The stylish, all-over printing on Protea bottles emphasizes beauty over branding. Brand identification is relegated to the bottle's capsule and neck tag, and product information is contained on the back label.

"We wanted to keep the front of the bottle focused on the unique design, so consumers would reuse the bottle," explains Mary Anne Sullivan, vice president-media relations at Terlato Wines. The brand's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/proteawinesusa) shows some of the creative projects consumers have come up with for their empty Protea bottles. Examples include a chandelier and an olive oil dispenser.

"The first goal, the driving idea, was to transform something utilitarian -- the bottle -- into an object of beauty, not just with a lovely label, but in a deeper, more complete way," Sullivan says. "It really was all about beauty. Reuse and upcycling grew out of that, with the realization that, wow, these are bottles that you can fall in love with, that you don't want to put into the recycling bin."

She concludes, "That very basic, visceral reaction to the beauty of the designs inspired a new way of thinking of the bottle."

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