First Class Glass Packaging

March 13, 2006
Processors gravitate to glass packaging for branding, premium positioning and product protection.

Innovative decorating techniques and structural designs are driving the creation of glass packaging that conveys product quality and differentiates the product at retail, while at the same time providing flavor protection and other functional benefits.

Organic and all-natural products are leading the movement. And processors of items conventionally packaged in glass, such as jams, condiments, water and alcoholic beverages, also are contributing to the new generation of glass packaging.

Organic and natural products, which have an affinity for glass for both aesthetic and environmental reasons, represent one of the fastest growing market segments for glass packaging. The staggering growth of the organic market - 20 percent annually in recent years, according to the Organic Trade Assn. - bodes well for glass as the organic and natural segment matures.

The environmental friendliness of glass appeals to organic food processors like Straus Family Creamery.

In this market segment, "The growth is phenomenal. The volume is supposed to double by 2008," says Lee Farlander, president of Vitro Packaging Inc. (www.vitropackaging.com), Plano, Texas. "What I see when I walk into Whole Foods, with its concentration on the organic movement, is a store full of glass."

These processors' preference for glass springs in part from a need for flavor protection. "Glass is inert and doesn't chemically alter the product inside," says Joseph Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute (www.gpi.org), Alexandria, Va. "Glass says purity, premium and product protection like no other packaging material."

Glass' inert character has strongly influenced Drew Starkweather, CEO and chef of Drew's All Natural (www.chefdrew.com), Chester, Vt. Starkweather cites three reasons for choosing glass for his salad dressings and organic salsas: "It breaks down to health, quality of flavor and perceived quality" of the product.

Because glass does not react chemically to oils or other ingredients, glass packaging can deliver both health and flavor benefits over plastic packaging materials.

"The health aspect of plastic is not great, especially for a salad dressing, which is 50 to 60 percent oil. The oil will eat away at the plastic slowly," Starkweather says. Consequently, the product's flavor and purity are affected.

He adds that even water can pick up an off flavor from plastic packaging materials. "If it will do that to water, think what it'll do to a ‘like' material, an oil," Starkweather says.

The environmental friendliness of glass also appeals to many organic and natural food processors. An organic dairy company, Straus Family Creamery (www.strausmilk.com), Marshall, Calif., has used glass packaging since its founding. Currently, the company fills milk, whipping cream and half and half into glass bottles.

"Our belief in employing recyclable packaging and reusable packaging whenever possible is a cornerstone of our commitment to sustainable agriculture and high-quality dairy food," says John Stallcup, the company's vice president of marketing.

Glass provides marketing support, as well. "Straus is the original organic dairy west of the Mississippi. As the leader of organic dairy in California, we feel using glass reinforces our artisan, organic brand positioning," Stallcup adds.

Straus washes and refills the bottles its consumers return; however, many consumers keep and reuse the bottles. Straus' bottles are decorated using applied ceramic labeling (ACL), a scuff-impervious decorating technique in which ceramic ink is fused to the glass. Thus the Straus brand name lives on indefinitely in the refrigerators of its bottle collectors.

Conveying premium quality

Many consumers of AriZona Beverages' all-natural products also collect the empty bottles, thanks to the products' appealing label graphics. Lake Success, N.Y.-based AriZona Beverages (www.arizonabev.com) decorates its glass bottles with high-quality artwork printed on full-body shrink labels.

The company uses proprietary 16-oz. and 20-oz. glass bottle and always introduces new products in the 20-oz. bottle. "We do that because of the quality, premium image of glass," says Francie Patton, vice president of corporate communications at AriZona Beverages.

A glass bottle with full-body shrink label makes AriZona beverages highly noticeable and unique.

The 20-oz. bottle is considered a single-serving package, a healthy serving but one that invites trial of something new. "When people try a new product, they don't want to grab a gallon of it," Patton explains.

The company's most recent introduction is AriZona Decaf Diet Green Tea with Ginseng. The artwork on the bottle's shrink label complements the imagery used on the AriZona Diet Green Tea bottle. Both feature an illustration of a geisha. She is pictured upon a cream background on the Diet Green Tea label and upon a black lacquer-look background on the Decaf Diet Green Tea label.

The premium image of glass has attracted others in the organic/natural segment, as well.

"Safeway's new, private label O Organics feature a number of everyday food products that are packaged in glass: salsa, maple syrup, salad dressing, pasta sauce and olive oil. Clearly, Safeway is communicating ‘premium organic products' by packaging these products in glass," says the Glass Packaging Institute's Cattaneo.

The Safeway supermarket chain launched the O Organics line, which includes more than 150 USDA-certified organic items, last September. The jars and bottles are decorated with cut-and-stack labels featuring photos of fresh ingredients such as tomatoes and garlic.

Containers shape up

Decorating techniques and the glass container's shape play an important role in communicating quality and setting an organic or natural item - or any product - apart from competitors.

As part of the redesign for its mineral water and sparkling water packaging, Mountain Valley Spring Co. (www.mountainvalleyspring.com), Hot Springs National Park, Ark., significantly changed the shape of its bottle.

The redesigned package incorporates embossing and ACL, to convey the products' premium quality. The new bottle shape, graphics and embellishments put a contemporary spin on a bottle design Mountain Valley Spring used in the early 20th century.

The goals of the redesign were to give the product a more premium look and feel and to set it apart from competitors by calling out its longevity. "There are not a lot of water companies out there that date back to 1871. Mountain Valley Spring wanted to really go after its heritage," says Dan Matauch, principal of Detroit-based Flowdesign Inc. (www.flow-design.com), the agency that designed the new package.

Circling the shoulder of the new bottle is the phrase "Since 1871," embossed three times, and "America's Premium Water," embossed twice. The ACL artwork includes illustrations of mountains and trees, applied in light green ceramic ink as a backdrop to the product and brand identification.

To meet filling equipment and shelf requirements, the bottle stands less than 12 inches high. Vitro supplies the bottles, which are made from green glass.

A stimulating package

Companies outside the organic/natural segment, most notably in the spirits category, also are using the shape and decoration of their glass packaging to convey brand imagery and product personality.

"The most impactful glass packaging recently has been for spirits," says Mary Ellen Reis, president of Packnology (www.packnology.com), Peacham, Vt., a packaging consulting agency. In particular, "The big trends are brown liquors and brown cocktails. They're getting a lot of attention."

Starbucks Corp. (www.starbucks.com), Seattle, is riding the trend with its Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, developed in partnership with Beam Global Spirits and Wine Inc. (www.jimbeambrands.com), Deerfield, Ill.

When Beam Global Spirits wanted to bring the Starbucks name to liqueurs, the glass bottle was shaped to remind consumers of both a cocktail shaker and a Starbucks coffee cup.

The liqueur's bottle shape is reminiscent of a cocktail shaker - or a Starbucks coffee cup - and the bottle is rendered in dark amber glass. The product comes in 50- and 750-ml and 1-l sizes. Positioned as a super-premium cordial, the product is available at retail and on-premise locations but not in Starbucks stores.

Starbucks' logo is displayed in a debossed circle on the front of the bottle. The logo and product identification are applied using ACL, and the Starbucks name is embossed on the shoulder of the bottle. As a final touch, the bottle's brown closure is decorated with a ring of stars using a heat-transfer label.

"The goal was to create a package that communicates the product's authentic coffee flavor while generating a ‘high purchase intent' on its own behalf. The bottle is meant to communicate sophistication and the product's versatility as a straight sipper, a base for mixers, and an ingredient in a variety of drinks," says Kelly Doss, director, Starbucks Liqueurs, Beam Global Spirits and Wine.

Doss adds it was important "to make sure that Starbucks customers perceived Starbucks Coffee Liqueur as something with a new and unique set of brand cues: versatility, sophistication, and of course, authentic Starbucks coffee flavor."

The companies subsequently came out with Starbucks Cream Liqueur in a similarly shaped bottle rendered in a light cream-colored glass. Playing to Starbucks' strength, the cream product includes a touch of coffee.

The Burlington, Wis., facility of Saint-Gobain Containers (www.sgcontainers.com) supplies the 1-l bottles, and Anchor Glass Container Corp.'s Henryetta, Okla., plant supplies the 750-ml bottles for both liqueurs.

In the flavored alcoholic beverages category, bottle shape plays an important role in the rebranding and package redesign of Seagram's Coolers. Currently owned by Pernod-Ricard, the brand received a new moniker, Seagram's Cooler Escapes, and the package's shape and graphics were overhauled.

United States Beverage LLC (www.unitedstatesbeverage.com), Stamford, Conn., which markets the product, timed the rebranding to Seagram's Coolers' 20th anniversary on the market. The Escapes bottle, which looks like a beer bottle, replaces the product's highly recognizable but dated teardrop-shaped container. Owens-Illinois Inc. (www.o-i.com), Toledo, Ohio, supplies the new 12-oz. bottles.

United States Beverage refreshed the product's packaging graphics as well, using colorful, tropical images on body and neck labels and on paperboard four-pack carriers. The paper labels are rotogravure printed.

United States Beverage leveraged the package redesign to introduce several new Seagram's Cooler Escapes flavors, including Mango Passion Paradise Punch and Green Apple AppleLicious. Since the rebranding, the company has added Pineapple Coconut Calypso Colada and Strawberry Margarita to the lineup.

Welch's collectible jars

For Welch Foods Inc. (www.welchs.com), Concord, Mass., the familiar tumbler shape of its collectible jelly jars carries a strong brand message. The most recent Welch's collectible jars feature Curious George, the children's literary character and subject of a newly released movie. Welch's Grape Jelly, Grape Jam and Strawberry Spread all are available in the limited-edition series of six.

The series' jars are decorated using heat-transfer labels, and the labels' bright illustrations of Curious George are printed via rotogravure. Saint-Gobain Containers supplies the clear glass jars.

"Welch's strong brand equity is tightly tied to its long history. For more than 50 years, Welch's has offered consumers a fun, family-friendly collectible in its 10-oz. glass jars, and it is important to continue that tradition," says Deborah Frank, Welch's product manager-spreads. The company began the tradition in 1953 with the introduction of Howdy Doody jelly glasses.

Frank concludes, "People connect this particular jar to Welch's as a company, and it really has a large share of mind. The longevity of this item makes it a part of the brand's heritage."


Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a processor's marketing department to design or source a new glass container only to discover, in the first production trial, that the bottle is incompatible with the plant's filling and/or labeling equipment.

To avoid this problem, representatives from operations and marketing should talk up front about equipment characteristics that will influence bottle design. Flowdesign's Dan Matauch advises designers to ask their operations colleagues the following questions as part of the preliminary research for any glass packaging project:

  • Will the product be filled on a high-speed line?

  • Will the plant be filling the product hot or cold?

  • What are the plant's labeling capabilities?

  • What are the height and width restraints of the bottling line?
Don't send out blueprints to make a bottle mold unless you are sure it is correctly sized to run on existing equipment. Designers have been known to create a package with a particular type of label only to discover the plant doesn't have the equipment or expertise to apply that type of label. The container design must allow more head space for hot filling than for cold filling. If head space is insufficient, the product may overflow during hot filling.
    If so, the container should be designed to have two points of contact with the filling equipment. One contact point should be at the base of the bottle and the other at the shoulder.

By answering these kinds of production and equipment questions, the operations team can eliminate processing headaches and reduce glass waste.

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