Innovations galore from drinks giant

4 March 2004 (Last Updated March 4th, 2004 18:30)

Packaging Technology International looks at Coca-Cola's latest developments in the packaging field.

Coca-Cola has always taken its packaging seriously. Take, for example, one of its most famous brand symbols: the famous smooth-curved, organically shaped, wasp-waisted glass bottle. The design for this bottle was first conceived in the early part of the twentieth century, and it was produced in an attempt to thwart the competition of early imitators of both the Coca-Cola beverage and the packaging.

Although the bottle is very expensive to produce, anyone seeing it will instantly recognise the shape and know what it is, which is what the company wanted to achieve at the time. Pop artist Andy Warhol described it as 'the design icon of the century'.

This famous bottle is still produced and used in many countries as Coca-Cola packaging, as many consumers prefer it to other packaging types. The bottle has even evolved into a plastic version, which is seen in many vending machines.

New bulk packaging system

Many establishments sell Coca-Cola on tap. The Coca-Cola Company then provides the drink as syrup, and the vendor adds its own carbonated water via a carbon dioxide gas system.

Packaging manufacturer Arca Systems has developed the Arca Bulk Liquid Handling System, which Coca-Cola is currently implementing throughout its European operation. The system is designed to streamline the delivery process between the European Coca-Cola syrup production facilities and high-volume users of Coca-Cola products, such as bars, clubs and cafés. The syrup is currently concentrated and sold in 20l bag-in-box packs, which are diluted with water and carbonated on the premises.

The new packaging system, the Arca Combo, is a large foldable container specially designed for the bulk transportation of liquid concentrates. The high-density polypropylene container carries a flexible liner, which is filled with the soft drink syrup.

The custom-made Coca-Cola version of the container, which has been nicknamed 'The Megabox' has a 250l capacity, fits two to a Euro pallet container, and has an 800x600mm footprint. The liner for the container has been specially developed for the bulk transport of soft drink concentrates.

Moreover, the Arca Combo containers have been designed for reuse many times over. They are manufactured from food-grade materials and have smooth internal and external surfaces to aid in the cleaning and sterilisation process prior to refilling. They are also designed to be folded up when empty during the return cycle; this way, the container takes up very little space and transportation is more efficient.

Aluminium bottle experiment

Coca-Cola is one of several soft drink companies experimenting with aluminium bottles. The intention is to follow the recycling success story of aluminium cans. The bottles are more difficult to produce than cans, but a new impact extrusion process developed by Exal Corporation has simplified the process and made it more feasible.

Coca-Cola has introduced two Powerade non-carbonated products, Psych and Raize, aimed at the sports and gymnasium market to meet its hydration and energy-boosting requirements. The bullet-shaped aluminium bottles are manufactured by Exal Corporation and have a volume of 33cl.

The top of the bottle is created by folding the metal around a polypropylene outsert provided by Sligan Holdings Inc. This 33mm diameter plastic component allows the aluminium to be rolled around it to form a smooth drinking lip at the top of the bottle.

Diet Coke facelift

In early 2004, Diet Coke is to be given a packaging facelift to rejuvenate the brand image. The drink made history in the UK in 2003 by being the first diet variant of a soft drink to overtake its parent regular full-sugar version in sales figures; the sales increased by 16.4 per cent to £210m, compared to regular Coke with £198m. This has led Coca-Cola to renew its commitment to the Diet Coke brand.

The can and bottle packaging of Diet Coke are to undergo design changes. However, the lettering and silver colour of the containers will remain unchanged, to hopefully retain loyal consumers who might be alienated by a more radical change.

The Diet Coke brand now encompasses: Diet Coke, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, Diet Coke with Lemon, Diet Vanilla Coke and, just launched in the USA, Diet Coke with Lime. All of these variants are to receive the design upgrade to their packaging to completely integrate the brand. Diet Coke with Lemon is also due to be reformulated in 2004, following consumer complaints of the very intense lemon flavour. In its new formulation, the lemon flavour is to be made subtler to appeal to a wider consumer spectrum.

The fridge pack

One of Coca-Cola's latest innovations for secondary dispensing packaging is the fridge pack. This is a narrow cardboard box containing eight standard 33cl cans of the beverage. It is designed to fit on fridge shelves and dispense the cans through a narrow opening.

The pack was created following research that showed that the previous bulk secondary packaging, a 'suitcase' carton, actually hindered the use of the product. Researchers realised the 'suitcase' meant that consumers would put several cans into the fridge and then store the rest elsewhere. When the consumer ran out of refrigerated cans, s/he would forget about the rest of the cans and choose another drink.

The fridge pack solves this problem by getting all the cans into the fridge, ready for use. Thus, consumers will finish all of the cans in the pack before buying a new one. Also, the bright graphics of the retained packaging will constantly remind them of brand loyalty every time they open the fridge. Coca-Cola bottlers worldwide have been adopting the new system, the latest roll-out being in Singapore.

Minute Maid innovation

In 2003, the Coca-Cola subsidiary Minute Maid Company decided to launch its 'Simply Orange' brand of orange juice. MLR Design was contracted for the graphics and Lipson Allport Glass & Associates for the structural design of the new product. The result was a revolutionising, new orange juice container shape.

The very square, slimline-shaped clear PET bottle is decorated with heat transfer front and back labels. The front label depicts a juicy, ripe orange and brand identification words are illustrated in large, free-form script. The bottle is topped with a tamper-proof green plastic closure.

In 2003, Minute Maid also launched a brand of premium orange juice fortified with vitamin D. Since February 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration allows fruit juices to be fortified with this vitamin. The new juice drink has been marketed in a new slimline aluminium can to appeal to the youth consumer market.

The new 'club' can has a Coca-Cola logo on one side and new contemporary ribbon graphics on the other side using two shades of a silver colour. Pearlfisher designed the graphics. The new can has already proved to be a great success.

Mineral water success

In early 2004 Coca-Cola is to launch a new brand of mineral water on the French bottled water market. The Dasani brand is a natural mineral water drink, with added calcium and magnesium.

First launched in 1999, it has already become one of the world's top ten water brands. Coca-Cola entered the bottled water market in 1986 and has become the number three producer worldwide. Coca-Cola markets bottled water in more than 100 countries through approximately 20 brands. The launch in France will be supported by a large-scale advertising campaign, aiming to rapidly develop consumer awareness of the brand.

Important environmental steps

The Coca-Cola Company is deeply committed to the cause of recycling and sustainable resources. It focuses on what it can do in the soft drinks industry to preserve the environment and save resources. Consequently, Coca-Cola contributes to the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment and is also a member of a new industry body: the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

In November 2003, a group of 24 packaging experts came together at the University of Virginia Business School, USA, to form this working group that could discuss strategies for sustainable packaging. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo represented the soft drinks industry, and the whole range of industries with packaging interests was represented by companies and organisations ranging from Alcoa and Cargill Dow to Nike, Estée Lauder and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition set up three initial goals:

  • To advocate and communicate a positive robust environmental vision for packaging
  • To define sustainable packaging for each of the industries represented
  • To decide on a strategy for producing functional packaging materials and systems to protect the environment and promote economic growth

The meeting was organised by GreenBlue, a non-profit organisation set up to promote the principles of sustainable reusable industry design.