The Coca-Cola Bag

I know, it is in Africa and parts of Asia no different, but in Central and South America, where the iconic Coca-Cola single serve glass bottle is very much in use and very popular, it is custom that when you buy a Coca-Cola (or any other brand or flavour for that matter, as long it is bottled in a single-serve glass bottle) at a street stall or a kiosk or from a vendor at the beaches and you haven’t an empty bottle to trade-in, the soft drink is poured into a plastic bag and you walk away with a bag with a drinking straw, leaving the empty glass bottle with the vendor.

Note: It is the same when it is a home-made regional drink, often sweet and made from fruit and water, but then there never has been a glass bottle in the first place. But it is sold in plastic bags with a drinking straw.

A strange custom? Not at all, as it is very effective. The vendor of soft drinks has to secure his glass bottle against all odds. Charging a refund (whatever the value) doesn’t help him, as the distributor of soft drinks wants to see empty bottles. He will replenish the vendor’s stock only in relation to the number of empty bottles he trades-in. No empty bottles means: no replenishment with full bottles. An eye for an eye is translated into one empty for one full.

With this system in place the bottler always has the guarantee that his bottles are coming back for a refill, and rather clean at that, as the consumer doesn’t have the chance to urinate into the bottle or use it for the storage of chemicals.

Of course you could ask yourself, why not the single-serve PET (or HDPE) bottle or the aluminium can? Well, there are several reasons. The first is the famous myth about the taste.
“Why does coke from a glass bottle taste different? It doesn’t. That’s what Coca-Cola’s spokespeople say, anyway. “The great taste of Coca-Cola is the same regardless of the package it comes in”, they insist. Nevertheless 99% of the time every one prefers the glass bottles over all the other types of coke packages.
But it is not only for the taste, but Coca-Cola in a glass bottle is the cheapest option, as the consumer doesn’t pay for the costs of the plastic bottle or the alu-can. But it creates the “bottle-problem”. Street vendors, street stalls and kiosks all over the world found the solution for the glass bottle, which they couldn’t let taken away by the consumer. They introduced the plastic bag, and unanimously and without question, the moment you buy a bottle of soft drink, they pour the soft drink into a plastic bag stick a straw in and hand it over to you.

However for world famous brands with iconic packages this market format is quite a problem. Imagine, the moment the soft drink is dumped into a simple plastic bag, while the iconic bottle stays with the vendor, nobody knows that you drink a genuine Coca-Cola. It can be any fancy brand. For brands as Coca-Cola that’s quite a frustration.

Consequently some clever chap at Coca-Cola in El Salvador found the most brilliant answer I have ever seen. Apparently he understands his consumers (wherever they live) and is keen to emphasize the values transmitted by the brand. To adapt the product to this market reality, he initiated a campaign offering plastic bags in the form of the iconic glass bottle, even with its logo. See the video.

In other words, Coca-Cola is now supplying the vendors in street stalls, kiosks and all other places a plastic bag in the format of the iconic Coca-Cola glass bottle. It is said that “The Coca-Cola Bag”, is made of bio-degradable plastic.

Brilliant, simply brilliant.

I know it has little to do with packaging technology, but this type of developments is as important as the most complicated discovery of a plastic substitute.

Rest me to say: Who is the first to copy this idea? Here in the north of Brazil even beer (which comes in 0.6 litre glass bottles) is dropped into one or two plastic bags with drinking straws if you haven’t an empty bottle to trade-in. Ever drank beer through a straw? Personally I don’t like it, but here it is quite common practice. So, tell me, one of the beer giants (all AmBev here) gets an inspiration? Coca-Cola hasn’t introduced it here yet. So there is some room to say that you are “innovative”.

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16 responses to “The Coca-Cola Bag

  1. I personally would never accept a drink in a flexible plastic package. For it was invented the disposable cup, and renewable and sustainable solutions are emerging. I believe the customer should choose and demand the best solution with the convenience to the situation.

    • If you live in Brazil, come up to the north and look around. Furthermore, if you don’t live in Brazil the plastic bag is common practice in so many low-income countries you can have your pick.

  2. This has been a packaging system in the Philippines since I am 5 years old. Now, I am 56 and still do not find this system dying as this is the most efficient, cost effective way of drinking coke. However, the environment is one to reckon with.

    • Liz, I know that. It is the same here in Latin America. The problem is, that people from the first world don’t know it and obviously refuse to understand it and accept it. It is common practice in all low-income countries and if/when Coca-Cola refutes the existence, they either don’t know their market or as someone wrote “the cat got out of the bag” before they had the market covered. The laughability of the story is that people from the first world scream that it is impossible to package carbonated softdrinks in a plastic bag, but they don’t understand that it is done at the vendor stall they moment of consuming the drink. Apparently a problem with cultures.

    • Stuart, as I said at LinkedIn:
      Everywhere on LinkedIn it is suggested that the Coca-Cola Bag is a hoax. It might be, or not a hoax, or scam. But that’s of no importance. Apparently everybody seems to miss the point. Whether it is Coca-Cola itself, one of its distributors or some clever chap in El Salvador, the fact is that introducing the Coca-Cola bag is a brilliant idea. I think that the Coca-Cola guys are now banging their heads that they didn’t come up with the idea. Well, it is up for grabs, so we will see it in an official version in due course. Why the “inventor” choose to publish a video I don’t know.
      By the way there are publications stating that Coca-Cola is rolling out the plastic bag worldwide. We have to wait and see. I agree with Jenni (other group), that possibly the cat got out of the bag, as it is such an easy item to copy without repercussions.
      And yes it is a very common practice to pour soft drinks of any brand, and even beer for that matter, in a simple plastic bag the moment you buy it at a vendors stall or kiosk. I live in the north of Brazil and I haven’t seen anything else in the twenty years I am here. I know it is common practice in almost every Latin America country, in the Philippines and Indonesia, and without doubt in many other low-income countries.
      It has nothing to do with the carbonisation. It is similar when you pour your Coke into a cup, except now it is a bag with a straw and you can walk away sipping your drink.

      And Stuart, I am afraid you didn’t understand the story. It is not Coca-Cola presenting its drinks in a plastic bag. It is poured from a glass bottle into a bag the moment you buy your drink. Vegt might have misunderstood you, or he doesn’t know his market, but the plastic bag at a street stall is quite common in Asia.

      • Olá Anton, entrei em contato com a Coca-Cola, me informaram que se tratava de um projeto, e que não tinham intenção de implantá-lo no Brasil. Também contatei a Ambev e me disseram que a situação ocorre no norte do país apenas por costume dos comerciantes e não se trata de problema logístico ou algo parecido.

        Abraços

        Fabiana

  3. Very interesting, and thank you for this article. I could see that these beverage bags might be even more effective if they had Concepts4Today’s “Personalizable Beverage Name Space” printed on them to keep them seperate from others. Anyway that we can make packaging better is a step in the right direction.

  4. This is very interesting and thank you for this great article. The reusable plastic beverage bag seems to have less of an impact on the environment. They’re reusable and easily recyclable. The beverage bag can be made user friendly with the simple addition of Concepts4Today’s “Personalizable Beverage Name Space” to keep them personal and separate from other users.
    Any improvements that make consumer goods packaging user friendly and environmentally responsible is a step in the right direction.

  5. Coca-Cola just put out an official statement disclaiming the biodegradable plastic pouch and the video of it that went viral as a HOAX. Coca-Cola does NOT market its product in Central America in any other format except plastic PET and glass bottles. This just goes to show the extremely powerful influence of the internet and how uploaded articles, hoaxes or not, can spin around the world so quickly. I am just sorry that there are people who upload such videos without even putting out a disclaimer for it. Please be careful of what you pick up from the Internet.

    • Everywhere, among others on LinkedIn, it is suggested that the Coca-Cola Bag is a hoax. It might be, or not a hoax, or scam. But that’s of no importance. Apparently everybody seems to miss the point. Whether it is Coca-Cola itself, one of its distributors or some clever chap in El Salvador, the fact is that introducing the Coca-Cola bag is a brilliant idea. I think that the Coca-Cola guys are now banging their heads that they didn’t come up with the idea. Well, it is up for grabs, so we will see it in an official version in due course. Why the “inventor” choose to publish a video I don’t know.
      By the way there are publications stating that Coca-Cola is rolling out the plastic bag worldwide. We have to wait and see. I agree with Jenni Spinner of Packaging Digest, that possibly the cat got out of the bag, as it is such an easy item to copy without repercussions.
      And yes it is a very common practice to pour soft drinks of any brand, and even beer for that matter, in a simple plastic bag the moment you buy it at a vendors stall or kiosk. I live in the north of Brazil and I haven’t seen anything else in the twenty years I am here. I know it is common practice in almost every Latin America country, in the Philippines and Indonesia, and without doubt in many other low-income countries.
      It has nothing to do with the carbonisation. It is similar when you pour your Coke into a cup, except now it is a bag with a straw and you can walk away sipping your drink.
      And your warning is an idiotic attempt to be a righteous person, while the websites are just covering the news and novelties. Wake up to the real world.

  6. Not sure about drinking soda out of a plastic bag.If the custom was already in place in specific regions the bag in the shape of a Coke bottle is a great idea to keep the brand image.

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