The market of bottled water is beleaguered with a number of issues including the growth of cheaper-priced private label bottled water, consumer criticism of the industry’s high carbon footprints and consumer unwillingness to drink high-calorie enhanced/flavoured water. Nevertheless, the most conspicuous trend in the bottled water market still is the seemingly never ending array of new bottled water products.
Even though innovation has reconfigured the bottled water market, the leading revenue source for the US bottled water market is still the single-serve PET-bottle. Throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s, still water in single-serve polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, experienced an exceptional growth.
But times are changing. During the economic challenges of the late 2000s, bottled water, like many other beverage categories in the United States during the depths of the economic recession, suffered reversals.
It is clear that due to this economic recession, recovering or not, the consumer is looking at less-expensive and more environmental friendly alternatives. And I don’t talk about the tap water alternative and the refillable bottle, but alternatives to the current, still dominating, single-serve PET-bottles in the market.
Let’s face the facts. In the eye of the consumer the single-serve PET-bottle has lost its ‘green’ credentials. With, according to American Demographics, women constituting the majority of bottled water drinkers, the bottled water industry faces a consumer group famously known to be sensitive to the environment. PET-bottles are seen as a waste of valuable natural resources and a huge polluter. At top of this, we see several law suits with regard to banning the use of single-serve PET-bottles for mineral water. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the PET-bottle for water, as we know it, will be packed in the catacombs of history.
So, tell me, what is left for the bottled water industry? Let’s walk through the various packaging formats and see what options out of the ordinary are or will be available to differentiate a brand from the bulk and at the same time may satisfy the consumer in his/her search for a less-expensive and even green alternative to the standard PET-bottle.
Single-serve plastic bottles
In the recent years the plastic water bottles have been subjected to light-weighting. Typically, when bottle weight is reduced, ribs are added to brace bottle walls. These bottles are brittle and noisy when compressed, which reduces shelf appeal and premium image. The ribs also limit the possibilities for light-weighting.
To solve this problem, Sidel came up with the NoBottle, a very light 9.9 g per 500-ml PET bottle for water. Sidel’s Flex technology combines plastic’s flexibility with shape memory eliminating the need for ribs allowing designers to create all sorts of shapes, even for extremely lightweight bottles. The bottles are easy to grip, supple, and substantially less brittle than conventional bottles.
With the light-weighting process going on, we near the area of the pouch. Krones pushed that boundary between a rigid blow-moulded bottle and a flexible pouch, with the NitroPouch, a 500-ml PET bottle of only 6.6 grams.
The bottle concept eliminates the traditional neck ring and incorporates reconfigured threads engineered to accept a 1.1-gram closure. The concept optimizes material distribution with wall thicknesses of less than 0.1 millimetres.
The bottle diameter narrows at the top to enhance grip-ability. Grooves reinforce the grip area to stiffen the sidewall so the bottle can be labelled, even when empty. Nitrogen pressurization ensures that the container does not collapse during transport and handling.
The distinction between a bottle and a pouch is even getting greyer with Amcor’s neither-a-bottle, nor-a-pouch AquaFlexCan. An easy open, non-spill flexible beverage pack for still water.
Consumers simply Tear-n-Sip, as the bottle/pouch utilizes laser perforation, to easily tear off the top of the mouthpiece, so that the water can be consumed directly from the pack. No straw or scissors are required. A special seal geometry of the mouthpiece allows consumers to easily control the liquid flow and limits spills if the pack falls over.
The AquaFlexCan offers environmental benefits, among which lower carbon footprint (compared to PET and glass bottles) and less waste (the weight of one pouch is only 3g).
We go even deeper in the world of the hybrids as we have a look at the flexible can.
The 200ml Cyclero pouches or DrinkBags, as Huhtamaki likes to call them, is not a stand-up pouch but an all-flexible version of the Cyclero design. There is a peel-off lid, and the consumer can drink direct from the aperture, as with a metal can. There’s no need for a straw or a spout.
Huhtamaki characterizes the format as “the world’s only round flow pack”. The DrinksBag is the latest and most simple addition to the Cyclero system, which always have been basically a logical optimization of conventional stand-up pouches. The Cyclero aims at avoiding the sealed seams on the sides that determine the appearance and haptic properties to a very crucial extent, while at the same time maintaining the advantages of flexible packaging over the conventional can, jar and paperboard formats.
And this brings us to the flexible pouches.
The prediction that the term “bottled water” will disappear began to take shape, after the introduction in October 2005 by Jumex in Mexico City of its 200-ml Nautix line of kid-oriented flavoured waters in a transparent Wedge Aseptic Tetra Pak with SiOx barrier.
Nautix was followed up by Wasatch Icewater, which entered the market with its Ampac PET stand-up pouch with a silicon valve.
The material composition was a PET film, with a bi-axially oriented nylon with a coextruded organoleptic inner layer. Seaquist Closures provided the three-part closure, a PE base frame with silicon valve nozzle closed by an EZ Turn Screw Cap. The patented system doses in two ways, by turning the valve to suck or by squeezing the bag so that the water sprays from the valve.
The slender, lightweight alternative to water bottles set the development of the market of water in stand-up pouches, with the sporting enthusiasts and other “on-the-go” and “outdoor-loving” consumers in mind.
Don’t forget! It’s so easy to slip a couple of pouches into your pockets or back-pack when you are skiing, jogging or biking. You can also freeze the pouches, use them as portable ice packs and drink the water later. And when you are done, you have a flat empty pouch that can be easily disposed of.
And that’s exactly the market 82Go Water is targeting.
Recently launched by PlasTech Innovations in the US, the 8-oz low density polythene (LDPE) pouch, dubbed “The Bod”, uses some 2 grams of plastic resin, “less than the average bottle cap”, and is designed for convenient on-the-go hydration.
The product offers users the ability to have a disposable water source with a rip-top opening (you open 82Go by using your teeth on one of the corners) and takes up almost no space after consumption. Both of these things are key for users who are on-the-go, like running or jogging.
The pack of RO purified water is tough enough to withstand freezing and is fully recyclable.
It is clear that the bods are not meant to replace traditional water bottles, but an alternative for those occasions when a water bottle is not convenient.
Is the drawback of the 82Go, that the consumer can’t sip, the pouches can’t be closed and can’t stand up, that’s not the case with the AguaSac. Introduced by Envision Flexible Packaging the 8-oz of water sits in a side gusset multi-layer pouch with patented spout. Basically the pouch as well as the spout aren’t special, but used for water it is a very welcome addition to the market.
In a market where the disposable plastic water bottle is under pressure by attacks from local authorities and consumers, regarding its ‘green’ credentials, it is worthwhile to take a look at alternatives. The (multi-layer) flexible pouch is one of the most viable packaging formats in every aspect, except recycling, it is probably the preferred packaging.
There is much more to tell, particularly in terms of developments in material with interesting ‘green’ credentials in comparison to PET. As these new developments, among others a new PEF-bottle, are mainly entering the market with the expected legal and environmental laws and regulations in mind, I come back to this item in a next article.