The Oct/Nov issue of the Bottled Water Reporter, the official magazine of the International Bottled Water Association, published one of my articles under the title: “Creating The Perfect Package: The Evolution Of The Multi-Gallon Container”. (The magazine is worth a read. You can find the online magazine here and my article starts at page 8.)
The article intends to give the bottled water suppliers some ideas for alternative containers to the widely used multi-gallon bottle, as many producers and users of multi-gallon water bottles are now looking for BPA-free alternatives to polycarbonate (even though there is no legal requirement yet for them to do so).
PET is one of these possible alternatives, and it is interesting to see that recently Sipa not only set out to develop a lighter multi-gallon container, but one with an embedded handle for a better functionality. But about Sipa and its new bottle later in this article.
Developments in Multi-Gallon Containers
A large part of the bottled water market is covered by the multi-gallon containers. A market segment in which few breath-taking developments are seen and expected, as so many multi-gallon bottles are in circulation and even more significant and dominant so many water coolers. Nevertheless some developments are there and worth to take a serious look at.
We all know the multi-gallon bottle with the traditional long neck. But from a supply-chain point of view they are very inefficient. They are difficult to stack and occupy a lot of space.
In 2006 Nestlé introduced the 3-liter bottle with a short neck and with a deeper-than-usual concave indentation at the base of each bottle. This enables efficient stacking. The neck of the bottle below fits into the base of the bottle above, significantly reducing the required amount of stacking space and eliminating any need for interlayers.
Although in place with 3 litre bottles, it must be possible to blow mould a similar indent in a 4 to 5 gallon bottle. Of course the neck design has to be revised with some compromise between the necessity for a water cooler and the maximum possible indent in the bottom of the bottle.
The new bottle also is designed with an ergonomic grip that makes it easier to hold, carry, and pour. Everybody is well acquainted with large bottles with huge handles or grips. In general handle designs are incompatible with PET due to the difficulty of blow moulding around the grip. The handle or grip is often manufactured separately from a different material, often PP, and later inserted into the bottle or container mould around which the PET bottle is blow moulded. This is a difficult process to execute, as one of the trickiest elements is to make sure that the grip is perfectly placed inside the mould.
The so called Deep Grip is the result of a collaboration between Plastic Technologies Inc. (PTI), Sidel and Procter & Gamble (P&G). Using injection stretch blow moulding (ISBM), the grip depth is more than 1 inch (2.54 cm) on each side with a web thickness of less than .01 inches (0.25mm). The technology provides flexibility on handle location, shape and diameter, and can be used on containers as large as 6 litres or 1.5 gallons, and with diameters of 220 mm or 8.6 inches.
The grip is deep enough for the average-sized hand to completely close around and still not have the fingers of the person holding the bottle touch the container wall. It allows consumers to pour liquids easily from multi-serve containers.
In this context we have to go back to Sipa and have a closer look at the most recent development in the multi-gallon bottle.
The starting point was a 690 gr container with a polypropylene handle that is already on the market in the USA. Sipa has been able to take 25 gr off the total weight (now it is 665gr). It developed a preform with a lightweight neck and base, and added material in the area of the body where the handle is attached during the blow moulding process and which therefore needs to be more mechanically resistant than elsewhere in the body. The new version has a special PET handle in place of the polypropylene one, so when the time comes for recycling, there is no need to separate the two parts, simplifying the procedure. I have to stress that in contrast to the Deep Grip the Sipa handle is placed in position in the old fashioned way as are the PP handles.
The new design is suitable for production on a Sipa SFL 2/2 two-cavity linear stretch-blow moulding system. Trials have shown that output rates of 250 bottles per hour, per cavity are possible. Around three times as many as achieved with polycarbonate bottles.
In Brazil, where I live, the 20L water bottle is a common item in every household, simply because we can’t drink water from the tap. Like everywhere else when you walk the aisles of a supermarket you see a standardized collection of multi-serve bottles. Except for the colours of the labels, there is no innovative design in multi-gallon water bottle with a few exceptions as shows the 5-liter blue Ouro Fino bottle.
“Life in Box”
But there is more. Officially launched in 2007 the, translated as “Life in Box”, 22-liter (5.8-gal) octagonal bag-in-box of mineral water is marketed by Mineração Mantovani. The BIB packaging comprises a corrugated box with two die-cut handles made by Klabin and a laminated, valved bag supplied by DuPont Liqui-Box engineered for bagged water applications.
The two-ply bag has a 3.8-mil bi-axially oriented nylon outer ply and an inner ply that is a 2.5-mil contact layer of polyolefin. DuPont supplies the premade bags in both 3- and 5-gal sizes equipped with a dispensing tap.
The bag-in-box format is a perfect solution for regions with an underdeveloped logistics structure as the packaging doesn’t have to be returned to the bottler. They are claimed to be economically viable, which refers to the per-litre price of the new box when it reaches the market. The target was a per-litre price between that of Mantovani’s two most popular containers, a 20-litre bottle and a 1.5-litre PET bottle.
The corrugated exterior, as well as the internal plastic bag and the pouring valve are recyclable.
Besides the environmental benefits, the corrugated box prevents light from getting in and insulates the water from heat to help impart a sensation of “fresh water” for much longer than clear bottles.
H-pouch and Tap-It
In the wine sector you see a multi-litre stand-up pouch fitted with a tap. The problem here is that the packaging (pouch and tap) is too expensive for the ordinary mineral water market. However now there is a solution as last year Tap-It Liquid Solutions in Stellenbosch, South Africa, launched its Tap-It dispensing tap. The Tap-It liquid dispensers are reusable plastic taps, which have been specifically designed for use with bagged liquids.
The unique spiked design of the plastic Tap-It enables it to pierce a sachet of liquid, while immediately sealing it off from external contamination with a spring locking mechanism. The tap at the opposite end of the spike controls the flow of the liquid from the sachet without spillage.
Of course when you want to promote your water with a reusable Tap-It, you need a suitable flexible packaging. In contrast to the traditional stand-up pouch, S-Pouch Pak Co. of Taiwan made a tube as body and sealing not one but two gussets (one at the bottom and one at the top) into the tube.
The pouch not only looks like a bottle but stands more perfect and stable and doesn’t tip over when half emptied as most of the triangular tapered traditional stand-up pouches do. This design can be filled up to 90% of the pack height, which offers a reduction in pouch size of up to 20%, resulting in 15-20% material reduction. With a one-hand carrier-handle at the top, the h-pouch is easy to carry with one hand, while the pouch is suitable for packing 2,000ml to 5,000ml.
The Tap-It reusable tap can easily be punched into the side-wall of the h-pouch allowing for a controlled distribution of the mineral water.
In 2010 I came across the SmartBottle from ExoPack. This design features a four sided sealed pouch that is blow moulded into a “bottle”. After filling, the four side-seals form the four vertical corners of a lightweight, semi-rigid, threaded “bottle”.
At that time the packaging was not yet commercially available, but was tested in volume sizes ranging from ½ gallon, up to 5 gallons.
In comparison to the production of the rigid gallon jug, the company claims 50% less energy, 60% less plastic, and 70% fewer CO2 emissions from transportation.
Recently the SmartBottle is introduced into the market by Kraft Foods. It is a stand-up pouch, made from a flexible nylon-polyethylene blend film, with dual handles, and a rigid screw cap closure that replaces the traditional rigid plastic container for salad dressings.
The packaging is more compact than rigid jugs, and flattens when empty, which can provide easier disposal and lower waste-removal costs. When it comes to recyclability, the original rigid bottle is actually easier to recycle, as this new packaging format may not be accepted for recycling in all areas.
I am not sure whether it is now an exclusivity of Kraft Foods, but with a bit of development the SmartBottle might even fit any water cooler.
I know the mentioned packaging options might conflict with the existing water coolers, but think in terms of outdoor activities if you want to differentiate your market and jump off the overloaded supermarket shelves.