Cartons which say something

By | 24 August 2004

Segmentation and most notably the growth in the premium soft drinks sector offer carton manufacturers the chance to demonstrate to brand companies how carton design and technology can positively influence consumer choice. Paul Gander reports.

Packaging design is crucial in consumer goods marketing and in beverages this also extends to carton design and manufacture. The three principal carton manufacturers are looking to cater for the increasingly segmented beverage market with evermore elaborate dispensing and pouring systems to aid convenience.

As the market segments, different solutions are offered for different price brackets, with carton suppliers eager to chase a slice of the growing premium business. They are also increasingly able to demonstrate that carton design gives out recognisable cues to consumers reinforcing a brand's premium positioning. The challenge is to demonstrate that the new designs will stand out, speak volumes about the brand, but still lend themselves to efficient production.

In the UK, and in other markets such as Germany, the discounting frenzy among retailers might be expected to have depressed the market for premium-
presentation cartons. But instead there appears to be independent expansion at the top and bottom ends of the market. As Stefan Haferkorn, managing director of SIG Combibloc in the UK, put it: "We see that in juices, nectars and other still drinks there's continuing growth, even in the ambient sector."

With the launch of its World Fruits range in SIG's Combifit carton in May this year, Del Monte signalled its intention to differentiate the product from other ambient juices and juice drinks. "One of the reasons why Del Monte chose it was to attract consumers with the different shape," said Haferkorn, adding that the position of the pouring spout also offered convenience benefits to the consumer.

While Combifit is relatively new to the UK, it was originally launched with Migros over two years ago and has been successful in Germany and elsewhere. As an alternative to glass and PET, the carton has benefited from the recently introduced environmental deposit system in Germany, Haferkorn said.

SIG has no doubts as to the positioning of its slimline carton. "The pack is definitely aimed at the premium segment," said Haferkorn. "When it comes to brands, especially, it offers convenience and brand differentiation."

According to SIG, the UK is one of the most segmented juice markets in Europe. Most consumers now recognise the explicit or implicit positionings at a glance: the plain, brick-type carton in the economy sector; the slimline carton with a simple fitment for the standard range; and the slim or square-style carton, probably with a screwcap system, at the premium end. The noticeable shift in private label products towards a more segmented offering has fuelled this trend still further.

But Haferkorn sees an overall higher specification being demanded by customers in Germany. There is almost no equivalent of the UK's economy segment, he argues, with even the cheapest ranges offering some sort of pouring spout - and the majority sporting a screwtop. Even in markets which have not yet upgraded to this position, he sees the process as an inevitable one. "Our belief is that dispensing systems will become standard."

Elopak sees the drive towards premium ranges in Germany as a more recent trend. It is the UK, says Elopak's marketing communications manager Peter Barnes, which led the way with this in the 1990s. "Now, the UK is pretty mature compared to other European countries," he maintained. "We're market leaders."

Barnes identifies Tropicana as the brand which led the UK's carton renaissance in soft drinks. "Tropicana came in with a paperboard pack and a closure, and swung the market back from plastics into cartons," he said.

Tropicana's launch succeeded in the UK, but Barnes believes that the launch failed in Germany because there was no premium sector in juices at the time. But now he believes the situation in Germany is changing, with respect to the 'fresh' juice market. "I've noticed a deluge of gable-shaped, short-shelf-life cartons from Germany," he said. "It's as if premium has suddenly arrived, and they've chosen not to go down either the plastics or 'brick' routes. They are using a gable-top carton and closure."

As well as filling soups into 1-litre Pure-Pak cartons-plus-cap, Spanish liquid food specialist, Garcia Carrion, has turned its attention to short and extended shelf-life (ESL) juices. This aseptic filling of fresh, pasteurised juice with around 60 days shelf-life, is allowing the company to compete internationally, Barnes said.

The Spanish company's crossover with the soup sector is interesting given that in many European countries, this market has also been shaken up with new fresh and premium segments. Juices and soups share many of the same characteristics in terms of processing, with minimal heat processing combining with aseptic filling. Barnes believes the longer shelf life offers potential for development in the European market in both areas.

Elopak's Curve carton has so far only found its way into the dairy sector. But Barnes has no doubt that interest from the soft drinks industry will soon convert into something more solid. "Paperboard has difficulty going down the shaping route of metals and plastics," he admitted. "But the curve is a way of modernising the shape. Round is 'cool' and modern at the moment - square is not."

Whatever structural innovation may be going on, carton system suppliers cannot afford to take their eye off operational efficiencies for their various forming/filling lines. "We've been in the high-output segment of the market since 1996," says Haferkorn. "Now we are seeing higher speeds of up to 12,000 small packs a minute on pre-formed carton lines." In the future, he added, there will be further demand from all parts of the market for lower production costs. Carton systems will have to offer both the long-run capabilities demanded by private label customers and the flexibility required by many brands.

One area where SIG, Elopak and Tetra Pak hope to see continued growth is the mini-carton segment. SIG's Combifit, for example, is already being used in smaller sizes by soft drinks fillers in Europe and the Far East for on-the-go products. At the end of last year, Norway's Tine group launched its Meierienes (dairy) Juice in Elopak's Mini Diamond Pure-Pak gable-top carton. Garcia Carrion in Spain has made a similar move, launching its Don Simon Duo milk and fruit juice blend, in a 330ml version of the Mini Diamond.

Tetra Pak says its Tetra Prisma Aseptic 330ml carton has seen particularly strong growth over the last year or so in the nutritional and sports drink area. The carton is also available in the 250ml size, and this pack - with a pull-tab - was used for the first time by UK adult juice manufacturer, Frobishers, earlier this year. As the Frobishers example illustrates, brands are increasingly looking at broadening their range of pack offerings - both in terms of size and material - to meet the specific needs of different sales channels. With high standards and greater choice now established in the contract filling area, brands can diversify with minimal financial risk.

Major carton groups are also looking to combine their expertise with paperboard with the use of plastics. In fact, Tetra Pak continues to explore effective ways of fusing a carton base with plastics in the top of the pack, with innovations such as the Carton Bottle, introduced at the end of last year.

For now, though, there appear to be a great many suppliers and customers who are happy with the ever-widening range of options currently available in more traditional types of carton.

For more information on Soft Drinks International, visit softdrinksjournal.com

Sectors: Soft drinks

Companies: Tropicana

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