A revolution in beverage packaging seems just round the corner. As Paul Gander discovers, a Scottish inventor claims to have found the answer to the problem of keeping ingredients separate right up to opening.

A 'second chamber' in a beverage container is something that has eluded pack designers and brands for years. The challenge is to keep active or key ingredients separate from the bulk of the product until the very moment when the pack is opened. Because of the likely sensitivity of these ingredients, the chamber must allow no contamination or degradation. The dosing system must be foolproof and, of course, the cost must not be extortionate.

Scottish inventor Bernard Frutin not only claims to have cracked this challenge, but has set up his own company - Gizmo Packaging - and management team, with himself as chairman, to produce and sell the technology. Gizmo has already established a manufacturing and supply chain to support Frutin's invention, and says it has a long list of brands - not only in soft drinks - expressing keen interest.

The reason for this level of interest is clear to see. By keeping active ingredients such as vitamins separate in this way, brands can ensure that no degradation occurs, even over a long supply chain and shelf life. Subtle flavours, aromas and herbal additives can retain all their freshness. The visual effect of watching a colour diffuse through, say, a clear drink also adds a fun, interactive element for the consumer.

Five global patents
Frutin is no novice in this sort of enterprise, whereby a bright idea is transformed into valuable commercial property. He already has over 200 patents in his name (see panel) and has secured five more global patents for his latest invention.
Fellow director and CEO Digby Morrow said: "The second chamber is the Holy Grail that has been eluding people in industry for some time. Bernard's invention has been in development for five years, and he already has a track record in inventing and building companies. We have made a substantial investment of several millions of pounds. The system is fully tested and the supply chain has been formed."

Gizmo's list of supply chain partners is an impressive one. Starting with UK aerosol manufacturing specialist KP Aerofill, part of the German IWKA group, it includes plastics moulding company RPC Bramlage, and Action Technology, with expertise in plastics and rubber technology. Gizmo is also working with flavour and aroma formulators Firmenich and Degussa. "We were certainly looking for particular skills, but we also thought long-term about the probable need to roll out our capabilities internationally," added Morrow.

KP Aerofill, which has a line installed to produce the pressurised chamber, is clearly a key partner. According to Morrow, this line offers capacity for 25 million units in a single shift. This can be doubled, if necessary; but Gizmo says its only concern is that, in the longer term, the line may not be able to keep up with demand. "We're set up to manufacture and sell the products, but we might license our technology in certain situations in order to keep up the pace of development."

The Gizmo is essentially a miniature pressurised steel container, which fits on the underside of a conventional screw closure. The standard version fits under closures for bottleneck diameters from 28mm to 42mm. It was initially envisaged that it would be used for single-serve bottles, but container volumes can go up to 70cl.

Pressurised nitrogen
Manager for the laboratory and supply chain, John Gallacher explained: "The steel chamber provides a protective environment under a nitrogen blanket." This environment is both dark and sterile. The standard design allows 2.5ml for both the active ingredients and the gas. A polypropylene casing around the chamber acts as a seal on the steel chamber. The act of unscrewing the lid dislodges the casing, and the pressurised nitrogen propels the ingredient through a straw and into the drink. Pressure can be from 25psi to 100psi or over.

In a second design option, a much longer straw acts as a third chamber, with two different additives stored, one in the straw and the other in the chamber. Release of the casing would propel them both into the main container area. The system is compatible with different bottle materials.

The closure, chamber and casing are supplied as a single unit to the end user. On the soft drink filling line, few changes are necessary, says the company. But the line that transports the Gizmo-and-closure combination and places it on the bottleneck does need to be adapted.

The new company is careful not to limit discussion of possible applications at this early stage. But options for segregated ingredients include easily-degraded sweeteners, colouring agents to indicate prize winners in a promotional contest, tamper-evidence or authenticity indicators for valuable products, or syrups to increase product viscosity. As Frutin points out, it could even be made to whistle!

On the crucial question of cost, the Gizmo team is less forthcoming. Morrow will say only: "We don't do this sort of thing blind. A number of big players have seen this, and the costings that have been explored do not put them off. From the discussions we've been having, we believe this is affordable."

With Gizmo ready to roll, evidence of brands putting their money where their mouth may not be too far away.