Consumers want convenient-sized packages and they want portability, while functionality also presents challenges. Annette Sessions reports on the latest packaging trends in the "on-the-go" soft drinks category.

"Small is beautiful" sums up the trend in packaging for the on-the-go, healthy living soft drink imbiber. Recently published research reveals soft drinks consumers to be health-conscious but nonetheless over-worked people with no time for regular meals who eat and drink "on the hoof".

Of particular interest is new research published by the world's leading beverage can supplier, Rexam. 'The Busy Lives' research, conducted on behalf of Rexam by HI Europe, a global research company, questioned almost 5,000 on-the-go (OTG) consumers online in the US, the UK, Spain, Sweden and Germany. Findings revealed that almost half (45%) of Europeans rarely or never plan ahead, looking to grab a drink and a bite where they can, while in the US the figure is 41%.

Further, OTG consumers are identified as being particularly influenced by brands and packaging with almost half of Europeans saying that the colour and shape of packaging influences choice and that a third will actually switch drink if their favourite drink is not available in their preferred package.

Felix Helander, director of Business Intelligence, Rexam, said packaging and design will need to continue to respond to the evolving needs of consumers. "For example, packaging will need to match the trend of ageing populations and smaller households," he says. "New lightweight, easy to handle packaging which is easy to open and close, will be increasingly demanded by consumers."

Similar research undertaken by PET manufacturer Constar International in the US, in the form of a review of consumer trends draws the same conclusions.  "We are an ever increasingly mobile society and we want our meals to be able to travel with us," the report states. "We expect the consumers' interest in convenient, smaller sizes in multipack configurations to continue to grow."

For the soft drinks manufacturer, this means choosing a package which is lightweight, easy to handle, can be opened and closed with ease, in a smaller, portable pack size. And, yes, if it can be easily recycled, so much the better.

Downsizing is underway in the US.  According to Constar, Pepsi's consumer analysis indicates young and old alike feel that both the 12oz can and the 20oz PET bottle are too much to consume in one sitting. Pepsi is to focus its packaging efforts on heavy, moderate and light drinkers and will be looking for the right materials and sizes to accommodate all preferences. The company has already introduced the 8oz can in a 6- and 18-pack, the 'VIP' package for Wal-Mart in 2004 replacing the 20oz PET bottle that held the position in 2003. Similarly, Coca-Cola has introduced a 13.4 oz PET bottle in the US and Cott has an 8oz bottle specifically targeting the youth market.

The US bottled water market, says Constar, has also seen a reduction in average container size as the half-litre multi-pack has outperformed the less convenient gallon and half-gallon bulk packages.

Consumer concerns over health (obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the top four according to Reuter Business Insight 'New Profit opportunities in Health and Nutrition to 2009') are also presenting challenges and opportunities in one shot functional drinks.

Tetra Pak has responded with its new Tetra Top Micro 100ml carton. Tetra Pak's first customer is the Finnish- based dairy company, Valio. Leena Metsänitty, marketing research director at Valio, said: "Consumers perceive these small packages as handy and efficient."

Valio introduced single-dose format plastic bottles in 1999 but, says Metsänitty, "we really wanted a more environmentally compatible package. Therefore we decided to start working with Tetra Pak on the new 'shot' pack, the first carton shot of its type in the world."

The three largest carton manufacturers have all recognised the growth potential offered by the mini-carton. SIG's Combifit for example is already being used in smaller sizes by its Far East customers and Elopak's award-winning Mini Diamond Pure Pak gable top carton has successfully captured a slice of the children's drink market in Europe.

The can makers, however, have been somewhat disadvantaged when it comes to recloseability and drinking OTG. The bottle can is a given in Japan, but has yet to impact in Europe. But, says Caroline Archer-Reed, marketing director at Crown, it is only a matter of time before it breaks through in Europe. "It will not be long before we have a recloseable can to counter the challenge of 330ml PET in the impulse sector," Archer-Reed told just-drinks.

Meanwhile, Crown is behind Coca-Cola Enterprises recently introduced limited edition 250ml Mini Break diet Cola cans. Norman Brodie, marketing director for CCE, said these handbag-sized cans are "proving very popular with female consumers who enjoy the convenience of the smaller size." 

Although the can has experienced non-growth in the wake of PET's popularity, it has become the industry standard for energy drinks. One such American company, Go Fast from Denver Colorado, has just launched the first energy drink in Ball Corporation's new sleek 11.9oz can. With this size, Go Fast claims to set itself apart from all of the other energy drinks in 8.4oz and 16oz cans.