JUICE FIRM LAUNCHES 5-LAYER RECYCLED BOTTLE

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SANTA ANA, CALIF. — Beverage marketer R.J. Groux Corp. plans a Feb. 10 commercial launch of a five-layer, recycled-content container that can be hot-filled.

The company, which markets juice drinks, will use 20-ounce bottles supplied by Continental PET Technologies Inc. of Florence, Ky.

``We will have the product in 4,000 accounts in the first 60 days,'' Bob Groux, president and chief executive officer, said in an interview. ``We serve 7-Elevens, Circle K's, independent gas stations and liquor stores in Southern California, and we will also ship to New York.''

Since February, Groux has distributed proprietary ReaLife juice drinks in an 18-ounce glass container and recorded 1996 sales of $4 million.Also on Feb. 10, Groux expects to introduce a Java Juice caffeinated beverage.

``Each 20-ounce bottle will contain 80 milligrams of caffeine, about the equivalent of 1.5 cups of coffee,'' Groux said. The products will appear in plastic containers imprinted with either the ReaLife or Java Juice logo.

Continental PET will make the custom product initially at its Modesto, Calif., plant. In April or May, Continental PET plans to shift production to a 125,000-square-foot blow molding facility under construction in Tolleson, Ariz.

The bottle consists of outer and inner layers of virgin PET, intermediate barrier layers of ethylene vinyl alcohol and a center layer of post-consumer PET. Recycled content will account for 35 percent of the bottle's total weight.

The five-layer container can handle liquids up to 182 F without delaminating but has a sensitive construction. The container ``can't take any pressure at all on the bottling line,'' said Groux partner Scott Almquist. Continental PET said the container can withstand minimal pressures on a finely tuned bottling line.

Since 1993, Continental PET has used the five-layer, hot-fill technology in producing 16-ounce and 8-ounce juice containers for Veryfine Products Inc. of Westford, Mass. Tests on the Groux bottle, the first hot-fill bottle at 20 ounces, began in September. Continental PET, a subsidiary of BTR plc of London, is the world's largest custom PET bottle manufacturer with operations in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe, Brazil and China.

In part to handle Groux output, contract packager Ameripec Inc. has invested $2.5 million to add a third filling line at its 65,000-square-foot plant in Buena Park, Calif., according to Frank Zee, vice president. ``We've taken six months to upgrade.''

Ameripec employs 100 now and up to 200 during the summer and also leases a 40,000-square-foot warehouse.

The five-layer plastic barrier bottle is more expensive than a standard PET version but provides a longer shelf life, Zee said.

Groux is negotiating with New York area contract packagers to fill containers closer to the East Coast market.

Groux said he ``hopes to get a good six months from these bottles'' in terms of taste integrity. Nine juice flavors are planned, but lemonade was excluded because its citric content oxidizes the PET.

``We can do cherry lemonade because it has a lower lemon juice content,'' Almquist said.

Groux retained Warehouse Demo Services to research consumer preferences during in-store demonstrations of the juice in stores of Kirkland, Wash.-based PriceCostco Co.

``We demo the product, pour for consumers and get feedback. Of about 150 consumer responses, 60 percent were asking for the product in plastic,'' Groux said.

Plastics will not break.

``Mothers want to put it in lunch boxes,'' he said, ``and we will broaden our base to include golf courses and schools.''

In addition to other outlets, Groux will market the product through 33 PriceCostco warehouse clubs in Southern California.

Groux was a master distributor in Southern California and Texas for Snapple beverages from 1992-95. Now, in addition to 19 flavors of ReaLife natural beverage, Groux distributes Arctic Springs and caffeine-enriched Aqua Java waters that it bottles in a 15,000-square-foot Santa Ana facility that employs 10.

Another 50 work in a 33,000-square-foot Santa Ana facility that serves as the corporate headquarters and Los Angeles/Orange County distribution center. In mid-December, Groux positioned 20 people at a 15,000-square-foot San Diego distribution center.

Groux plans an initial offering of common stock in August. Going public will test investor acceptance of Groux's concept of a vertically integrated beverage marketing company.

Groux forecasts sales of $30 million for 1997.