What went around is coming around in the soda pop industry as its love affair with nostalgic plastic versions of formerly glass bottles continues. On April 28, Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta rolled out a new, contoured bottle - a green, PET, 20-ounce container for Sprite that apes the beverage's original ``bubble-side'' glass design.
Before that, Pepsi-Cola Co., the No. 2 soft drink giant, introduced a 20-ounce PET version of Pepsi's old ``swirl'' bottle. Pepsi introduced the bottle about a year ago to half of the United States, and anticipates having it in 100 percent of the market by early 1996.
Both introductions come in the wake of what Coke says is its successful redesign of the original contoured container in PET last year. Coke is emphasizing a return to old designs to re-establish consumer identification with them, and said this is a chance to further lightweight containers while adding value.
Coke Chairman Roberto C. Goizueta has attributed a 16 percent increase in Coca-Colasales in 1994 partly to the popularity of the contoured bottle.
``Our consumer research showed that there was great preference for the updated Sprite design over the old straight-sided plastic bottle,'' Ronald Coleman, director of marketing and public affairs for Coca-Cola, said in a telephone interview from his Atlanta office.
David Egner, a Pepsi spokes-man, said the new Pepsi container - called the ``Quick Slam'' - not only aims to reaffirm brand identity with consumers, but also offers a better grip than the ordinary PET designs because of the swirl design. The bottle is produced by all of Pepsi's main suppliers, Johnson Controls Inc. of Manchester, Mich., Constar International Inc. of Atlanta, and Plastipak Packaging Inc. of Plymouth, Mich., as well as some of its independent bottle makers.
Peter Weggeman, president of Sarasota, Fla.-based Directions 21, a beverage industry consultancy, said the shift to the modified old shapes and colors is definitely the wave of the future in beverage packaging.
``They offer the consumer and the beverage maker alike more tactile identification with the product,'' Weggeman said. ``Coke and Pepsi both, over the years have made a great investment in the character of their containers, and their familiarity to the consumer.''
Weggeman noted that the new contour bottles may be slightly more expensive than traditional PET containers, and the shape may affect their production.
``They can't do as much lightweighting with the new contour shapes as with the old straight-sides, and I think process speed is slower, so how successful they are depends on the demand they create,'' he said.
``Right now the rumblings are- and I can't confirm them - that the companies are eating the difference in production cost to establish them.''
Weggeman saw a bright future for the customization of beverage container designs, specifically for contoured containers.
``I think you might even see contour or other innovative designs in metal cans,'' he said.
Pepsi is investing $100 million in new packaging efforts this year, including the 20-ounce swirl bottle. A Pepsi-Cola spokeswoman said it ``was not in response to Coke's contour bottle.'' The Somers, N.Y.-based soda giant, a unit of Pepsico, first test-marketed its bottle in 1993 and now is expanding it nationally, she said.
Coke also is continuing the global push with its contoured bottles this year. In international markets in 1994, the company expanded the availability of new and larger contoured plastic bottles for Coca-Cola in key markets such as Germany, Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines.
PET recyclability also could be a value-added attraction for soft drink makers in the future, Weggeman said, although recycled-content bottles are not marketed widely now.
``Pepsi has bought into [Johnson Controls'] superclean recycled PET, which has gained no-objection status from the Food and Drug Administration, and is marketing bottles made with it in Florida right now,'' Weggeman said. ``Coke has not bought into that and is sticking with the multilayer, coextruded bottles to satisfy the various recycled-content requirements in different states.''
In February, however, Coca-Cola did introduce Coke in a single-layer, recycled-content contour bottle in Switzerland and Australia, where post-consumer content is required.