ATLANTA—Beer connoisseurs in the next millennium should expect changes in the way the beverage is packaged—more beer will come in PET bottles.
Last week executives from Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., Consumers Packaging Inc. and Groupe Sidel affirmed that the industry seriously is considering bottling beer in PET, despite the resin's intrinsic problems.
``We may see more beer bottled in plastic, but there are inherent problems with both PET and [polyethylene naphthalate],'' said John Ghaznavi, chairman and chief executive officer of Consumers Packaging of Toronto.
``PET doesn't deliver the shelf life of glass or aluminum and PEN remains too expensive to be economically viable. However, we envisage PET taking sales from aluminum cans for beer in locations or at events where glass may not be appropriate, such as poolside, at the beach or at sporting events. But we'll listen to the needs of the consumer.''
The officials spoke at Packaging Strategies '98, held April 20-22 in Atlanta.
Anheuser-Busch has conducted consumer research on a 16-ounce plastic Michelob bottle. In a consumer-preference test, on a scale of one to 10, glass was rated 8.6, plastic 8, and cans 4.8.
The St. Louis-based firm found that beer drinkers of minimum drinking age through age 35 — or those who grew up drinking beverages from 2-liter and single-serve bottles — liked the plastic bottle, rating it very close to glass bottles. However, beer drinkers older than 35 placed the plastic bottle lower than cans.
``A plastic bottle provides a hedge against the aluminum can and glass bottle,'' said Norman Nieder, senior director of packaging technology at Anheuser-Busch. ``It is also a lot less costly to get into the business. Also, today's beer consumer tends to view plastic bottles in a very positive light.''
He outlined consumers' likes and dislikes of the plastic beer bottle. Among the likes were a resealable top, unbreakablity, a better taste than canned beer, a look like glass, a good feel, a 16-ounce size, a container that retains the Michelob teardrop shape and recyclability.
Dislikes included that the bottle is too easy to squeeze, takes up more space in the cooler or refrigerator and may warm up faster than glass. Plus, the twist-off lip area doesn't match the color of the bottle's body.
``If we look at what is going on in the domestic brewing industry, we see that growth is flat, consolidation has slowed, the micro and specialty brewers are slowing and the age of double-digit profits may be hard to come by,'' Nieder explained.
``New products and packages are growing exponentially, all to get the customer's attention. Real growth is coming by either price promotions and/or package differentiation.''
Nieder added that Anheuser-Busch invests $2.4 billion annually on packaging.
Francis Olivier, chairman and managing director of Sidel, a Le Havre, France, manufacturer of blow molding equipment, cited several key factors for plastic's success. Differentiation that comes from marketing, economics and innovation will be fundamental for PET to take part in the beer market, which produces 300 billion units a year.
By 2002, Sidel estimates that PET bottles will make up 15 billion of the total 310 billion units used to bottle beer.
``We believe in PET beer bottles,'' Olivier added. ``Conservatively, I think PET will be in 5 percent of the beer market by 2002.''
Globally, PET's packaging potential exists in several areas, the largest being beer, according to Olivier. The other areas include carbonated soft drinks, where PET already dominates; mineral water and specialty drinks, including fruit juices and other new-age drinks.
Mary Ellen Reis, vice president of packaging at Triarc Beverage Group of White Plains, N.Y., believes it is only a matter of time before plastics will be a dominant player in the premium beverage category.
For now, some PET drawbacks are limiting its use. Concerns about PET's filling speed, shelf life and vulnerability to sunlight and temperature must be addressed and remedied. Yet Pet-Pak Containers, a subsidiary of Consumers Packaging, plans to participate in PET growth. The firm expects to expand or acquire other firms to meet increased need.
``[We] believe our strategy of producing both PET and glass [bottles] will enable us to move with the market and our customers,'' Ghaznavi added. ``By having capabilities in alternative container materials, ultimately it won't matter to us if the market swings one way or the other. We'll be there to supply our customers with whatever container they want.''
``We would like to have [a plastic beer bottle] when it's ready,'' Nieder said. ``But it has to have good quality, shelf life and price.''