ATLANTA — In this, the City of Coke, a top packaging official at the soft drink giant called on plastics blow molders to develop new bottles to ``excite, stimulate and ultimately delight the consumer.''
``We at the Coca-Cola Co. are wholly committed to finding ways to differentiate our products, and the packaging that surrounds them, in whatever way we can,'' said Ian Roberts, director of package development.
Roberts suggested that the industry overcome problems that have prevented production of a 2-liter plastic soda bottle with some type of handle.
Roberts also said Coke has the capability to use recycled PET in its soda bottles, but only in locations that have a sufficient supply.
The Coke official was keynote speaker at an April 29 blow molding session at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Annual Technical Conference in Atlanta.
Words from Roberts, who took a short cab ride to Antec from Coke's world headquarters, carry big-time clout: Coke products consume roughly one-third of all PET resin produced worldwide for containers, he said. Coke provides one out of every 48 products for human consumption of liquid around the world.
At Coke, he said, ``Plastics are never far away from our thoughts,'' a play on this year's Antec theme: ``Plastics on My Mind.''
Roberts, a 19-year Coke veteran, said PET has gone from nothing in soft drinks to a dominant material in the past two decades. Blow molders and resin suppliers have reduced prices drastically, but now they need to create new bottles, he told the Antec audience.
``There needs to be some radical changes'' for PET bottles, he said, pointing to the example of the popular contour-design single-serve PET Coke bottle.
Roberts said large PET bottles need to be easier to pick up and pour — painting a mental image of a shaky toddler trying to pour from a full bottle, or a bottle bending in the middle during pouring.
``In both of those scenarios, the results can be quite messy,'' he said.
``Other types of plastic bottles have very convenient, well-designed handles. So why not PET bottles for carbonated beverages?'' asked Roberts, who admitted he is not a technical expert on blow molding. ``I am told by the experts that it's because the stretch blow molding process can't accommodate a handle under the pressure from our beverage inside the container, and that's a problem.
``Well quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not happy with that answer. And I look to those of you who want to see your business grow and flourish to provide me with some better answers.''
Roberts noted that most blow molding technical papers at Antec are turned inward, trying to improve the process. He noted that the industry has ``done a stellar job over the past 20 years in taking cost out.''
But he added: ``Your challenge is to turn that fundamental investigation work toward the breakout from the current manufacturing paradigm, toward the new material variance that will ultimately delight the consumer through new and different packaging structures.''
Coke's contour bottle has rejuvenated PET soda bottles, which Roberts said had been cost-optimized to the point ``they had all the aesthetic appeal of a short length of drainpipe.''
He praised efforts at Antec to improve computer modeling methods, to speed bottle development.
After Roberts' speech, an engineer at a resin firm asked him how Coca-Cola can ask blow molders to invest in bottle research, while Coke continues to hammer down pricing. He responded that innovative new packages will help packaging move beyond its current status as a commodity.
Another audience member asked Roberts whether Coke, which now is using recycled PET in Europe and Australia, has any intention of using recycled plastic in the United States.
He said Coke has the capability to use recycled PET wherever the materials are available.
``We have all of the qualifications in place to utilize those materials whenever they're available to us, both in the United States, Europe and the Far East,'' he said.
Asked if there is any definite timetable for U.S. recycled plastic use, Roberts said: ``I don't have that information.''