Beer in plastic.It's inevitable. As recently as a year ago it didn't seem imminent. Too many technological barriers stood in the way. Concerns lingered about filling speed, shelf life and vulnerability to sunlight and temperature.
And the big question: Will consumers accept suds in plastic bottles?
But breweries continue to experiment, and signs suggest the plastic bottles are popular. In recent months test markets have been practically overflowing with different varieties of plastic bottles. Anheuser-Busch Co., among others, is considering different designs and materials.
Bottle makers racing to serve the market include Crown Cork & Seal Co. Inc., Schmalbach-Lubeca Plastic Containers USA Inc. and American National Can Co. Numerous machinery firms and resin suppliers also are climbing aboard the beer wagon.
Some of the early versions clearly were not the answer. The first, introduced in 1995 by Carlton & United Breweries Ltd. in Australia, had a shelf life of only six weeks.
Another pioneer, made by ANC for Bass Brewers Ltd. in England, didn't even take advantage of a key potential benefit — resealability. The bottles had a metal crown closure, not the standard soda bottle screw-top. But the PET/ethylene vinyl alcohol construction had extended the shelf life to 12 weeks.
New bottles now under development feature liquid crystal polymer or other exotic coatings, EVOH or nylon barrier layers, and closures with oxygen-scavenging liners, all to protect taste and extend shelf life. Most of the bottles are molded from PET, polyethylene naphthalate, or some blend or multilayer construction of the two resins.
While brewers traditionally have been wedded to metal cans and glass bottles, they recognize the potential advantages of plastics. Coca-Cola Co. offers the classic case study — when it offered Coke in single-serve PET bottles, it saw sales skyrocket.
Will beer do the same? Maybe not. But few brewers want to be caught flat-footed if consumers embrace plastic bottles.
Beer in plastic ... get used to it.