PET growth in bottling in the past quarter century has been the envy of many, but for it to continue, analysts predict, PET needs to beef up both its technology and image.
Packagers have to develop better barrier technology that will help PET preserve freshness in beverages like alcohol and fruit juices, and PET needs to shed its image among consumers as inferior to glass, said officials who spoke at Nova Pack Americas 2003, held Feb. 3-4 in Orlando.
``Barrier improvement is probably the biggest advance the bottling industry can make,'' said Howard Blum, director of consulting firm Kline & Co. Inc. in Little Falls, N.J.
Image also has held PET back, particularly in alcohol packaging. Beer, several speakers noted, has been the Holy Grail of the industry.
``There is a fear factor among brewers about moving from glass, which is seen as premium and high-quality,'' said John Jones, a consultant with Canadean Ltd. in Basingstokes, England. Jones also said PET has not been able to demonstrate the right economics for the beer industry.
A theme of the conference was the challenges faced by PET as its main markets-soft drinks and bottled water-see slower growth.
Among new markets targeted are smaller soft drink packaging, like 10- and 12-ounce bottles, and premium teas, which one analyst predicts will triple to a 525 million-container market for PET by 2005. Others said moving into packaging for sports drinks will require better containers that do not have vacuum panels.
Jones said PET bottle suppliers need to recognize trends for specialized, value-added packaging. No longer is it enough for PET just to focus on winning high-volume packaging wars, he said. ``PET really has to reinvent itself to service those demands.''
One observer said the image of PET is changing.
Yousef Zaatar, assistant vice president of product manufacturing development at Bacardi Bottling Corp. in Jacksonville, Fla., said PET has been accepted in some Bacardi product lines. The material offers Bacardi some manufacturing flexibility that glass does not, but ``our consumers perceive glass as premium,'' Zaatar said.
``There must be a breakthrough in the PET industry to get the image to the next level.''
While the bottling industry pushes to develop better PET containers for higher-margin markets, a related conference at Nova Pack, put on by the Association for Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, said new barrier layers can cause problems for companies trying to recycle the bottles.
Jones said recycling concerns, particularly in Europe, will slow the industry's growth. ``I don't think we can ignore recycling anywhere,'' he said. ``It's going to be a brake on what we do.''