At Nova-Pack Europe 2004, the eyes of the PET packaging world turned east, toward Russia, and Eastern Europe - and beer.
In beer-loving Germany, multilayer PET bottles are becoming common. Not so in Russia, where the dominant PET bottle has a single layer, sometimes with blended-in oxygen scavengers, according to Nova-Pack speakers. No beer bottles are being made in Russia from multilayer preforms or with spray-coating technology, they said.
Historically, Vodka has been Russia's alcoholic beverage of choice. But many young people now prefer beer to the hard stuff, according to Igor Ryabushkin, technical director of Moscow-based NB-Retal, a major Russian producer of PET preforms.
Russia's beer market should grow 11.5 percent in 2004, then slow a bit to a still-healthy 7.8 percent in 2005, he said.
For years, Russian beer was available only in kegs and glass bottles, Ryabushkin said. PET beer bottles surpassed glass in 2003.
NB-Retal recently developed a preform technology called Steklopet, which puts barrier additives into a single-layer preform, boosting the shelf life.
A speaker from another Russian company, APG Eastern Europe, outlined his company's Active Monolayer Preform technology, which also creates ``barrier monolayer'' bottles.
Multilayer preform production is too expensive for the Russian market; however, the reasonably priced APG process allows molders to use existing equipment, according to Alexey Dobrokhotov, business development director of APG in St. Petersburg.
Conference organizer Ronald Schotland said it makes sense that Russia favors single-layer beer bottles.
``I guess that isn't surprising, because it doesn't require the investment of a coinjection system or a coating system, and in those markets, a monolayer system would fit best,'' he said.
Schotland Business Research Inc. of Skillman, N.J., ran Pack-Expo Europe, which was held in Neuss before the K 2004 show in Dusseldorf, Germany.
A French packaging engineer, Jean-Pierre Goujard, said Eastern European consumers are getting bored with the same old drab glass bottles - and ready to buy some products packaged in snazzy new PET bottles.
Beer makers are conservative. They want their PET bottles to look exactly the same as their old glass bottles, said Goujard, an engineer at packaging specialist Dragon Rouge, in Suresnes, France. But water companies are more daring, he said, showing slides of some radically different bottles.
Beer and mineral water will grow faster in Eastern and central Europe than in Western Europe, he said.
``We think the Eastern European market is going to explode,'' Goujard said.