Plastic beer bottles are increasingly popular in bars and beaches around the developing world, from Eastern Europe to Russia to China. But in Latin America, you're not going to find your cerveza cradled in a frosty polymer container.
``The key word is cost, cost, cost,'' said Nicholas Deming, a consultant with Beverage Marketing Corp. in New York, speaking at the Nova-Pack Americas 2005 conference, held Jan. 24-25 in Bal Harbour. ``Cost is a bigger deal in [the Latin American] market.''
While PET beer bottles are making strong inroads in some places - he noted estimates of 15 percent of the Russian market and possibly 20 percent in China - there are a lot of economic and cultural hurdles to jump before that could happen in Central and South America, Deming said.
Returnable glass remains significantly cheaper, costing about 11 cents a container for each trip, compared with at least 14 cents a bottle for PET, he said.
Working against plastic are rising PET costs and relatively stable glass prices, and consumer comfort with reusing glass bottles up to 50 times, even if they look slightly worn, Deming said. Plus, he said, the region's ``beer cultures'' are generally conservative, with drinkers preferring the feel of the cold container, which hurts plastic because it does not feel as cold as glass.
Several companies in Chile, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Argentina have tried PET or polyethylene naphthalate beer bottles in the past few years, but none of the trials succeeded, he said. Other plastic projects are in development, but the market remains in its infancy.
Companies launched the trials with some optimism: They thought shatterproof PET would fare better on the region's rough roads, the plastic bottle would be convenient for venues and beaches, and they noted the success of PET beer bottles in other developing economies, he said.
The short history of PET beer bottles in Latin America mirrors that of PET in the region generally, where plastic underperforms in the overall carbonated soft drink market, said Ed Garner, communications director with TNS, a market research firm in London.
Garner also spoke at Nova-Pack, on consumer purchasing of PET in Latin America.
Ultimately, PET's cost makes it tough to compete in Latin America, Deming said. And there are other reasons the beer trials haven't worked there, he said, including the warmer climate requiring a better barrier layer and brewers not pushing the package.
Latin American beer usually needs a shelf life of several months, instead of the three weeks typically needed in Eastern Europe, he said. Plus, brewers are heavily invested in glass processing equipment, unlike in China, where brewers were more open to investing in plastic, Deming said.
``Certainly the package appears to be here to stay in China,'' he said.
There are limited opportunities for PET beer bottles in Latin America, in markets like multiserve party packs, Deming said. PET resin investments in Latin America could help change the economics as well, he said, noting that M&G Group of Tortona, Italy, which has its Actituf-brand PET for the beer market, is investing in plants in Mexico and Brazil.