This summer, thirsty consumers are seeing a new 20-ounce bottle for 7UP, Sunkist soda, Canada Dry ginger ale and 18 other soda flavors from Dr Pepper Snapple Group, where officials think the design should win the grab-and-go battle on retail shelves.
The new “Legacy” bottle replaces the “Splash” bottle — which debuted nearly 15 years ago.
Packaging design is critical for single-serve soft drinks, often an impulse buy at gas stations, convenience stores and coolers near grocery checkout lines. This is a product that has to look and feel good.
During an accelerated 28-week period, Dr Pepper Snapple worked with R&D/Leverage to come up with the Legacy bottle, from initial discussions through intensive consumer research to production molds.
“We are developing packaging every day to try and compete, not only with our other brands, but also those of our competitors. So shelf impact is huge,” said Robin Utay, packaging director at Dr Pepper Snapple. “What we've discovered is structure is just as important as packaging design. The shape of the bottle is the overall perception that you get.”
Cadbury Schweppes plc rolled out the Splash design about two years after it bought the Dr Pepper and 7UP lines in 1995. Utay, who was then the creative director, had some involvement with the Splash. She said the late 1990s were a time of innovation and creativity, when companies were converting 20-ounce packages from the more generic-type bottles that had been common before.
“It was kind of progressive. We all tried to change the shape because we've learned that the packaging is also very important,” Utay said.
In 2008, Cadbury Schweppes spun off its U.S. beverage unit into a stand-alone company, Dr Pepper Snapple, based in Plano, Texas.
R&D/Leverage is a Lee's Summit, Mo.-based product development and mold-making firm.
Some Dr Pepper Snapple brands have their own specific bottle, such as Dr Pepper and A&W root beer. But the Legacy bottle covered soft drinks that do not have their own brand-specific designs. That presented a special challenge, according to Tamara Christensen, research director at Leverage Integrated Design, R&D's consumer packaging design operation.
“How do we come up with something that works across 21 flavors? We had to think about structural branding, what's common for all the soft drinks,” Christensen said.
Utay said it's a huge decision to change a long-standing single-serve bottle. “Our packages have to pass muster with consumers and with internal constituents — they must look good on the shelf, and they must run efficiently in all our manufacturing locations and work in vending machines,” she said.
Utay and Christensen outlined the extensive consumer research that went into the Legacy bottle, in recent telephone interviews.
People from Dr Pepper Snapple and R&D/Leverage went along with consumers on “shop-along” trips — they explained the research but did not identify their company. “It involved going to their home and finding out what they actually consume, what's in their fridge, what's in their pantry — going on a shopping trip with them,” Utay said. Christensen said R&D takes industrial designers along on the field work.
Utay said they even went along for a drive, stopping at gas station soda displays and observing “tiny little things that you might take for granted” like how parents and children handle the bottles.
”It really gives you a good insight into what it is, specifically, about their beverage that they're looking for, whether it's shape or color or label or closure or placement in the cooler,” Utay said.
“Grip-ability” was a big feature. “That's what consumers told us they wanted. We kept coming back to it, to make sure it was grip-able,” Utay said.
On the Splash, the label covered a large surface area in the middle of the bottle, right where it was griped. The Legacy positions the label high on the shoulder, above a contoured grip area. Molded-in carbonation bubbles that come out from the surface help consumers get a better grip.
“Now there's nothing interfering with the label,” Utay said. Also, the label is above the glides in the retail cooler, boosting visibility.
Christensen said R&D tailors its research to each product. The Dr Pepper Snapple project included what she called “tactile tactics.” Focus groups were given a series of shapes, closed inside black bags, so they had to rely on feel along, not their eyes. “It has to look good and feel good in the consumer's hand,” she said.
Researchers asked them a lot of questions. “When you get all that data, you can clearly come up with a structural language for what's working and what's not working in a package,” she said.
In another evaluation, the consumers were asked to design their own package, by tracing over drawings of potential 20-ounce bottles.
Christensen said R&D/Leverage built prototype and production tooling for the three bottle finalists, which were filled, labeled and capped. The consumers also handled the existing Splash.
She said the “feel” of the bottle was a critical factor in whether consumers ended up liking the product.
Utay said the work paid off: “We just feel like we have something that is an end product of listening to the consumer needs, and it's a beautiful bottle in the end.”
Officials of Dr Pepper Snapple and R&D/Leverage will detail the Legacy bottle project during R&D's open house Sept. 14-16 in Lee's Summit.
R&D/Leverage built some, but not all, of the final production molds, according to Christopher Yows, business manager for the company's design operation. The Legacy bottle was a major “idea-to-mold” project. Yows said the company also helps clients explore new concepts, branding or direction — not always a brand-new package.
Services include full mold manufacturing for PET, injection blow molding and injection molding. The company also offers support functions including mold sampling analysis, mold maintenance, contract molding, processing assistance and low-volume production.
“Part of the efficiencies with working with them is we were doing the design simultaneously with the mold making,” Utay said. “It gave us not only insight for this project, but for other projects, so that we know, specific to the 20-ounce market, how consumers view the market.”