ITASCA, ILL. — MillerCoors LLC does not put a high percentage of its beer in plastic bottles, but a recent move into that packaging in one segment is helping boost sales.
And Jonah Smith, sustainability manager for policy and reporting at MillerCoors, figures the use of PET bottles is only going to increase in the years to come.
Just don't ask him how quickly that will happen.
The beer maker saw a jump in sales when it moved 40-ounce and 32-ounce bottles from glass to plastic last year.
Smith, at the Plastic Caps & Closures Conference in Itasca, said about 1 percent of the company's sales are through plastic bottles these days.
“There is an appetite for it and we saw that with the velocity increase [in sales],” he said, with the switch to plastics. Bioresins will help push those numbers higher over time, he told the crowd at the conference organized by Plastics News.
Switching from glass to plastic in the economy segment of beer drinkers — those opting for the 32s and 40s — not only helped drive sales higher, but the move also boosted MillerCoors' environmental performance, Smith said.
The change in packaging cut the products' carbon footprint by about 25 percent while saving tens of millions of dollars in the process. The switch cut container weight by about a pound for each bottle, lowering the tonnage of the products that distributors ship throughout the country.
Aluminum cans and glass bottles obviously hold the vast majority of packaged beer these days. Plastics will make some inroads over time, but don't expect to see some sort of dramatic breakthrough.
“I'd say within 10 to 15 years you're going to start to see more and more of the packaging product mix switch over to more environmentally sustainable choices. Is PET going to increase? Probably. It's also going to increase as more MRFs, material recovery facilities, improve their technologies in how to best recycle PET,” Smith said.
“It's going to be slow, but it's going to be happen. And it's going to be significant at some point,” he said. “I don't know how it's going to happen. It may be 10 years. It may be 15 years. But you are going to see, increasingly, I think, more environmentally friendly choices.”
A big challenge for plastic beer packaging is the use of barriers to protect the freshness of the product that are not needed as much in other containers such as water bottles, Smith said.
Both consumer demand and packaging company capabilities both will be needed to help drive greater use of plastic beer packaging.
“I think that with technology, with consumer demand, you're seeing more and more consumers asking for things like this, paying more attention to companies. And then more and more companies are able to say. ‘This is what we're capable of doing. As a manufacturer this is what we can do in terms of sustainability.'
“It's a two-way street,” Smith said. “It's not the chicken or the egg. It's both. ... The two merge. It won't be a straight linear projection. It's going to be up and down. There's going to be some successes and failures. But you will see it will slowly increase.”
MillerCoors is a joint venture between SABMiller plc and Molson Coors Brewing Co.