According to a report on "World Beer Containers" from The Freedonia Group, by the end of this year, plastic bottles will emerge as a viable form of beer packaging.

The Miller Brewing Company has begun test marketing 16-oz., 20-oz. and one liter multilayer PET (polyethylene terephthalate) beer bottle for Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft and Icehouse brands. The bottles are produced for Miller by Continental PET Technologies. Anheuser-Busch has also performed limited testing of its amber colored, 16-oz. multilayer PET bottle for Bud and Bud Light brands to select cities.

Meanwhile, UK-based Bass Brewers successfully launched its Carling Black Label and Hoopers Hooch brands in PET bottles last year. The brewer has since launched three additional brands in plastic bottles. Pechiney subsidiary American National Can produces the preforms and blows the bottles for Bass Brewers.

At the recent Packaging Strategies '99 conference, Bill Dando, director of packaging development at Bass, announced that Bass has extended the shelf life of its plastic beer bottles from the current shelf life of four months to six months, allowing the company to evaluate new market opportunities. "If this market is going to continue to grow," Dando said, "we're not going to get anywhere by continuing to sell through special events and outdoor arenas."

As consumer acceptance and shelf life have both been addressed, the remaining obstacle for plastic beer bottles to achieve success is cost, Dando said.

According to PET resin supplier Eastman Chemical Company, the introduction of PET beer containers by these brewers has the potential to double worldwide demand for the plastic.

For more information on Packaging Strategies '99, contact Packaging Strategies, Inc., 122 South Church Street, West Chester, PA 19382. Tel.: (610) 436-4220; Fax: (610) 436-6277. Continental PET Technologies, 7 Technology Drive, Bedford, NH 03110-6908. Tel.: (603) 627-5550; Fax: (603) 627-5750 American National Can, 1101 W. 43rd St., Chicago, IL 60609. Tel.: (773) 247-4646; Fax: (773) 247-6468 Eastman Chemical Co., P.O. Box 511, Kingsport, TN 37662-5075. Tel.: (423) 229-2000; Fax: (423) 229-1193

Ben & Jerry's debuts new eco-friendly carton

Beginning with its top-selling flavor, World's Best Vanilla, Ben & Jerry's converted its familiar pint-sized cartons of ice cream to environmentally friendly unbleached brown (kraft) paperboard. "We're hoping what we call the 'ECO-Pint' will become the new industry standard for ice cream containers," said Andrea Asch, manager of natural resource use at Ben & Jerry's.

According to Asch, the traditional method of making bleached paperboard uses chlorine as a bleaching agent. "In the process of using that type of bleaching, the water from the mills that is discharged into the waste stream includes a slew of different chemicals, including dioxins," Asch said. The EPA has identified dioxin as a carcinogen and highly toxic.

The search for unbleached packaging material that meets environmental, commercial and FDA standards led the Vermont-based company to paperboard supplier Riverwood International. "This technology had never before been adapted to ice cream pint containers," said Michael Brink, manager of packaging development at Ben & Jerry's. "Just being able to fabricate [the paperboard] in round, precise dimensions posed unique challenges for our manufacturing team."

While Riverwood supplies the paperboard, Sweetheart Cup Co. forms and prints the ECO-Pints. The open teamwork between the two suppliers and Ben & Jerry's led to the successful development of the container, Asch said. "Riverwood and Sweetheart worked very hard to deal with the special characteristics of the kraft paperboard, which has a lot of longer fibers in it that makes it more challenging to curl," Asch said.

The World's Best Vanilla flavor in the new ECO-Pints is currently in the market. "Our anticipation is that one-third of the line will be transitioned by the end of this year, with the remaining [to be converted] next year," Asch said. Although Ben & Jerry's half-gallon, gallon, half-liters for the European market and 130ml sizes for the Asian market have not yet been converted, the company would like to see those sizes switch to the new unbleached paperboard packaging as well, noted Asch.

Riverwood International, 3350 Cumberland Circle, Suite 1400, Atlanta, GA 30339. Tel.: (770) 644-3000. Sweetheart Cup Co., 10100 Reisterstown Rd., Owings Mills, MD 21117. Tel.: (410) 363-1111.

Closure tops off consumer safety for juice producer

A new 38-mm tamper-evident (TE) closure solved consumer convenience and safety issues for Canadian fruit and drink processor A. Lassonde. The PP (polypropylene) closure is manufactured by Pano Cap Canada with resin from Montell Polyolefins.

After originally introducing aseptically filled juice drinks in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles under the Rougemont and Fruit?rands, A. Lassonde's 2-liter, stretch blow molded bottle from Duopac had a lined, tamper-evident closure that required removal of a tear-off band before consumers could open the beverage.

"Consumer feedback told us that the closure's tear-off band was somewhat inconvenient," said Jean Gattuso, Lassonde's general manager. Pano Cap Canada then developed a new, linerless TE closure with a dual-thread start. "The dual threads give consumers a quick 'on and off'," said Uwe Sendel, president of Pano. "It decreases the twist-off action to about half of that required to remove a conventional continuous thread closure."

The closure's design also features a plug seal that slides into the inside diameter of the container neck, creating a hermetic seal and eliminating the need for a liner, according to Sendel.

Engineering a closure that could overcome application tolerances proved to be a challenge for Pano. "With competitive closures in this diameter range, you typically have to preheat the cap in order to create flexibility in the TE band so that it can be applied smoothly over the bottle's TE retention bead. We wanted to mold a closure that didn't require preheating and one where the band didn't fracture when stretched over the bead," said Sendel. Montell's Pro-fax SV-956 polypropylene resin offered the stiffness of a homopolymer with enhanced impact properties.

The closure, molded in one piece, consists of two separate sections connected by molded vertical ribs 1/4-inch apart. After the consumer twists-off the closure, the TE band is left behind below the bottle's retention bead indicating that the contents have been accessed.

The containers are aseptically filled on a Remy Equipment line at 687#176; F. Lassonde uses two different colored closures -- red for the Rougemont brand and green for its Fruit¿ine.

Pano Cap Canada, 55 Webster Rd., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2C 2E7. Tel.: (519) 893-6055. Montell North America, 2801 Centerville Rd., Wilmington, DE 19850. Tel.: (800) 458-1416. Duopac Packaging, Inc., 3300 Transcanada Hwy, Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Canada H9R 1B1. Tel.: (514) 428-0002. Remy Equipment, 50 Avenue des Fenots, Dreux, France. Tel.: 33 2 37 46 18 75.

Packaging 'intelligence' eases microwave cooking

A new system enables food manufacturers to encode information on microwave food packages via a bar code that provides cooking instructions to the oven. The Intelligent Microwave Oven (IMWO) system was developed by researchers from Rutgers University, along with support from microwave oven manufacturer Samsung Electronics.

In this new system, a bar code scanner and a microprocessor are placed inside the microwave oven. The bar code on the food package can be modified to include certain food preparation instructions. The consumer passes the package's information code across the scanner where it is then read into the microwave oven processor.

The system was developed within the Intelligent Product Delivery Systems Program (IPDSP) at Rutgers. According to Dr. Raymond Saba, associate director of IPDSP, this technology has the potential to appeal to a large market because it reduces food preparation time and produces a high quality product. "If the consumer doesn't have to do anything but scan the barcode, and the whole essence of food attributes are read and processed in the microwave, the consumer just scans it, pushes start and gets a quality product," said Saba.

In addition to reading encoded information, the current IMWO prototype also provides real-time Web communication between consumers and food manufacturers through a small panel on the oven's front. Through this Web communication, food processors can obtain reliable marketing information, quickly recall products if needed, directly advertise new products and receive consumer feedback.

This technology is not yet commercially available, although ConAgra has given its support of the project by providing food products to test the system.

For more information, contact Rutgers University at (732) 932-9003.