Glass advances for the next generation - technical and design developments bring back glass

Packaging Professional magazine
20 Jan 2014

Paul McLavin, Marketing Manager at global glass packaging manufacturer O-I, explains how technical and design innovation combined with the ever increasing focus on sustainability is making glass packaging more relevant and popular.  

When a material has been used for packaging for more than 3,500 years, you could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing new to be said about it. When it comes to glass, nothing could be further from the truth. In packaging, even familiar materials can be used to create innovative designs.

One brand that has always been aware of the potential of glass to define its image is Absolut Vodka. Starting from a beautifully simple shape, the company has used the power of glass decoration to make the bottle, originally designed in 1979, not just the centrepiece of its advertising but also an inextricable link between glass, art and its brand. Over the years, many famous artists have seen their creativity decorate the company’s bottles. Its latest campaign has used glass decoration to produce four million unique bottle designs. But Absolut Vodka is not alone in its innovative use of glass. Other brands have taken different ideas in glass and made them their own. In the Black Grouse Alpha Edition, for instance, Edrington has built a brand image around a black glass bottle.

Not that glass innovation is preserved for premium spirits. Indeed, there are plenty of initiatives that bring added value to less costly items, all building from the core glass values of taste preservation, protection of contents and enhanced brand image.

Lightweighting developments have seen glass bottle weights fall at all points in the wine chain. Whether you are producing a value wine or a prestigious Premier Cru, the chances are that the bottle used will be significantly lighter than its equivalent from a decade ago. Lighter weight bottles, and the sustainability benefits they bring in terms of reduced carbon footprint, have also played their part in the spirits and non-alcoholic beverage sectors. But nowhere has lightweighting had more impact than in beers and ciders.

The biggest change over the past decade has been in the premium packaged ales category, in which the 500ml lightweight glass bottle has become the default packaging format for presenting high quality ales. The market has thrived in glass, with the latest report from the Society of Independent Brewers showing its members producing approximately 2,000 different bottled beers across the UK. Once the preserve of traditional, heavy, dumpy bottles, many of these beers are now sold in elegant, highly embossed and decorated containers that enhance brand personality and premium positioning. The trend towards beer with food has led brewers to seek larger bottles for sharing and display at the table, especially 660ml and 750ml bottles in various shapes and colours. Some brewers have even been filling 500ml champagne bottles without the standard cork closure, enabling UK brewers to access the premium ale market.

Other styles define their own sector of the market. Think of a long neck, clear glass bottle and it immediately says summertime lagers such as Sol, Corona or San Miguel Fresca. The multi-national brewers are also adapting their brands to changing times, using more complex designs to punch up their brand image. Carlsberg and Heineken are just two of the leading brands to have adopted embossed brand names on their bottle. They are, in effect, using the bottles themselves as their primary graphic design medium. Embossing such as this, or the establishment dates or animals and cartouches found on many Scotch whisky bottles present a branding opportunity that can only be produced in glass.

Green credentials
The initial Courtauld Commitment to which many retailers and brand owners signed up, focused on packaging weight. This drove a lot of the industry’s right-weighting developments. The latest phase of the scheme, launched in May 2013, moved the debate onto new territory. It has three key targets: to reduce household food and drink waste, reduce supply chain waste and to improve recyclability. The inert and impermeable nature of glass means that food is preserved without taint for longer, decreasing waste. As well as this, the continued drive to right-weighting can still deliver packaging reductions leading in the direction of the second target. In addition, the 100% recyclability of glass means that it should be treated as a viable resource and not waste at the end of its life.

The third target, improved packaging design to maximise recycled content, is also met by glass recycling, which has been a common feature of life in Britain since the late 1970s. Already, many UK-produced bottles will contain far more than the published recycled content (up to 85% for green bottles). In essence, the only limit on the recycled content of a bottle is the availability of sufficient cullet (recycled glass) for re-melt. In 2012, the UK glass recycling rate was almost 64% – still six points below the European average. But only around half of the glass collected was actually returned to the glass industry for remanufacture into new bottles and jars. WRAP is working to increase this. Companies such as Marks and Spencer recognise this and have started to invest in collection infrastructure as part of their corportate social responsibility and sustainability strategies. The Somerset Waste Partnership closes the loop between consumer, glassmaker, filler (in this case Marston’s, which fills own label beer for M&S) and the retailer, and provides more glass to boost the recycled content of M&S branded bottles.

Glass is certainly a material with a long and distinguished history. But it is constantly moving forward, propelled by technological and design innovation that enhance its appeal.

For more information, email Paul McLavin