PET ready to take on beer

As a first step Boxmore Plastics, one of South Africa’s leading PET producers – which exports 50% of its production, mainly to the rest of Africa – recently launched the first bottle range designed specifically for beer. 500ml and 1-litre beer bottles are already on the shelves in South Africa.

Although use of PET for “mainstream” beer has been limited to events and promotions (like the Budweiser bottle sold at World Cup stadiums in South Africa last year), there is growing acceptance of it within South Africa’s emerging microbrewery industry, Boxmore says.

It believes that in time, microbrewers will build the acceptance of PET as a format and create opportunities in the mainstream market. 
Zea Oosthuizen, key account manager for Boxmore, says: “PET beer bottles are also attractive for microbreweries because unit costs are lower and the bottle is lighter. In transport, there are savings to and from the factory. And, of course, there are fewer breakages.” Oxygen sensitivity
In the past, one of the criticisms of PET in meeting the needs of the beer industry was the sensitivity of beer to oxygen migrating through the walls of the PET bottle, affecting the taste of the beer. Says Oosthuizen: “Unlike soft drinks, the taste of beer can be affected when packaged in PET because oxygen from the atmosphere can diffuse into the product over time. Recently, however, new technology has developed both active and passive barriers, including multi-layer solutions, that can reduce both the ingress of oxygen and the loss of CO2 to extend the shelf life of sensitive products like beer.”
Boxmore is an expert in multi-layer and other barrier technologies like oxygen scavengers. It has used its experience in solving shelf life issues for the global soft drinks giants to develop solutions for the beer industry. “It is possible today to produce a beer bottle that can match the performance of glass, with a shelf life of up to six months. Our approach is to match the particular needs of the customer – its product and its supply chain – to the bottle we produce for it,” she says. And appearance…
The other – and potentially greater – challenge PET faced in the beer market was that of image. Internationally, PET beer bottles have come a long way in the past 5-10 years. The first PET beer bottles in Europe and the US were generally “glass look-alikes” with crown closures and champagne bases, but things have changed considerably since then. “Although the first bottles opened the way for the growth of PET, they didn’t really harness many of the benefits that PET could bring to beer. But since then the European market in particular has matured – their bottles now use plastic screw-on closures, allowing resealability, and the weight of the bottles has been significantly reduced by using petaloid bases, while still retaining the look and feel of glass bottles.”
Now, with the production of oxygen scavenging preforms, Boxmore has designed 500ml and 1-litre PET bottles specifically for beer.
“Having looked carefully at the bottle cost and trade issues (like price-point, servings per bottle and the size of the bottle on-shelf), Boxmore decided that a customised 1-litre beer bottle was a key opportunity to change the image of beer in PET.
“Both the 500ml and 1-litre PET bottle have a similar look and feel to glass beer bottles. Also, PET bottles are conducive to customisation by changing shoulder inserts, allowing brewers to emboss the bottle with their brand name, etc.
“This not only builds consumer loyalty but also makes the bottle look and feel more premium, competing further with glass.
“Unlike glass, embossing is quite easy to do with PET, and relatively cheap. The same mould can be used – a simple insert will ensure that there is embossing of a specific design at a specific position on the bottle. Still, longer manufacturing runs allow for more cost-effective bottles, so brewers should opt for this if their volumes justify it. But such volumes will still be much, much lower than for glass as it is a simple process to insert a logo, for instance.
“The look and feel of the product is key to changing perceptions. Offering a bottle that looks like a glass beer bottle and following it with a superior taste experience has the potential to significantly boost acceptance in the beer industry.”  
Oosthuizen: Tel 082-699-4305;Zea.Oosthuizen@boxmore.co.za