Multipacks used to be primarily about functionality, the best way to let a consumer easily grab a six pack of beer or soda off the shelf and carry it home fast, with the minimal amount of mishaps and hassle. Or, it was about brand communication. If the drink has to be wrapped up in paperboard, for example, then might as well take advantage of all that available space and really show off the brand. But increasingly, as the technology allows for it, multipacks are incorporating new features that add an extra layer or interactivity to beverage brands. The result is that today, brand owners have an unprecedented level of choice when it comes to how to dress up their drinks in secondary packaging.
One supplier that is constantly experimenting and bringing to market multipack innovations is the Itasca, Ill.-based Hi-Cone, a provider of the popular plastic ring carriers. “Packaging can be really clear cut,” explains Matt Zeffery, the company’s Business Development Manager — North America, “so what we’re trying to do is target what is of highest value to our customers and then understand how they want to focus on it, as opposed to just putting their products into multipacks. We’re working ever day with our customers to create something unique for both their retail environment and consumer experience.”
For instance, for the past several years, Hi-Cone has offered a feature on its machines that enables brand owners to orient cans in specific directions. The goal is to create a full billboard effect. The feature can be used to spell out a word, for example, or create eye-catching designs using the brand’s logo. And, what’s more, it can do this at very high speeds of up to 2,000 bottles a minute. The system works by optically scanning the label using vision technology. A database of labels is created and the image is compared to the stored data. The amount of rotation is calculated and this information is communicated to the servo motor and the container is physically moved to the desired orientation.
Another innovation from Hi-Cone is a carrier with take away wristband. The wristbands can easily be removed without affecting the integrity of the multipack, allowing customers to remove one wristband or both at any time after purchase. Hi-Cone’s packaging technology also allows for other removable promotional items such as bookmarks, coupons and collectible cards in many designs and colors.
Also, because pulling a bottle from a beverage carrier often takes more time and energy than necessary as consumers tug and jiggle the container to free it from the package, Hi-Cone developed a built-in zipper feature to its carriers and recently enhanced its efficiency so it functions even better. Just one pull of the perforated tab releases the container. In addition, the zipper makes it easy to remove just one container at a time or all the bottles.
Sustainability continues to be top of mind with brand owners, and multipack suppliers are especially aware of the importance of offering environmentally-sensitive solutions. PakTech, for example, says that all of its plastic handles are now made of post-consumer-recycled content, and at no greater cost to its customers.
Hi-Cone’s stance on sustainability is based upon a product’s Life Cycle Inventory: Less material is better. The total material and weight corresponds directly to energy, solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions. More materials/heavier materials tend to use more energy and emit greenhouse gases no matter the material type (paper, plastic, recyclables etc.). Reducing a systems weight / eliminating components is a primary way to reduce environmental burdens.
On the production front, one new technology—the patent pending 914 Orbital Vertical System (OVS) from Texwrap—can automatically wrap multipacks of products such as bottles and cans directly from the fillers with the product standing upright. With no need for manual re-orienting of the products prior to wrapping, containers can now go directly from filling to wrapping to cartoning to distribution in-line, without interruption. Additionally, carrier trays are no longer required to position the individual containers for shrink wrapping with this latest technology. The system not only automatically wraps containers while in vertical positions, but the wrapper trims the film underneath the package, where it is hidden from view. The company says this offers many more packaging opportunities for packaging designers, and does not compromise product presentation on store shelves. Using an exclusive patented mechanism, it cuts and trims away the film in one action to create a full bottom trim seal, instead of the traditional lap seal, to enclose the product. “This makes a very secure and attractive package for store display,” the company says.