The beverage closure has evolved over time from existing for purely functional purposes, to providing brand marketers with another tool that can be used to create a real bond between their products and the consumer. And these days, the variety of closures continues to multiply.
“The closure began as a purely functional device for preventing product spoilage, however, over time, it has evolved far beyond that and is now leveraged as a branding tool to increase sales and build consumer loyalty,” says Sheila Heath, Director of Marketing, Crown Closures Americas. “By acting as a critical gateway to the product within a package, modern closures provide strong opportunities for brands to connect with consumers.”
Today, there are almost as many closure varieties as there are types of packaging. Each addresses a different need, from improved performance, such as tamper-evident, dispensing or child-resistant closures, to convenience with screw top, crown cap or snap on caps.
And, with consumers more sensitive than ever to the impact of beverage packaging on the environment, a major trend in closures today is sustainability. For example Nomacorc engineered a product called Select Bio which is derived from plant-based polymers (sugar cane) and says it is the world’s first zero carbon footprint closure. Allegrini Estates, San Polo Montalcino, Italy, is currently piloting it. “The use of the Nomacorc Bio Cork closure was a natural extension in the path of eco sustainability undertaken in all the Allegrini Estates, particularly in San Polo, our Montalcino Estate,” says Nicola Biasi – wine maker and technical director at San Polo and Poggio al Tesoro (the Tuscan Allegrini Estates). “Our goal is to be constantly aware of our impact on the environment and to remember that, in terms of ecology any contribution, even one as small as a cork, can make a difference.
Another supplier, API Spa, has, together with SACMI, produced a 100% biodegradable mineral water bottle cap. The cap was designed starting from a compound belonging to the Apinat Bio range. Thanks to their chemical structure and versatility, the company says these compounds can easily be processed using widely available technology and have an extensive application range.
In other green closure news, Aptar Beverage says it just recently acquired the license for a “revolutionary” new technology that will allow any closure to remain affixed to the bottle or container. Aptar says this will promote increased recycling and renewal of the closure material and will drastically reduce the amount of litter and subsequent ecological damage.
The company also introduced two new sports caps to the market this year, both of which target sensitive beverage makers, offering them linerless solutions for flip-top closures. Asepta (in PE) has been designed especially for wet and dry aseptic filling. Contender (in PP/PE, 38mm) is hot-fill compatible and easily manipulated with one hand.
Other closure innovations focus more on features with a “wow” factor that will ignite interest in the package and thereby the brand. For instance, Crown Beverage Packaging North America, a business unit of Crown Holdings, Inc. is literally introducing a new twist on metal packaging. Crown recently rolled out its new Vented End beverage cans for two of Canada’s top selling brands: Coors Light and Molson Canadian. The product of an exclusive partnership between Crown and Molson Canadian, it features a vented end to allow for a smoother pour, enhanced experience and a unique opening feature.
Bericap also says its 38mm 1-piece closure for hotfill applications represents a cost-effective, performance-driven alternative to the traditional 2-piece (closure plus liner) types that were typically used in the past for juices, ready-to-drink teas, isotonic and enhanced waters.
With several billion hotfilled products having already been closed with the well-known 1-piece DoubleSeal closure from Bericap, their functional reliability for hotfill applications is tried and tested, the company says.
The 1-piece hotfill closures from BERICAP are commercially available for 28mm, 33mm and 38mm neck sizes.
On the production side, Closure Systems International, Inc. (CSI) points out that the recent global wave of innovative lightweight beverage closure designs has delivered many benefits to both bottlers and consumers. Along with improved material savings, a variety of new knurl pattern options have become available to add branding and improved grip for ease of opening. These benefits, however, have not been without some challenges in the beverage bottling plants. With reduced material and thinner closure walls, dimensional tolerance ranges and capping application windows for bottlers have often been narrowed. “Almost overnight, bottlers were required to buy and maintain a growing inventory of capping chucks for each closure size and knurl pattern used, “ explains Jack Petersen, CSI Sales Engineer. “Large bottlers struggled with the twin challenges of added changeover time and chuck inventory control.”
The perfect solution to both problems CSI says, is its new, Flex-Chuck, which offers a completely new approach to capping chuck design. Using an internal array of multiple and independent grippers, the patented Flex-Chuck design instantly adapts to a wide range of knurl patterns and varying closure dimensional tolerances. CSI’s Flex-Chucks reduces the need for time-consuming changeovers while also decreasing capping chuck inventory requirements. Bottlers who have switched to CSI Flex-Chucks have quickly recouped their investment, with the bulk of the savings realized in decreased labor costs and increased bottling line up-time, CSI says.
“CSI Flex-Chucks have been continuously operating trouble-free 24x7 at high speeds with zero maintenance required,” states Petersen. “We conservatively estimate maintenance costs related to chucks have been reduced by 50 percent.
Another benefit of the Flex-Chuck design is that they clearly outperform all standard chucks when applying linerless water and CSD closures with a plug-seal design,” he adds. “Many previously difficult-to-solve application issues have simply disappeared.”
And Portola Packaging, Inc. is introducing GreenLyte, a new line of plug-seal, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) 38 mm closures for single and multiserve, hot-fill and aseptic beverage packaging applications.
GreenLyte one-piece closures represent a cost-effective, performance-driven alternative to traditional two-piece (closure plus liner) polypropylene (PP) types typically used for juices, ready-to-drink teas, isotonics, enhanced waters, low-acid nutraceuticals and high-end, aseptic-filled beverage products. “Our internal tests show that GreenLyte closures equal or exceed performance attributes offered by traditional two-piece closures. Additionally, the one-piece plug design reduces costs for brand owners due to shell lightweighting, liner elimination and material choice. We believe that this launch will be of significant interest for beverage brand owners looking for ways to maintain or improve performance, while reducing costs,” says Roy Robinson, vice president of business development, Portola Packaging.
Because the GreenLyte line is made from high-density polyethylene, resin is less expensive than pricing volatility-prone polypropylene, which is the material from which most two-piece closures are made. “Two-piece closures have also been known to be difficult for consumers to open. The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) liner material tends to drag across the top of the finish requiring a significant amount of torque to access the contents. Because the GreenLyte’s plug construction eliminates the need for a liner, opening issues no longer exist,” says Robinson.
GreenLyte plug-seal closures also offer production line efficiencies. Unlike two-piece closures which usually require that the TPE liner be steamed in order to achieve proper application, this step is not necessary with Portola’s linerless GreenLyte line. Additionally, the seal design and low coefficient of friction facilitates application over a wide range of capper settings. “In addition to the cost, production and performance benefits, the GreenLyte launch provides an ideal conversion opportunity for those hot-fill beverage products still using 43mm finishes,” Robinson explains.