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Staying Current with Packaging Trends

By Suzanne Brown

Remember the brown bags retailers used for selling roasted coffee and loose tea? The plain glass generic bottles of RTD tea with paper labels wrapped around them like cigar sleeves? Today’s packaging is more than a mere wrap. It’s about branding. What does your packaging say about your product? Like the products themselves, packaging innovations are changing with lifestyle trends and international influences. The following examples present a variety of recent applications that companies in the coffee and tea industries have introduced in an effort to differentiate themselves and provide better quality products to consumers.

RTD (ready-to-drink) Tea
PET bottles first used in carbonated beverages are fast replacing traditional glass bottles. New technology enables these bottles to do more than hold beverages. Shelf life and preserving quality are primary considerations. A new PET product that can be chilled or heated has been introduced by ITO EN, the Japanese green tea company, whose U.S. headquarters are in Brooklyn, New York. The concept of packaged, pre-heated RTD tea originally started with steel cans in Japan in vending machines. “As the market trend grew toward using PET bottles, ITO EN was the first company to launch RTD tea in heat-durable PET bottles in 1999,” said Yoshie Yano-Pennings, marketing manager, ITO EN INC. North America. Although the bottles are non-microwavable, ITO EN provides a heating/chilling product display unit nicknamed the “Hot-N-Cooler” to retailers for selling the Hot/Cold TEAS’ TEA line. The unit has a hot plate that is designed to safely heat the bottles to approximately 140º F, being both comfortably warm to the touch and ready for drinking. During the warm season, the hot plate can be switched off and the entire unit can be utilized for chilling. That way, TEAS’ TEA can be both cool and hot, depending on the season. Hot/cool bottles come in a handy grab-n-go size of 9.3 fl. oz.; one can drink the entire contents without having to think about storage. The other distinguishable trait is their orange cap. Launched in January 2004, the distribution is expanding throughout the U.S.

Caps play more of a role these days then just being a lid. Barriers to freshness not only have to be built into the container, but into the cap as well. Kyle Rossler, vice president-sales/marketing, G-3 Enterprises, which manufactures screw or twist tops for ready to drink products, reports that RTD companies are opting for PET bottles. Rossler says they are more efficient, more available and offer more flexibility. “Glass bottles are not innovative,” said Rossler. “Bottles have evolved from rigid to flexible packaging because of barrier innovation.” Caps are also being used as promotional tools. For instance, Snapple’s caps entertain consumers with fun facts, jokes and special promotions like the Snapple Yard Sale. Copy added to the cap, along with fun copy on the label connects with consumers and gets them involved in the brand.

One of the oldest bottle cap promotions was in the 1950s; children could get free admission to afternoon movie matinees with a number of bottle caps from sodas like Frosty Root Beer and Nehi Grape Soda. Not a bad idea to repeat that promotion today, using RTD or any of the multitudes of popular beverages currently being sold.

Debuting from Honest Tea in June is a breakthrough new bottle that combines the elegant look of glass with environmentally friendly PET-1 plastic. Gretchen Leitch of Honest Tea said the company quickly realized that not all plastics are equal. Other plastic bottling options, like PVC, are highly damaging to the environment and are not in keeping with Honest Tea’s commitment to sustainability,” she said. “The new bottle’s innovative panel-less design will facilitate Honest Tea’s entry into new venues. Also, the bottle and label highlight the Honest Tea brand identity and remain true to the environmental imperative to reduce, re-use and recycle,” Leitch said.

Looking sleek and fashionable, highlighting its bright colored contents, The Republic of Tea meets consumer demand for convenience and health with its new line of curvaceous 12 oz. sip-and-go plastic bottles. All nine flavors are brewed using organic tea leaves and all natural ingredients. Bottles are light, fit neatly into a car’s cup or even into a purse or briefcase for easy toting.

And, there seems to be no end to the products and packaging derived from tea. The Republic of Tea’s Tea Oil, packaged in 30 fluid ounces and 17 fluid ounce cans that look like imported olive oil cans, is the next chef’s companion. The can, which is wrapped with a white label bearing the Republic of Tea logo, fits easily onto the home cook’s pantry shelf or beside all the condiments used in a commercial chef’s kitchen.

When Melitta coffee company first appeared on shelves, it was sold in cans, yet positioned as a premium, dark roasted coffee, using only Arabica beans. In the late 1970s and for most of the 1980s, when premium and specialty coffees were emerging in packages with optional ground or whole bean selections, Melitta’s point of differentiation was still in the can. One of the big issues raised by package proponents was that commercial coffee companies were canning stale coffee because after beans were roasted, they had to de-gas for a couple of days, thereby growing stale but preventing the cans from blowing up. Melitta, on the other hand, was steadfast in its defense on using the can, stating that the finer, trademarked roast used by Melitta, prevented de-gassing time and the coffee could be canned right after roasting, thus preventing any added time of sitting around growing stale by the hour.

The old adage, “everything old is new again” is back in the can. Mark Inman, president, Taylor Maid Farms, LLC, is using steel cans and says they are one of the best ways to package coffee. “It is unfortunate that the Big Four did not stay committed to the steel can as their package of choice,” he said. “It was, in fact, one of the most environmentally sound packaging choices available to use at this time.” Contrasting the can to flexible packaging, Inman continued, “Unlike multi-layered flex packaging, which is neither recyclable nor biodegradable, steel is the most recycled material on this planet.” Further advantages, according to Inman are: they are more attractive and durable; full color steel cans cost about as much as printed flex packaging, making it an attractive option for those looking for a lot of bang for their buck; canning equipment can be had for a fraction of the cost of bag sealers; cans are re-usable, collectable and recyclable. “Who doesn’t have an old coffee can lying around their house? How many old multi-layered bags do you have lying around?” he said. My first thought to those questions was that bags don’t make nearly as good of pencil holders as cans.

One difference with Inman’s canned coffee is they are packed with whole beans. He said that there is no degassing time necessary because the cans now have one way valves. The coffees are packed right out of the roaster. Cans hold 10 ounces of coffee and can be found in specialty stores throughout the western states.

Cans used by Taylor Maid Farms assist Inman in continuing to brand his products by conveying the message of sustainable, organic, safe for the environment and pure. Packaging reflects a company’s brand and needs to be carefully thought out. Selecting new packaging styles and materials requires consideration to color, design, type and label. How the design and packaging material fits into a company’s marketing plan can determine the difference between success and a dud.

Continuing his tradition of prominently displaying the roast date on coffees offered in Coffee Connection stores, George Howell has gone a step further with the launch of his newest coffee, Terroir, with the roast date on the package and description of its whole bean content. Howell’s fanaticism about freshness and quality continues to drive his quest toward providing a coffee as near perfection as it can get. That’s why his new company, GHH Select LLC, roasts and packages each single origin coffee sold. Roasting is a major factor for bringing out the flavor nuances in the Terroir collection. “Roasting is key to the full expression of Terroir,” said Howell. “Terroir coffees are roasted with a light touch, one that does not overpower the unique flavor of the coffee, but allows it to be itself,” he said. After roasting, Terroir coffee is immediately packaged and marked with the roast date.

Packages For Packaging
Sometimes all you need to do is merchandize your packaging. With a little creative thinking, a walk through the fragrance department of a department store, or seasonal display section of your favorite mass merchandise outlet or drugstore, all sorts of products appear that can be used to package your packages.

One company that offers a variety of clever packaging for coffees and teas is Baskets-n-Bags of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Geetha Pai, owner, offers eco-friendly hand screened jute bags that are ideal for holding packaged coffee.

Nashville Wraps, out of Hendersonville, Tennessee, offers just about every kind of basket, crate, tote, wrapping paper, and ties that add fun and pizzazz to a package. Silk and organza bags, plain or ornate with beading, in all sizes, are perfect partners for loose and bagged teas. The larger ones are roomy enough to hold a gift collection of several items such as a tea inceptor, small teapot and/or flavored sugars.

Suzanne J. Brown is an international coffee and tea marketing consultant based in Atlanta, Georgia Her firm, Brown Marketing Communications LLC can be reached at (1)(404) 252-7399; Website: www.browncommunications.us; Email: info@browncommunications.us

Tea & Coffee - July/August, 2004

Modern Process Equipment

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