Looking Glass: A Q&A on the branding, performance, sustainability of modern glass packages

Posted: December 17, 2011 by
Linda Casey

Package designers and glass manufacturers are advancing both the form and function of glass packages. From strong, lightweight bottles to ergonomic features and more eco-friendly decorating techniques and blown-in accoutrements, today’s glass packages are very different from those from a few years back.

Also, the past decade’s glass packaging shortages seem to be mere reflections in the industry’s rearview mirror. Glass packaging is a more available and versatile option in much of the country.

To help package designers who are rethinking glass as a packaging option, Package Design sat down with two executives from Owens-Illinois Inc. (O-I), a major supplier of glass packaging: Raul Paredes, manager of new product development, and Miguel Yanez, marketing director for North America.


PD: What trends are you seeing in glass package design?

Raul Paredes: We’re actually seeing a divergence of trends. The first one is more efficient structural design, where a lot of packaging operations are moving away from containers that require special handling. They want bottles and containers that will run very quickly down fill lines and different handling lines.

The second trend is brand owners who want the container to become part of the product offering. Instead of the package just being a vessel, it’s integrated into the brand’s image. Proprietary bottles can become the signature element of an iconic brand.

There, efficiency may take a little bit of a backseat so that functionality comes to the forefront. These packages may focus on features such as an ergonomic grip. They may be designed to be easy to open, easy to close, and easy to identify both on the shelf and in use. An example is the growing use of specific necks on bottles so bartenders can recognize products in a very fast-paced, busy environment. Here, it’s important for the bottles to be really distinguishable; bartenders are trying to conduct their business with clientele and can’t always look down.

Miguel Yanez: We’ve also seen interest in “retro propositions,” which includes the use of amber glass for protection against UV light. Returnable systems for glass are becoming cool again, too, for their sustainability benefits.


Which shapes and structures are trending up?

Paredes: It’s very category specific. For beer packaging, we’re seeing stubby bottles begin to appear where the long-neck had been the predominant design. I think these shorter, more robust containers feel a little bit nicer in the hand. The larger diameter also seems more drinkable. It’s certainly more nostalgic in its look, as well, calling to mind 1950s design. Structures for spirits, again, are all about grippability and recognition.
Square jars are giving packaged foods a more premium look. There’s more facing for on-the-shelf presentation and a bigger billboard for labeling. There’s also an opportunity to have more of a footed design, and that often adds to an upscale look.
We’re also starting to see more effort put in developing jars that are very easy to grip. I expect to see this spread across the food categories and grow, along with an interest in the torque removal needed for closures.


How is glass package decoration changing?

Paredes: In the U.S., we’re noticing a tendency to move away from more caustic decorative techniques. The use of heavy metals in decorating is almost unheard of today. Some of this change probably came from government regulation, but it also changed because of some self-regulation.
Another design technique that’s fading is acid etching. It used to be big in the industry. Other techniques, such as abrasive etching or using shrink labels to create effects, are being used.

For spirits, brand owners like the no-label look of transparent pressure-sensitive labels. They like how the label carries the branding information, yet still lets the clarity of their vodkas or the ambers of their whiskeys and rums to show through. Using transparent packaging to highlight the product is a consistent trend that’s as important as ever and we don’t see it going away.

Closures are another tool package designers are using to decorate their bottles. Designers who understand closure needs for their products and the different closure styles can certainly improve their products’ shelf impact and consumer interface.

In the last five years, we’ve seen several CPGs move away from glass to PET in an attempt to lower their packaging’s carbon footprint. Your thoughts on that?

Yanez: We definitely hear a lot of noise from alternative packaging manufacturers about what they think is information the consumer should know. What we’ve found is that when you do the exercise of apple to apples, glass currently plays an advanced and favorable position against alternative packaging.

Glass recycling rates, today, are some of the highest for any packaging material. Ratios for other materials such as aluminum and PET might look close. In reality, they relate to a mixed process of recycling and down-cycling.

When a bottle of glass is melted, it can be made into another glass bottle with the exact characteristics. With a plastic bottle, you can only do that so many times before you can’t use it to hold food or beverages. Also, every 10% of recycled glass used in production results in an approximate 5% reduction in carbon emissions, and energy savings of about 3%. Every 1.0 kg of recycled glass used replaces 1.2 kg of virgin raw materials that would otherwise need to be extracted; plus, it can be recycled ad infinitum with the same material properties.

On top of all these benefits, glass packaging has powerful returnable systems. When glass is reused, the difference in CO2 footprint and value for this sustainability proposition becomes huge. It’s more than double between glass and alternative packaging.

Paredes: There are also new handling efficiencies in the packaging industry that allow the use of lighter weight packages [in filling and case-packing lines]. Before, we might have over-engineered our packaging to accept any type of harsh environment [without breakage]. Now, we’re doing a better job of putting weight in where it’s needed. The industry is helping by giving us feedback on the lightweight packages’ fill rates and handling.


What other trends do you see coming down the proverbial turnpike?

Paredes: The trend for easy-open closures is not going away. There’s an aging population in the U.S., and package designers want to accommodate that marketplace. Also, anything we design for the aging markets should help us reach the younger markets, especially children who are just learning to self-serve.

I’m also seeing an emergence of decorative push-ups in glass bottles. Here, the bottle structure might be very simple, but the designer personalizes the package with a custom bottom plate. What’s wonderful about this type of decoration is that the consumer views the branding application through the top to the bottom, so it serves as an invitation.

Practically, it’s also a relatively inexpensive way to personalize a bottle. The bottom of the bottle is created by an independent hockey-puck-like piece of the mold. So you can get this special type of structural branding without having to own the entire mold.

Yanez: The packaged goods consumer is very different from the consumer of five or 10 years ago. We commissioned an Omnibus survey in April 2011 that showed that 69% of U.S. consumers would choose glass if they could buy their favorite foods or beverages in any type of container. Ninety percent said they agree that glass is the healthiest packaging, because it doesn’t leach into the product. Sixty-eight percent believe that glass containers are the most environmentally friendly packaging material, and 85% say food and beverages taste better in glass.

These consumers want packaging that better serves the flavor and quality of their foods and beverages, and this will work in favor of glass.

For articles on similar topics, visit the Glass Channel.