Brandy firm sees profit and potential in PET packaging

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The conversion of a 116-year-old brandy brand from glass to PET
bottles represents a significant breakthrough for the material.

It suggests that in addition to acknowledged physical attributes such as greater toughness and flexibility, the material is increasingly being seen as capable of conveying strong brand image and prestige.

Korbel Classic Brandy, a product of US-based Korbel Champagne Cellars​, has been packaged in glass bottles for more than a hundred years. The 21st century however has seen a departure from tradition, represented most recently by the new 1.75-litre polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle from Amcor PET Packaging.

The company first tested PET packaging about five years ago by converting its 50ml "airline mini" size. In turn, that positive experience fuelled a mid-2004 conversion of the 200-, 375- and 750 ml sizes.

"We wanted to test the PET bottle and we found no difference in sales,"​ said Korbel president Gary Heck. "There was no loss and no image problem. Additionally, the PET was easier to bottle and the lighter weight was a major factor."

The company had been getting feedback from consumers and distributors in colder climates that they had been experiencing glass breakage. Requests came in to either lightweight the glass bottle or convert the 1.75 L size to PET.

"Lightweighting glass is almost impossible with a brandy bottle since it is already fairly light - particularly when you compare it to a champagne bottle,"​ said Heck. "We asked Amcor to come up with a design that was a close as possible to our existing glass bottle. We received several different versions to evaluate before we made our final decision."

The bottle uses a 92-gramme preform with a 33mm Kerr short finish. It features sloped shoulders and a subtle pedestal base. The gramme weight is greater than the average liquor bottle, giving an added boost to the Korbel premium image.

An additional unique design element is a very small embossed 1.75 L at the bottom of the bottle. This creates a subtle, but distinctive look variation to other 1.75 L bottles on the market, which use typography approximately twice the size.

"Achieving the same profile in PET as in glass was a challenge,"​ said Fred Piercy, business director liquor at Amcor PET packaging. "We had to be sensitive to the volumetrics when we were developing the PET bottle, since PET has thinner walls than glass."

Another objective was to use the same labels on the PET bottle that were used on the glass version, so sizing was imperative. The bottle's contour creates a natural label protection area, preventing scuffing while on the production line. A heat-shrink capsule is used over the polypropylene screw cap and neck, eliminating the need for a tamper-evident closure.

Speed-to-market was another by product of the close working relationship between Amcor and Korbel. "This was one of our company's fastest development projects in the liquor segment,"​ said Piercy. "Korbel was very happy with our results and was very quick to make decisions to move the process along."

Heck claims out that breakage has been eliminated and distributors are now enjoying freight savings due to lighter weight. In addition, less noise on the production line and lighter shippers are creating a better work environment for Korbel employees.

Amcor​ PET Packaging is a leading manufacturer of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic packaging for the global food and beverage industries, with 70 manufacturing sites in 20 countries. Its parent company, Amcor, offers a broad range of packaging solutions and ranks as one of the top three packaging companies in the world.

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