AUGUST 15, 2003 – Beverage World

Top it off
Value-added closures give consumers safety, convenience and a little fun.

By heather todd
No longer content with ordinary packages that simply hold liquid for consumption, consumers today are looking for a package that delivers added convenience and safety. This need, of course, extends to beverage closures as well. Consumer demand is driving beverage companies to seek out closures that provide improved tamper evidence and child-resistant safety, easier-to-open caps and even closures that improve product taste.

“We believe that the functionality of the closure of beverages is becoming increasingly more important and seems to be taking more prominence in the product development process,” says Kathy VerEecke, vice president of marketing for Austell, GA-based IN ZONE Brands, Inc., which markets the BellyWasher 100-percent vitamin-C juice drinks and TummyTickler 100-percent real fruit juice line of youth-oriented beverages, both of which feature reusable closures.

The BellyWasher line uses a sports tip closure that allows the product to be portable, mobile and leak-proof—perfect for the young tween who opens it, drinks it and then puts it into his or her backpack to carry around. The TummyTickler product is designed specifically for mother’s needs, VerEecke says. Using a one-way patented closure that requires a toddler to suck from the top much like a bottle, the product provides a leak-proof way for mom to hand the beverage to her infant without worrying about it spilling.

“The TummyTickler closure was a bit more of a challenge because we were looking for the kind of closure that was mom-friendly in a number of ways,” explains VerEecke. “We wanted it to be leak-proof but also simple to clean. It’s designed to go directly into the dishwasher as it stands.”

By using an innovative and interactive three-dimensional topper with licensed cartoon characters, the products also appeal to kids’ need for fun packaging.

The smell of good taste

For beverage companies that wish they could get the smell of freshly squeezed oranges into their orange juice beverages, ScentSational Technologies, LLC (Jenkintown, PA) offers an innovative, patented brand-enhancing flavor packaging that incorporates aromatic qualities into closures. Pasteurization generally burns off what’s known as top notes, or the aroma notes in beverages traditionally associated with freshness, says Steven Landau, chief technology officer and chairman of the company. ScentSational puts these top notes back in by taking food grade flavors that are FDA-approved Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) and mixing them with polymers at the time of injection molding and adding them to the plasitol liners of metal closures.

“The top note becomes encapsulated in plastic so we are able to maintain a specific flavor identity and make it predominant,” he explains.

The technology works using the science of taste. With the exception of sweet, sour, bitter, salt and Umami, all other taste is a result of the sense of smell. When someone drinks a beverage, the liquid creates vapors inside the mouth that travel up the retro-nasal canal where it eventually hits the olfactory bulb. It is here that these flavor vapors are interpreted as taste by the brain.

“If we put a fruit flavor in a sports closure, when you put that into your mouth, it gives those flavor volatiles and sends a message to your brain that the aroma is something that you are actually tasting,” Landau says.

The aroma from the flavor closures can enhance fruit juices, coffee or chocolate-flavored drinks or add flavor to a bottled water product, without including any additives or added calories. There are 20 different basic flavors, but custom flavor combinations, such as strawberry kiwi papaya, are also available. The technology also allows a beverage company to put one flavor, such as strawberry, into the base of the sports closure, and a second flavor, such as banana, into the slider to enable the consumer to taste two distinct flavors.

“The power of aroma seems to be a hot button with beverage companies right now. We’re in various stages of development with a number of different brands that we believe will be out in the market in the not too distant future,” he says.

ScentSational, the developer and licensor behind the technology, works with flavor company Firmenich, Portola Packaging, for injection molded closures and Crown Cork and Seal for metal closures.

A closure for all kinds

Buffalo Grove, IL-based Creative Packaging offers a next-generation 38-mm closure for people on the go. The mouthpiece on the closure is specifically designed to better fit a consumers’ mouth while allowing one-handed operation. For instance, a child can easily open the twist-top while riding a bike, says Jeff Toth, vice president of sales and marketing.

Alcoa Closure Systems International (Indianapolis, IN) also has developed closures designed specifically for both younger and older consumers. The 43-mm Wing-Lok LT is an improved seal design for hot-fill beverages that allows for easier closure application and easier removal.

“There has been rapid growth in single- serve packaging using 43-mm closures and you have a lot of products targeting elementary school-age children and some nutritional beverages targeting 50-year old-plus people, so there is a need for an easier-to-open closure,” says John Greiner, marketing manager for Alcoa Closure Systems International.

Using an improved seal design that still maintains a strong seal interface with the bottle, Alcoa has designed the part to require less energy to apply, and, therefore, less energy to remove.

“As the market changes and different audiences are targeted, you’re going to see different needs emerge that weren’t an issue before,” says Greiner.

Alcoa also has improved two of its base designs to create the 28-mm Double-Lok XT and Extra-Lok XT to improve the seal integrity for carbonated beverage packaging. Filled PET bottles can often be subjected to “temperature cycling” in the filling and distribution channel. These wide-ranging temperature conditions can cause shrinkage of the heat-sensitive PET material, which can cause loss of CO2 and product freshness. The new XT liner design—with an inner and outer seal—provides maximum protection against carbonation loss under extreme temperature conditions.

Another product, the 38-mm Seal-Max two-lead closure is designed to improve sealing performance and tamper evidence for dairy and non hot-fill juices.

Greiner says many of the improvements and value-added closures being designed today are the result of consumer demand for higher quality packaging.

“The second part of it is also the need for innovation or differentiation in terms of packaging to make the package stand out from the clutter,” he explains. BW