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A wide-mouth first in PET

Shatter-resistant and lighter than glass, narrow-neck polyethylene terephthalate bottles for hot-filled beverages have enjoyed steady growth lately. But only now is a wide-mouth PET jar for hot-filled food being commercialized as Tree Top Inc.
of Selah WA fills its distribution pipeline with a 48-oz jar of hot-filled apple sauce.

Graham Packaging's (York PA) Roger Prevot showed a picture of the container at Nova-Pack Americas '98. Tree Top unfortunately chooses not to comment on the container. But information from Prevot and other industry observers tells us a fair bit.

Of special interest is the shoulder. "It has pretty complex geometry" says Prevot "which helps provide both top-load and hoop strength." What Prevot refers to is the facet shapes molded into the shoulder. These structural features add top-load strength and help prevent the round container from deforming into an oval shape as the hot product cools and internal pressure builds. Graham has applied for a patent on this feature of the jar.

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The heat-set jar weighs 71 g and is topped by a 63-mm polypropylene threaded closure from Suncoast Closures (SarasotaFL). The linerless Edge-Seal(TM) closure is supplied with a foil membrane inside that is induction-sealed to the jar for tamper evidence and to ensure seal integrity. The jar is filled at temperatures from 192° to 198°F. Vacuum panels in the sidewalls are hidden by the colorful film label. Graham makes the bottle in its Selah WA plant on a Sidel (Norcross GA) rotary reheat-and-blow system that's modified for producing heat-set containers.

According to Lloyd Widom the Tree Top package is precisely the kind of value-added container in which commercial PET container manufacturers should be investing. A packaging industry analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. (New York NY) Widom gave the lead presentation at Nova-Pack. The question he posed was Is the ongoing international consolidation of the world's leading PET container manufacturers creating a growth opportunity or a trap?

Widom sees more trap than opportunity particularly in what he calls "the mature sectors" of the PET market like water and carbonated soft drink bottles. Such bottles have become a commodity says Widom. As market shares of the largest independent bottle makers are declining a "sweeping trend toward self-manufacturing led largely by Coca-Cola its anchor bottlers and bottling cooperatives is made possible by ever-faster generations of blow molding equipment."

In the face of such forces consolidation on its own while it helps cut costs isn't enough to make the consolidators profitable. Widom points to Crown Cork & Seal which acquired Constar Intl. early this decade as an example. "Crown Cork and Seal just closed four of its 18 domestic plants and will close one or two more before the end of the first quarter" said Widom. "The plants targeted for closing lost a collective $20 million in 1997." Ball Corp. and Schmalbach-Lubeca Widom noted are equally unhappy with the returns on their PET businesses.

Widom suggests then that PET bottle converters focus less on bottles for water and soft drinks and look instead at value-added containers. That means investing in technology.

"Multiple-layer injection-molded preforms coatings proprietary resin recipes-this is value added" Widom told his audience. "The profitability riddle is solved by recasting the business in terms of the flexible packaging industry. Makers of commodity stretch and shrink films are struggling today while the leaders in value-added films such as Cryovac and Bemis are the industry profitability leaders."

Nova-Pack Americas '98 was sponsored by Schotland Business Research (Skillman NJ). Copies of the proceedings book are available for $395.

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