Skyy vodka has only been in the markeplace since February 1992. But San Francisco-based Skyy Spirits Inc. has made plenty of packaging changes in the short time since then. "At every opportunity we've asked ourselves if the package could be improved" says Dan DaDalt vice president and director of marketing. Often the answer has been yes. In fact about the only thing that hasn't changed is the injection-molded polypropylene closure from Kerr (Lancaster PA). The most dramatic change occurred about a year ago when the firm unveiled a cobalt blue glass bottle supplied by Demptos Glass (Louisville KY). Originally a stock flint bottle had been the container of choice. But about a year after Skyy was unveiled management was convinced it needed a more distinctive package. Skyy's unique distillation and filtration processes yield a vodka that's unusually smooth-tasting says the company's president/owner Maurice Kanbar. It's also nearly devoid of "congeners" impurities that can cause hangovers. With such unusual attributes the vodka was switched to a custom bottle to underscore the product's uniqueness and make it really stand out from the competition. Blue was chosen for its distinctiveness and because it nicely complements the brand name as in "sky blue." But even before arriving at the current package Skyy was making packaging changes. The first was in the original label applied to the flint bottle. Initially it was a foil/paper lamination. But Skyy experienced problems with the glue-applied label not drying quickly enough. The problem was solved by switching to a metallized paper label. More label modifications occurred when the cobalt blue bottle entered the picture as the glue-applied label gave way to a pressure-sensitive label perceived to be of higher quality. A short time later an adhesive lamination of clear polypropylene was added to protect the label from scuffing and that remains the label in use today. Supplied by Epsen Hillmer Graphics (Omaha NE) it's a 51# metallized paper printed rotary letterpress in two colors and laminated in-line to a 1-mil PP. Back labels get one extra color for the UPC code. Metallized PP on the way Soon however this label will be replaced as well. Epsen is putting the finishing touches on a label that incorporates a 2-mil metallized PP in place of the metallized paper currently used. The protective laminate of 1-mil PP will remain the same. "The new structure will give the label added sheen a more mirror-like appearance" says DaDalt. Two final new package developments round out the Skyy story: the introduction of a 50-mL polyethylene terephthalate bottle for distribution primarily through the airlines and a folding carton for the "spirits-in-a-gift-box" season that runs from Halloween to Valentine's Day. The PET bottle is blown by Captive Plastics (Piscataway NJ) from a custom mold. The carton is supplied by Reynolds Metals (Richmond VA). It consists of a 24-pt solid bleached sulfate adhesive-laminated to 0.00035 foil. Reynolds prints the foil on a 44"-wide gravure press in four colors and then laminates it to the board in line. "It's intended as a holiday gift box but we deliberately stayed away from Christmas trees and reindeer so that if a bottle doesn't sell right away it will still look appealing and appropriate in May or June" says DaDalt. He adds that Reynolds was selected as the carton supplier partly because a Reynolds sales representative called on Skyy just about the time the firm was beginning to think about a holiday gift carton. "Once we got through the cost of setup which is high for a carton like this their quality has been good ink coverage good and service excellent" says DaDalt. Skyy's Maurice Kanbar doesn't say much about how costs have changed as his vodka package has evolved. But it would appear that costs are well in control since the 750-mL container retails for $12.99 nearly 20% less than imported vodkas such as Stolichnaya and Absolut. Whatever the cost of the packaging components now in use Kanbar is a firm believer in a package's ability to help merchandise a product. "If the package implies quality and the price implies value the customer will try a new product" says Kanbar.