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Packaging rediscovers the language of touch

New packages from Coca-Cola Co. (Atlanta, GA) and Matrix Essentials, Inc. (Solon, OH) provide dramatic evidence that the importance of a package's tactile quality is making a dramatic U.S.

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market comeback. The new package at Coke, of course, is its shaped can, introduced at long last in Terre Haute, IN (see Packaging World, Mar. '97, p.8). (I wonder if Terre Haute consumers can now safely return to the soft drink aisle without fear of being pushed aside by professional shoppers contracted to locate samples for evaluation by the packaging community?) Coke's two-piece drawn, ironed and expanded (DI&E) aluminum canis now also on sale in Tucson, AZ; Las Cruces, NM; El Paso and San Angelo, TX. Soon we'll find out if this remarkable can-making achievement is also an effective sales vehicle. We think it will be. Pechiney's American National Can Co. (Chicago, IL) produces the new cans in its Longview, TX, plant on a system linking as many as three split-mandrel expansion units to the back end of fairly conventional D&I equipment. ANC teamed up with Oberburg Engineering AG (Oberburg, Switzerland) on the expansion technology. While few specific details of the process are being released by either firm, industry technology analysts believe what ends up as a shaped can with a wall diameter of 211 at its widest starts out as a 209 shell. The contour can stands 1/4-inch taller and weighs about 8 to 9% more than Coke's newest straight-walled can, by our calculations. A paperboard wraparound six-pack from Mead Packaging Div., Mead Corp. (Atlanta, GA), permits four of the six cans inside to protrude from the corners and put their best faces forward (see photo). Visually, the shaping of Coke's new can is subtle enough to go unnoticed from a shopping distance of more than four or five feet. But at closer range, its distinctive form begins to work sales magic. "Cool!" is the almost universal reaction of the dozen or so Generation Xers who've seen my sample can up close. And, once in consumers' hands, the impact of its shaping is fairly electric. This can feels different. It invites consumers to trace its subtle contours, eloquently communicating through the intimate language of touch. Here is a soft drink container that can be identified-sight unseen-from the bottom of an ice chest! Come feel the softer side Another packager who's discovered what a rich, articulate and engaging packaging sales language the sense of touch can be, is Matrix Essentials. Its Icon line of men's hair care products sold in salons is marketed in plastic bottles and tubes with a velvet-like skin. Icon's plush, easy-to-grip package texture projects an upscale image and sets the containers apart from the category's otherwise slick, high-gloss containers. Advanced packaging technology is at work here, too. Developed by Kaufman Container Co. (Cleveland, OH), Icon's coextruded containers get their soft touch finishes from a thin veneer of translucent Catalloy, a thermoplastic polyolefin copolymer rubber from Montell, Inc. (Wilmington, DE). Best of Show winner of the 1997 National Assn. of Container Distributors awards program, Icon's containers are pioneering the use of coextruded Catalloy in the U.S. The bottles, produced by Silgan Plastics (Chesterfield, MO), incorporate a core of colored post-consumer recycled (PCR) high-density polyethylene sandwiched between an inner layer of natural HDPE and the outer, uncolored Catalloy. Kaufman decorates the bottles using five silk screen passes and new metallic inks. Icon's HDPE/Catalloy tubes are coextruded by Tubed Products (East Hampton, MA). Amid the visual cacophony of contemporary package design, Coke's shaped cans and Matrix Essentials' velvet-textured containers are among the first to rediscover packaging's almost forgotten language of touch. As articulate as that language is, we expect other packages to-quite literally-reach out and touch someone in the near future.

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