French brewers say oui to plastic

Web exclusive: Brasseries Heineken puts another brand in 1/2-L plastic and introduces a 1-L plastic beer bottle, consisting of three materials in five layers and coinjection stretch/blow-molded by Continental PET Technologies (Florence, KY). Separately, Strasbourg, France-based Kronenbourg commits not only to the unusal step of self-manufacturing its own PET bottles, but to Actis (Amorphous Carbon Treatment on Internal Surface) coating process from Sidel (Norcross, GA).

Brasseries Heineken, the French subsidiary of Amsterdam-based Heineken NV, is adding a 1-L size to its mix of one-way plastic beer bottles. The firm has sold its "33" Export brand in 1/2-L multilayer bottles since December ’98 (see packworld.com/go/beer). In March, the same brand will be launched in a 1-L bottle. Once again, supermarket shoppers will be the target.

Like Brasseries Heineken’s 1/2-L bottle (and like the bottle used by Miller Brewing in its ongoing U.S. test of plastic for beer), the new container consists of three materials in five layers and is coinjection stretch/blow-molded by Continental PET Technologies (Florence, KY). CPT is guarded about its precise structure, but it’s believed to include post-consumer PET, an oxygen scavenger, and nylon for barrier. A glue-applied paper label wraps around the center of the bottle and decorative embossing appears on the bottle sidewall above and below the label. The bottle weighs 53 g, takes a roll-on aluminum closure and offers a 6-mo shelf life.

The brewer plans to replace 1-L one-way glass bottles with the new plastic bottle, though the substitution won’t be complete until near the year’s end. Packaging development manager Catherine Lopez declines to comment on glass/plastic cost comparisons.

Also in March, says Lopez, Brasseries Heineken will introduce its Panach beer/lemonade drink in a five-layer, 1/2-L plastic bottle from CPT. It will be sold in supermarkets in four-pack paperboard carriers.

When asked if any of the recently developed barrier coatings for plastic bottles are being evaluated by Brasseries Heineken, Lopez indicated that the Actis[tm] (Amorphous Carbon Treatment on Internal Surface) process from Sidel (Norcross, GA) is being tested. This interior coating is said to provide 30x the oxygen barrier and 7x the CO 2 barrier of conventional monolayer PET.

Meanwhile, one French brewer appears beyond the test stage with Actis. Kronenbourg, with headquarters in Strasbourg, France, expects shipment of an Actis machine some time this year. The brewer will blow its own bottles, too, also on a Sidel system. A division of the Paris-based Danone Group (known in the U.S. as Dannon), Kronenbourg is being assisted in its leap to self-manufacture of barrier PET bottles by bottled water company Evian, also a Danone division.

"We have been working in the brewing industry on [a variety] of PET solutions likely to fit as sensitive a beverage as beer with the help of the Research Centre in Evian," says Pierre Jacquesson, Managing Director at Kronenbourg, in remarks that appear on Sidel’s Web site. "The Actis process can guarantee an optimal ‘best before’ date identical with the one of glass, that is, nine months. In our opinion, it best suits the use."

The Kronenbourg move is significant because the other purchasers of Actis machinery, including Plastipak (Plymouth, MI), have all been commercial blow molders, not beverage marketers.

On the regulatory front, law firm Keller & Heckman sent Sidel a favorable letter of opinion regarding Actis in food-contact applications. Sidel planned to file for a letter of non-objection with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration by late February. The firm believes a response from FDA is possible by mid-year. In addition to developing migration and toxicological data for the FDA, Sidel is also working with leaders in the recycling industry to determine the performance of Actis-coated bottles within the PET recycling stream.

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