Counting Down the Top Three AmeriStar Awards: #2 New Can Helps Consumers Get Their Game On

This top 2020 AmeriStar Award winner makes the packaging industry proud by giving consumers great interactions and experiences with creative pack designs.

Developed in concert with video gamers for video gamers, aluminum can packaging for PepsiCo’s new Mtn Dew® Game Fuel® beverage debuts functional features that include a revolutionary resealable closure and tactile ink, engineered to help gamers stay in play while enjoying the new mid-calorie, lower-sugar energy beverage. It was these innovative, thoughtfully considered features combined with the package’s eye-catching graphics, as well as its high scores in the areas of economics, marketing, performance, environmental impact, and “Save Food criteria,” that led judges of the 2020 AmeriStar Awards to honor the 16-oz Mtn Dew Game Fuel can with the competition’s Design Excellence Award.

As Colin Haynes, Associate Principal Engineer – PepsiCo Packaging R&D, explains, the Dew marketing team has played a role within the gaming space for the last 15 years. “Through various partnerships and activations in that time, we gained valuable insights into what gamers are looking for,” he says. “Dew identified an opportunity to create a beverage specifically for gamers, and what better way to do so than by working with them.”

Io Pp Ameri Star2020 Logo WebMtn Dew Game Fuel is specially crafted for gamers with theanine and caffeine, which in combination have been shown to improve accuracy and alertness, PepsiCo explains. The functional beverage is available in multiple flavor options in the resealable can, “so both the beverage and packaging aid gamers in their quest for being the best,” the company says.

Packaging for Game Fuel was developed in partnership with gaming pros and elite amateurs. “Gamers were involved at the very beginning during concept development and later when vetting prototypes,” Haynes explains. “To create a product that was authentic to the gaming space, Dew hosted multiple focus groups to understand what players are looking for in a drink, including taste and benefits. Dew learned that gamers wanted a beverage container that was resealable in order to protect their expensive gaming equipment from spills, easy to open and close with one hand—allowing them to stay in the game—and wouldn’t slip out of their hand. Each of these insights was addressed with the final Mtn Dew Game Fuel can.”

The can’s most innovative feature is its resealable closure, which makes Game Fuel the first to nationally scale the use of a resealable aluminum can. The resealable closure is supplied by Xolution GmbH, which refined the plastic component for PepsiCo’s needs. According to PepsiCo’s AmeriStar entry form, the consumer experience with the XO System closure is related to, but still distinct from, a standard end. “The opening of the Game Fuel can begins with the familiar motion of lifting a tab. From that point forward, the experience is unique and exciting,” the entry form explains. “The consumer grabs the lifted tab and slides it back until it passes over a detent, locking it open and revealing the drinking aperture. After consuming the beverage (either a sip or half the can), the process is reversed. The tab is slid forward (until a soft click is heard) to cover the drinking aperture. With the slider fully forward and covering the etched line, the tab can be pushed down, creating a gas-tight and liquid-tight seal.”

Refinements by Xolution included reducing the opening force of the tab from approximately 25N (newtons) to 20N, which PepsiCo says is lower than current, non-resealable ends. In addition, insights from focus groups also led to a design feature that addressed an issue with users damaging the resealing mechanism. The new feature, a biaxially-oriented polypropylene tamper band, is placed such that, if visible, it indicates the end is not fully closed. When the feature is completely covered, it means the end is fully resealed and is protected from damage.

During development, PepsiCo conducted extensive testing to quantify carbon retention. CO2 measurements were taken weekly, and the data showed that the cans met all performance parameters. According to the company, “Whether the can has been opened by the consumer or direct from the filling plant, once the can is resealed, the product is protected from CO2 egress and foreign object ingress. This exceeds the protection requirements normally assigned to products in cans.” The shelf life for Mtn Dew Game Fuel in the resealable can is 20 weeks.

To enable speed-to-market of the product and minimize capital expenditure, the Game Fuel can was designed to work with all existing PepsiCo filling infrastructure. The can is filled on existing fillers from various suppliers, seamed by multiple models of Angelus seamers, and packed into existing secondary packaging used for standard 16-oz cans. At most of the production locations, PepsiCo is now using automatic debagging and lid-feed systems from CSW Can Systems Worldwide, which can run both resealable and standard ends, leading to efficiency gains for both.

But the can’s resealability is just one of the functional features incorporated into the Game Fuel can that make it more convenient for video gamers at play. Another is the use of tactile ink technology from can suppliers Ball and MCC that helps consumers keep a grip on the can. The tactile ink is combined with standard inks, adding a matte/gloss combination effect that helps the can visually pop on the shelf. Graphics include a bright stripe of color that signifies the flavor variant—e.g., blue for Charged Berry Blast, red for Charged Cherry Burst, etc.—next to a stripe of black, bringing to mind the black of gaming consoles.

Additionally, there are opening instructions etched on the can end as well as printed on the can body, depending on where the beverage is distributed. In California, opening instructions on the end were replaced with deposit information to comply with local laws. Game Fuel advertising highlights that resealing the can helps keep the beverage “fresh and your hardware dry so you can focus on grinding.”

Another significant feature of the Game Fuel can that caught AmeriStar judges’ attention, certainly my own, was its recyclability. According to PepsiCo, during development of the can, PepsiCo Packaging R&D collaborated with Xolution and Waste Management to identify recyclers with the ability to shred the cans prior to sortation to remove the plastic component, and a network was created. Explains PepsiCo, “Once shredded, the plastic pieces fully separate from the aluminum and can be removed using existing technology (i.e., eddy current separators) prior to the aluminum entering the de-lacquering furnace. Thanks to these two methods, we have identified the appropriate ‘graves’ for this packaging and are proud to say that the can is recyclable.”

Launched in 2019, Game Fuel has been a significant contributor to revenue growth for PepsiCo. Noted the entry form, “It continually exceeded plans, and this trend looks to continue for the remainder of the year.”

Click on the following links to read more about the other top AmeriStar 2020 winners.

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