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Packaging in the U.K. and beyond (Part 5)

Coors' new £35 million brewery (Part 5 of a 6-part series)

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First thing Tuesday morning we were treated to a review of recently commercialized packages from around the world, courtesy of Ann Stirling-Roberts, director of research and consultancy house PIRA Intl. Then it was time to hear from Rexam, a supplier of packaging materials in three key segments: metal, glass, and plastic. According to marketing director Nick Bird, the £3.1 billion company is on a mission to bring yet further consolidation to the glass market in Europe. "This will bring greater control, so that capacity can be better matched to demand," said Bird. "In an unconsolidated market, overcapacity is a problem."

Bird described to his audience of journalists the opportunities he sees ahead for Rexam's businesses. Most of them arise from societal factors that include an aging population, a concern for health and wellness, a passion for convenience, time pressures, and packaged goods' marketers constant need to differentiate themselves and their products through novel packaging. Among the more intriguing packages Bird showed were stylish aluminum cans of Smirnoff Ice, shown here.

With that it was off to Coors Brewery in Burton-on-Trent to see what £35 million can bring when a brewery is forced to consolidate two plants into one. That was the situation in which Coors found itself in late 2001, shortly after it became the owner of the Carling, Worthington's, and Grolsch brands as well as the Reef brand Fruit-based Alcoholic Beverage, or FAB.

Coors had a choice between two options, which came to be known as Base Case and Desired Future State. Base Case meant a simple transfer of lines from the closed plant at minimum initial capital cost. The Desired Future State meant seizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revamp the Burton-on-Trent site in order to maximize ongoing revenue savings and minimize future capital spend while enhancing packaging capability.

By March of 2002 the Desired Future State option was chosen, £35 million was approved for capital spend, and Project Merlin was born. The engineering challenge in itself was daunting, since an incredibly tight timetable had to be observed, production quotas had to be met, and serious people issues had to be managed as one plant closed and another was re-made. Meeting production quotas was especially tricky. As supply chain director Martin Thomas put it, "It was kind of like setting the table while having lunch. That was the bad news. The good news is that, having gotten through it, we now have a packaging platform for the future."

Project Merlin has to be one of the most ambitious initiatives this packaging journalist has ever seen. When the dust had settled, four keg lines, three bottling lines, and four canning lines formerly running at Coors' Cape Hill plant were history. Also replaced were six or seven lines that used to run at Burton-on-Trent.

Now operating in their place in the re-born Burton-on-Trent plant are two keg lines, three canning lines, and three bottling lines. A view of one of the bottling lines is shown here. Key machinery components in can lines 2 and 3 and bottling lines 1, 2, and 3 are also shown. Finally, I've included a photo of the Inward Mission packaging journalists and a few of their Coors hosts on Coors' doorstep.

"We are immensely proud of our achievements," said packaging manager Peter Orgill as he concluded his presentation. He and his colleagues have every right to be proud of what they've accomplished.

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