Liquid assets

Drinks manufacturers have increasingly turned to less expensive and versatile plastics, but recent technological advances have given a raft of new possibilities to packaging with traditional materials such as glass and tin, as David Benady explains

There’s nothing quite like glass or tin to liven up a brand’s packaging and assure consumers about the quality of the contents within. Plastic may be lighter and cheaper, but it lacks the style and gravitas of more traditional materials, and often misses the mark on sustainability too.

The new wealthy of Asia are boosting demand for traditional packaging and as a result, glass and tin are prospering. But while the materials may be oldfangled, advances in technology are opening creative vistas for designers to do original things with them.

A striking example of the potentials of contemporary glass packaging is the pentangle-shaped bottle for Caorunn, a small-batch gin launched last year by a Scottish whisky distillery. The brand takes its name from the Celtic word for the rowanberry, which is one of five botanicals used in the drink and represented by the bottle’s five-sided shape. Structural designer Bill Mather of Full Circle, which created the bottle, says, ’We went to Allied Glass and, working with its designers, we managed to create the pentangle-shaped bottle. Nothing like this has been done before. Allied had introduced a new, clear flint glass that gives a crisp clarity that really helps when you are etching, as the clarity highlights the graphics.’ The branding was developed by Navyblue.

You don’t get much more traditional than nature’s very own packaging material, fruit peel. Smirnoff has created a new bottle design, with the help of JWT Brasil, to promote its Smirnoff Caipiroska range. Each bottle is wrapped in packaging that mimics the skin of lemon, passion fruit and strawberry, corresponding to the flavours of the range, which customers peel away to reveal the bottle. Dragon Rouge creative director David Jenkins says, ’There is great brand theatre in unwrapping a big ripe fruit to reveal the premium spirit in a beautiful glass bottle.’

In a further example of the fetishisation of glass, Coca-Cola is relaunching a limited edition of its 1899 original glass bottle, the Hutchinson, to celebrate its 125th anniversary. The tactility of the cold drink in the heavy glass bottle plus the heritage value of the reissue is bound to attract great sales, and the relaunch adds an air of mystery and quality to what is still the same old fizzy brown liquid.

Coke cans may be the low end of tin packaging, but Champagne brand Moët et Chandon has created a tin gift box for its Brut Imperial Cuvée that doubles as a champagne cooler, keeping the drink cold for hours. French designers R Pure Studio designed the Chillbox cooler, a recyclable gift box made of tin and lined with insulating expanded polypropylene.

You can do beautiful stuff with tin. Techniques for bending, embossing and printing have improved greatly

Phil Bordet-Stead, Design Bridge

’We wanted to translate the brand cues into an iconic object, so plastic was out of the question,’ says R Pure co-founder Sebastien Servaire. ’Tin has the same metallic effect as the bottle’s gold foil cap and was good for recreating the diamond pattern. We used EPP rather than polystyrene as it is more environmentally friendly and we looked to create a long-lasting object that is meant to be kept and not thrown away.’

While food cans are usually made from sheet steel that has been galvanised with zinc or tin, drinks cans tend to be aluminium-based. Both, however, are referred to as tin. Phil Bordet-Stead, head of structural packaging at Design Bridge, says, ’Tin has never been in better condition as a format. It is premium, high quality and you can do some beautiful stuff with it, and techniques for bending, embossing and printing with tin have improved greatly.’

Glass is easily recycled, and moves towards ’lightweight’ glass packaging are adding to the material’s Green credentials. Likewise, Emma Hanson, a director at manufacturer Tinplate Products, says tin is also 100% recyclable, unlike many plastics. Hanson says, ’The tin market is doing very well at the moment. People are always wanting to make themselves stand out, and the cost works well for premium-end packaging. If you see something priced 50p more but it comes in a tin, you often choose to pay it.’

One big change for Tinplate Products has been the demise of the CD gift market. Ten years ago, this market demanded five million CD tins a year, but the advent of online purchasing has shrunk this figure to 50 000 a year. However, for many other products, tin usage is on the up, and with fears about peak oil, petroleum-based plastics are losing their allure. Which is just as well, since tin and glass can be exceedingly attractive.

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