Thinking Outside the Bottle: Improving Bottom Lines and Brand Image with Returnable Glass Bottles

Diversey Food & Beverage
Monday, April 16, 2018

Glass bottles are associated with quality and premium beverages by most consumers. Returnable glass bottles, in turn, offer further benefits of affordability and sustainability to both consumers and producers. Repeated washing and refilling damages the glass leading to unsightly scuff rings on the bottles. Visually displeasing bottles compromise consumer experience, and in turn, brand reputation and such damage will reduce the number of times a bottle can be returned and reused. As bottle fleets represent a costly overhead, such reductions can also have a major impact on businesses’ bottom lines.

Currently, around 50 percent of bottled beer around the world is sold in returnable bottles, representing the only FMCG category where returnable bottles currently dominate. However the proportion of beer sales in returnable bottles differs significantly by market, even in the same region.

In Western Europe, for example, 62 percent of sales in the Netherlands are in returnable bottles, while in the UK it is close to zero[1]. In most developing markets, returnable glass bottles dominate, with ~80% of consumed beverages being sold in this packaging format in some countries.

The conventional bottle washing process leads to the etching of the glass, which in turn results in accelerated wear of the glass in the form of scuff rings as a result of glass-to-glass abrasion on the filling line and in transit. Improvements in protective cleaning technology along with cosmetic treatment of already scuffed bottles are helping to prevent such damage and render the bottles acceptable for use in more cycles. This can also lead to the ROI of bottle fleets becoming an appropriate investment for brewers or soft drinks companies that may not have considered it before.

With returnable bottles signifying a sizable investment, brewing and soft drinks companies that extend the use of their bottle fleet can be more financially successful and generate a more positive brand image.

By investing in new technology, businesses can extend the life of their bottle fleet by up to 50%[2], highlighting a significant and lucrative opportunity.

Growing consumer expectations

With the volatile and competitive nature of the FMCG sector, businesses must ensure they are continually looking to improve their product offering. Bottle appearance is critical for consumer satisfaction, and there is a trade-off between the numbers of trips the bottles are circulated on and the appearance of the bottle.

Consumer research has shown that visual appeal of packaging has a marked influence on all purchasing decisions that are made when in front of the retail shelf – stopping power (brand image) is critical in the beverage industry. Over half (54 percent) of consumers associate the visual appearance of packaging with quality, with 29 percent seeing glass packaging as premium[3].

As consumer expectations continue to rise, the resistance to non-recyclable packaging has increased significantly and manufacturers are looking for alternatives to single trip packaging. Research has shown that a third of consumers (33 percent)[4] are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social and environmental good.

Sustainability of brewing and beverage manufacturing is under the spotlight, with processors having significant targets to meet. Water, energy and emissions goals and reducing reliance on virgin resources will be key drivers of future success for the drink industry. It is imperative that processors and manufacturers understand strategic packaging choices will be fundamental to their success in years to come.

With the carbon footprint of glass bottles are high, with the industry average consuming 1.2 ton of equivalent CO2 for every 1 ton of new glass bottles. Using a returnable fleet can reduce that impact and maximise the sustainability of the product. Heineken has looked to tackle the problem by creating FOBO – the forwardable bottle – that has around a 70 percent lower carbon footprint than a one-way bottle.

Investing in, or increasing investment in bottle fleets is one option to consider for companies looking to meet growing consumer sustainability expectations, as well as government-set targets.

Investing in efficiencies

Diversey addresses the challenges associated with returnable glass bottles with 2 innovative technologies:

DivoBrite Defend is a bottle washing detergent additive that reduces the etching of the glass by greater than 50%, thus extending the usable life of the bottle whilst ensuring the highest cleaning performance.  Furthermore, applied ceramic labels are protected for higher visual appeal over extended cycles.

Diversey has also created a state-of-the-art bottle maskant system – DivoMask – that can help to improve the visual appearance of bottles by 50 percent in already scuffed and damaged bottles. Pulsing nozzles ensure measured, economical application of the maskant, and the system is interlocked with conveyor and line controls, so it adapts to line speed and the presence of bottles.

DivoMask also improves processor’s operational efficiencies. The maskant system extends the life of bottle fleets by increasing the number of trips per bottle and the pay back on bottle fleet investment.

The DivoMask system has been developed to meet the beverage industry’s tough requirements for masking technology. Diversey’s research with a selection of international and regional brewing and beverage producers highlighted four key challenges to overcome:

  • Freeze-thaw – the condensation test to ensure that the maskant is not affected by the transition from chilled to ambient temperatures.
  • 48 hour Ice Challenge – to test that the costing is not removed when the bottle is submerged in iced water for 48 hours.
  • Quick Drying – to ensure that the drying time of the maskant is realistic.
  • Visual Coating – to measure the coverage of the maskant and its ability to cover scuffs.

The industry average number of trips for a returnable bottle is 20, with the majority of producers discarding glass when scuffing reaches between 4-9mm. With the Diversey BottleCare package the number of trips can be increased to beyond 30 - increasing the operational efficiency of a fleet by at least 50 percent[5].

As well as improving operational efficiencies, BottleCare increases businesses’ sustainability credentials. The decrease in production of new bottles helps to lower the overall carbon footprint of a business whilst reducing the annual investment in glass.


Data from trials of DivoMask


The Nielson Premuimization Survey, 2016


Data from trials of DivoMask

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