Technology and consumers: leading innovation in Tetra Pak caps & closures

Shaun Weston25 Jan 2013

Tetra Pak's DreamCap.
Tetra Pak's DreamCap.

Pietro Martini, manager, primary packaging and openings at Tetra Pak, discusses how his team drives developments in caps and closures using consumer insight and technology innovations.

Caps and closures are one of the unsung heroes of the packaging world. We may not spare them much thought, but ultimately they are a major contributor to keeping beverages fresh and safe. And importantly, they must be user-friendly, enabling easy opening and closure, pouring or drinking experiences.

As with all developments at Tetra Pak, innovation of caps and closures is done with the consumer and our customers in mind. In fact, this innovation has led us to have a portfolio of more than 40 closures on offer across the globe, the largest in carton packaging.

We develop these closures based on global market insight and ethnographic research to ensure that the caps and closures meet a consumer need. However, consumer innovation is also built on the understanding that beverage makers demand highly competitive, cost-efficient solutions. This means that the 'consumer pull' can sometimes take the lead on our innovation process – other times, it’s a technological achievement that drives innovation.

The DreamCap, launched in 2011, is a recent example of a cap that was developed to meet the growing consumer demand for drinking on-the-go. Consumers want packages that deliver convenience and support their hectic lifestyles, in response to global demographic shifts driving changes in the ways, times and places in which people want to enjoy their beverages.

Therefore, we developed DreamCap to deliver comfort, convenience and style to those consumers who want to enjoy liquid dairy products (LDP) and juice, nectars and still drinks (JNSD) on-the-go.

Optimised drinking experience

Part of the innovation process for the DreamCap was watching how consumers interact with packages, and obtaining their feedback on packages and prototypes. This aided in ensuring that we designed a cap that consumers felt met the needs of their hectic lifestyles and enabled them to drink from the package easily on-the-go.

As a result of our consumer research sessions, we found that most people drink straight from a carton package in one of three ways:

  • some suck the beverage out
  • pour it into their mouth
  • pull the liquid from the package using their mouth.

Once we knew this, we could then innovate to find the size of the closure that was needed in order to provide an optimised drinking experience for everyone.

After many tests, we found that an opening with a diameter of 26mm provided the best size to provide a comfortable drinking experience.

The large 26mm opening fits the mouth and gives the consumer control of the flow of the liquid by allowing them to ‘pull’ the liquid at the rate and quantity that they want to consume. Subsequently, opening and closing with DreamCap is easy, as it has a one-step screw cap that provides fully resealable convenience.

When the sealed screw cap is turned, it breaks the internal safety seal and allows the consumer to have access to the beverage inside. However, as it is screw cap, consumers also have the luxury of being able to reseal it if they don’t finish the beverage inside.

Pre-Laminated Hole technology

Delivering innovations such as DreamCap is not without its challenges. Specifically, we had a huge obstacle to overcome in fitting the large closure on a small package, between 200ml and 500ml, in order to provide a package that was convenient for on-the-go consumption, but also poured well.

In order to accommodate the large closure and ensure we still maintained optimal functionality for consumers, we had to trial many different packaging combinations with the closure fitted in different ways.

The solution we found was that the opening could no longer just be on the top of the package but also had to straddle the side. We found that positioning the closure like this provided the best functionality for consumers.

In order to do this effectively, we had to utilise our Pre-Laminated Hole (PLH) technology to create a seal that went across the opening at the top and side of the package to ensure that the beverage stays fresh and is safe. The seal is then broken when the cap is turned for the first time.

Challenges with developing DreamCap, such as how to have a large cap on a small package, required us to develop about 50 different prototypes and this was after initial computer-simulated modelling was applied to various designs. Once we had a prototype we were happy with, we then field-tested it to gain customer feedback before the global launch.

Ambient distribution

While DreamCap meets consumer demand, it also, like all our packages, is made with our customers in mind. Meeting consumer needs, it delivers value to customers as they are offering their customers what they want and often offering them something different in comparison to other beverage producers. In addition, DreamCap provides opportunities for customers to reach new consumers all with low investment, as it can be produced on existing Tetra Pak equipment.

Sometimes, technological breakthroughs enable us to develop new caps and closure solutions. LightCap PLH is a very good example of this. This screw cap, launched in 2011, is aimed at the drink-at-home market and uses the minimal amount of plastic to keep costs at a minimum and improve environmental performance.

We created LightCap PLH through developing and combining two technologies that we had been working on – PLH (Pre laminated Hole) and Direct Injection Moulding Concept (DIMC).

DIMC technology – already used by Tetra Pak customers for milk – allows the base of the cap neck to be moulded as flat as possible to the underside of the packaging material, providing the maximum pouring area.

Combining this technology with PLH-based packaging materials, which provides a film seal for the opening and improves shelf life by approximately 30%, makes LightCap ideal for the ambient distribution of milks and oxygen-sensitive products.

However, combining PLH and DIMC on a package created challenges that we needed to overcome, and this required our team to innovate to create a solution.

Prior to combining these technologies, a hole was punched in our packages for the opening and then the protective seal was put on afterwards. However, we needed to ensure we kept costs down and limited the use of plastic for our customers while not compromising on safety. As such, we came up with a solution whereby the hole is punched on the package at the same time as the plastic is injected into the hole to seal it.

While developing LightCap to be environmentally friendly and keeping costs low, we also created it with the largest pouring area possible. This enhances the pouring performance and reduces spillages, which benefits consumers (particularly kids and older consumers).

Lastly, in combining DIMC and PLH, producers have the opportunity to utilise the most cost-efficient way to apply a screw cap to an aseptic carton package. It also allows customers to broaden their product offering to include new beverage types that they may not have offered before, such as special milks.

DreamCap and LightCap are just two of the innovations that are serving the needs of our customers and consumers. Both required years of development and many prototypes, and both demonstrate the key drivers of innovation for us in this space: customer value and consumer demand.

So, next time you're drinking from a carton or pouring your juice, spare a thought for the cap and closure and all the innovation that has gone in to creating them.

It's a hero: keeping beverages safe, providing a comfortable and convenient experience for consumers, and providing value to beverage producers through enabling them to enter new markets and stand out from the crowd.

Pietro Martini is manager, primary packaging and openings at Tetra Pak.