Suppliers Aim For Craft at Pack Expo

Despite participating in the largest annual tradeshow for an industry that typically measures innovation in units per minute and is always pursuing economies of scale, a number of the exhibitors at this year’s PACK EXPO offered slower, smaller versions of their products in order to grab the attention of craft brewers.

Held from October 28-31 at the McCormick Place in Chicago, PACK EXPO International 2012 showcased over 1,800 exhibitors and drew over 46,000 attendees, representing package innovations for over 40 vertical markets. One of those verticals, craft beer, has begun to garner considerable attention from the packaging community given the large and fast-growing number of domestic craft brewers, the vast majority of which do their own bottling and packaging.

The main attraction at Richfield, OH-based Switchback Group’s exhibit was a carton packing machine called Brew Pack 150. The machine takes canned craft beer at line speeds of up to 400 cans per minute and packs them into paperboard or corrugated cardboard cases. Switchback Group’s co-owner Dave Sheperd explained that that they introduced the machine this year to address the needs of the growing number of craft breweries canning their beer, many of which are casing those cans manually. Sheperd said the company had sold three machines so far this year and expected to sell several more by year’s end.

Sheperd explained Switchback merely adapted the machine from one of its existing models to give it a smaller footprint and a more affordable price. Switchback’s machine exemplifies the trend among some manufacturers to offer machines and equipment designed to meet the smaller, slower needs of craft brewers. In addition to providing the obvious benefit of automating a hitherto manual process, Sheperd said the machine could potentially be used by brewers to co-pack other companies’ canned beer.

Another craft beer-specific machine on display at PACK EXPO 2012 was a KOSME filler machine at the Krones exhibit. Sporting a placard stating “Machine sold to 5 Rabbit Brewery”, the fully-assembed filler machine showcased bottles of 5 Rabbit’s 5 Lizard bottles. The Kosme line, unlike many of Krones high-speed filling machines, is particularly suited the size and speed of a typical craft beer line.

Adding to the mix of craft-specific packaging options, were various pressure-sensitive (PS) labels at the Avery Dennison booth. Unlike the wine industry, in which PS labels cover 75% of the brands, craft beer brands, for the most part, sport glue-applied cut and stack labels.

Matthew Rompala, Business Development Manager, Wine & Spirits for Avery Dennison, showed that a specific PS label technology, originally developed for application to Champagne bottles, is particularly well-suited to craft beer. As Rompala explained it, craft beer, like champagne, is typically bottled at very cold temperatures which can cause condensation to form on freshly filled bottles. Whereas glue-applied labels are difficult to adhere to cold, wet glass, Avery-Dennison’s new PS labels, according to Rompala, go on with relative ease.

Beyond simply offering easier application and smoother line operation, Rompala added, PS labels offer greater design creativity. Again drawing parallels to the wine industry, Rompala explained that craft beers, when sold as singles, rely on their label as their primary point of graphic display. PS labels, he explained, offer a greater range of shapes and textures. As a demonstration of that flexibility he demonstrated a prototype bottle of hard cider labeled with a paper-thin sheet of wood.

Also on display at the Avery Dennison booth was a new PS label technology where the label can be removed by simply being dipped into warm water. In a live demonstration, the label immediately curled off the submerged bottle. Rompala said such technology is already being used in Europe where recycling streams can accommodate reuse of whole bottles (as opposed to crushing, processing and re-forming that is more typical of glass recycling in the United States).

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