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PET Beer Bottle Celebrates 10 Years of Market Success

Still growing in popularity, the PET beer bottle celebrates 10 years of market success
It's something you hold in your hand. It's light and unbreakable. It retains the cold well. It's resealable. It's recyclable. It goes perfectly with stadiums, tailgating parties, the beach, concerts, picnics, and backyard barbecues, to name just a few venues. And this month it's celebrating its 10th birthday.
The guest of honor at the birthday party is the PET plastic beer bottle made by Graham Packaging Company.

It was in October 1998, culminating years of research and testing, that O-I Plastic, now part of Graham Packaging, and the Miller Brewing Company, now part of MillerCoors, introduced the innovative polyethylene terephthalate container that revolutionized beer packaging, changed the marketing landscape, and made life more convenient for American beer consumers.

The PET beer bottle has proven its practicality and earned still-growing popularity. Jeff Garwood, senior manager of new product packaging and development for MillerCoors, said the annual sales growth of MillerCoors beer in PET plastic bottles has hit 10 percent, year after year. "I still see good growth opportunities for beer in PET."

The "trigger" for the first successful plastic beer bottle was the development of a proprietary oxygen scavenging barrier material, according to Dave Piccoli, director of global PET technology development for Graham Packaging, and Tom Nahill, director of process engineering.

In combination with Graham Packaging's SurShotTM multilayer injection technology, the process made possible the production of a PET bottle with effective oxygen and carbon dioxide barriers to protect the beer and keep it fresh.

Because of the oxygen-scavenging properties of the multilayer PET bottle, the flavor of beer in the PET bottle is actually better than beer in a glass bottle, Piccoli said. (Garwood also noted it stays colder longer than beer in an aluminum can.)

Ralph Armstrong, a sales representative for Graham Packaging who helped launch the PET beer bottle, said beer makers had long been interested in moving to PET plastic. "When we got the technology together MillerCoors really grabbed onto it and ran with it," he said. "It hit the market in the right way and was really exciting."

Interest originally focused on stadium sales, where PET plastic bottles could replace the process of vendors having to pour beer into plastic cups. "It made it very easy to serve the beer, versus pouring into a cup," Armstrong said. "There was no cup expense and it was faster than pouring. The fast serve was a key component of the sale."

Another marketing bonus was that beer in a plastic bottle always "wears" its brand name while beer in a plastic cup usually doesn't. "You get the branded image along with product," Armstrong said.

The PET beer bottle turned out to be groundbreaking in another way as well. Gerry Claes, a sustainability consultant for Graham Packaging, says it was the first container of its kind to follow the Design for Recyclability protocol established by the Association of Post Consumer Plastic Recyclers (APR). The bottle won the APR "Champions of Change" award.

"This bottle has truly withstood the test of time and, as the demand for plastic beer bottles grows, the economics for recycling this bottle will only improve," Claes said.

What started out as a niche container for stadium sales has evolved into something with much broader appeal. The PET plastic beer bottle is now equally popular at a wide variety of outdoor events-concerts, fairs and festivals-and is increasingly purchased from store shelves as well.

"The demand for our beer bottles has grown globally with the addition of new sizes, shapes, and colors," said Mark Leiden, Graham's vice president for global marketing and PET business manager. "We have applied our design capability to provide customers with more than just a glass look-alike."

In addition, Leiden said, Graham's new pasteurizable bottle (PasPET) now gives customers additional flexibility in processing technologies.

"It says a lot about the health of the of the plastic beer bottle," Garwood said. "It's not just a niche player anymore."

Graham Packaging, based in York, Pennsylvania, is a worldwide leader in the design, manufacture, and sale of technology-based, customized blow-molded plastic containers for the branded food and beverage, household, personal care/specialty, and automotive lubricants product categories. The company has an extensive blue-chip customer base that includes many of the world's largest branded consumer products companies. It produces more than 20 billion container units annually at 83 plants in North America, Europe, and South America, and had sales of $2.49 billion in 2007.

Graham Packaging is a leading U.S. supplier of plastic containers for hot-fill juice and juice drinks, sports drinks, drinkable yogurt and smoothies, nutritional supplements, wide-mouth food, dressings, condiments, and beers; the leading global supplier of plastic containers for yogurt drinks; a leading supplier of plastic containers for liquid fabric care products, dish care products, and hard-surface cleaners; and the leading supplier in the U.S., Canada, and Brazil of one-quart/one-liter plastic motor oil containers.

The Blackstone Group of New York is the majority owner of Graham Packaging. Graham Packaging on July 1, 2008, executed an equity purchase agreement with Hicks Acquisition Company I, Inc., under which Graham Packaging would combine with Hicks Acquisition, a Dallas-based special purpose acquisition company. The transaction with Hicks Acquisition, in partnership with the Blackstone Group and other Graham equity holders, will result in a publicly traded company to be named Graham Packaging Company, Inc., and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.