How to Stay Ahead of Beverage Market Trends

New consumer preferences are creating demand for faster packaging equipment to handle sustainable materials in a variety of shapes, sizes and formats.

Sustainability, Flexibility and Production Speed Are Key Factors to Consider

By Rich Clifton, Portfolio Manager, Beverage and Robotics, R.A. Jones

Sparked by changes during COVID-19, beverage brands have shifted away from predominantly serving the foodservice industry, and are now catering to people who consume beverages at home. In fact, changes in consumers’ purchasing behavior and product preferences are impacting product demand, package sizes and packaging material.

As original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of primary and secondary beverage packaging machinery, we are witnessing the reshaping of the beverage industry, and developing solutions to stay ahead of market trends and demands.

The new carton feed technology was added to the R.A Jones’ Meridian XR MPS-300 to increase the speed at which beverage manufacturers can produce 4-,6- and 8-pack configurations as well as package a wide range of product types, diameters and heights. Image courtesy of R.A. Jones

How is purchasing behavior affecting beverage packaging?

The beverage industry continues to experience transformative impacts that can be traced to the start of the pandemic. Less frequent shopping trips and concerns about product availability triggered bulk buying. And e-commerce opened a digital avenue for consumers to efficiently grocery shop without having to leave their homes during the pandemic.

In fact, the online grocery market jumped 63.9% in 2020 according to a study by eMarketer reported by Oberlo. And online beverage purchases rose 39.9% year-over-year in 2020 because consumers started purchasing beverages alongside food and other essentials according to an industry report by the Common Thread Collective.

Even as we enter the endemic stage of COVID-19, bulk buying is expected to continue as inflation and ongoing supply chain issues raise consumers’ concerns about product availability and price increases – and many consumers intend to continue shopping online. A recent whitepaper by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) revealed online shopping platforms have created a more centralized shopping experience, and are increasing demand for packaging diversity as consumers continue making more bulk purchases, and buy products in larger quantities or in multipack varieties.

What beverage market trends is your company noticing?

Increased interest in wellness beverages, canned cocktails and other assorted drinks have introduced a variety of different product lines. And consumer interest in sleeker can sizes and smaller variety multipacks has started to rise in tandem with increased use of digital grocery shopping platforms.

For example, Crown Holdings, a leading supplier of beverage packaging, recently reported that production rates of their specialty cans increased significantly. Specialty cans are defined as sizes other than the standard 12-ounce beverage can, and now represent more than 20% of Crown’s North American portfolio, reflecting a 9% increase within five years.

Environmental awareness is also growing, and people are moving away from purchasing single-use plastics, such as products packaged with plastic cone rings or shrink-wrap, and more people are looking for ways to participate in a more circular economy. When faced with a choice, most shoppers say they are more likely to reach for products packaged in paper/cardboard or metal cans because they are recyclable – and more consumers want businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and help support the circular economy.

What capabilities are needed to address new consumer preferences?

While beverage product producers and CPGs race to address changing consumer preferences, beverage manufacturers ought to examine their equipment capabilities and identify opportunities to optimize production rates while maintaining overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

A CPG can drastically increase their production line flexibility by implementing technology that expands its capacity to change can diameters – accommodating standard and sleeker specialty can sizes within the same machine. By increasing production capacity and maintaining greater efficiency rates, beverage manufacturers are also able to run other products on the line, ultimately negating the need to purchase additional packaging machinery, maximizing floorspace and saving them money, time and resources.

We’ve actually collaborated with customers to enable them to increase production speeds for their carton packaging equipment to match current consumer demands, and developed a new speed up kit. It allows beverage and food manufacturers to run a variety of canned product configurations at a surge speed of 345 cartons per minute. We’ve had interest in this new packaging technology from a few beverage customers, including Corona, which is in the process of implementing the multipack speed up kit onto their machines.

The new Orbi-Trak TC-6 speedup kit enables food and beverage manufacturers to run a variety of canned product configurations at an unprecedented surge speed of 345 cartons per minute, making R.A. Jones’ Meridian XR machines the fastest in the industry. Image courtesy of R.A. Jones

How can brand manufacturers stay ahead of market trends?

An effective way to stay ahead of market trends is to work with an OEM with a comprehensive Research and Development (R&D) department that can introduce production solutions that are efficient and reliable. Also look for a team with the expertise you need to help optimize manufacturing processes and equipment to accommodate a range of packaging shapes, sizes, and materials – with the least number of changeovers possible.

For example, we updated our existing carton feed technology to include six spindle locations – adding two additional spindle options that help increase machine speed and broaden carton range capabilities. However, the main challenge with increasing cartoning speeds is that it can lead to carton jams and lowered efficiency rates. As a result, we re-engineered the spindle rotation, so the linear speed of the carton is matched to that of the air frame chains, allowing for a smooth hand off between the two devices. With these adaptations, customers can expand their carton size range and speed capabilities of their machine without fear of a carton jam that can stall production.

What should CPGs consider when selecting an OEM?

We anticipate the beverage market to remain unpredictable due to supply chain issues, inflation, and labor shortages. One-way CPGs can stay ahead of market demands is by partnering with an OEM with extensive experience engineering and manufacturing custom packaging machinery that has full visibility over the supply chain.

When packaging a product, there can be many suppliers involved in one decision with no formalized system of communication. By working with an OEM that can coordinate between all the key parties, it can minimize the back and forth and streamline the entire production process. Additionally, housing the entire production line within one facility ensures the OEM can monitor for product consistency, quality, and performance with the ability to instantly troubleshoot any potential downstream issues. An active supervisor that can evaluate and leverage a history of packaging equipment innovation and expertise can help prevent downtime, improve efficiency, and even lower production errors.

Partnering with OEMs offering routine technician services or scheduled machine audits that provide hands-on machine line evaluations also enables you to maintain a skilled workforce and minimize costly downtime. These workforce development opportunities allow plant employees to be trained by skilled line professionals on how to perform regular maintenance as well as diagnose equipment and parts failure before they occur. Further, OEMs that can supply preventative maintenance kits, enable CPGs to work on machines on their own time, gives employees confidence in their skills, and creates a supportive environment to improve labor retention rates.

About the Author

Rich Clifton is the portfolio manager for beverage and robotics at R.A. Jones. R.A. Jones is part of Coesia, a group of innovation-based industrial and packaging solutions companies operating globally, headquartered in Bologna, Italy and owned by Isabella Seràgnoli. Learn more at www.rajones.com.

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