The shifting landscape of beverage preferences & packaging needs

PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, which produces Pack Expo International and Pack Expo Las Vegas, among a variety of other shows, launched its first virtual trade show this week, Pack Expo Connects, which takes place over the course of five days (9-13 November).

Although long for a virtual event – it begins around 9am EST and runs until about 4pm EST daily – Pack Expo Connects is incredibly comprehensive, offering approximately 700 “exhibitors,” nearly 2,700 live demos and more than 60 educational sessions. Attendees can also organise their daily schedules through the “My Connects Planner” and there are also video tutorials as well as a resource center. The presentations are all pre-recorded videos that are accompanied by live Q&A chats. Participants may also replay a presentation immediately after it initially takes place. Thus, if anything was ambiguous or difficult to hear, the video can be re-watched quickly and easily or if there are concurrent sessions that interest attendees, they can view as many videos as they like at their convenience (after the original presentation concludes) — this is a beneficial tool to have.

In one of the first sessions to take place during Pack Expo Connects, Tom Reimer, director of education at the International Society of Beverage Technologists’ (ISBT) Beverage Institute, offered an overview of the overall non-alcoholic beverage industry. He noted that “package waters” overtook CSD’s (carbonated soft drinks) as the most popular beverage category in 2015 and it remains there today. Reimer said that in general, traditional mass market categories have struggled while niche categories have experienced growth. For example, RTD coffee experienced a volume growth of 9.5% in 2019, while RTD tea grew 3.7%.

Beverages continue to evolve, with Reimer noting that there is an even greater emphasis on “real” health benefits such as weight loss, “for women only,” protein enhanced, and benefit-specific fortification, adding that “these trends favour new niche brands, not new big brands.” In overall beverages, not just within coffee and tea, there is also a movement away from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose to natural sweeteners, which tend to have higher costs and flavour drawbacks.

Pursuant to the trend towards healthier beverages, consumers want ‘natural’ products, which, Reimer explained, isn’t always well-defined by regulators. This presents a unique challenge for marketers when deciding which ingredients to use. “Consumers have much more awareness, which may not be the truth, but guides their purchase selection,” he stressed.

Packaging needs have not changed, but they have evolved and become more complex. “Packaging must both protect the product and draw the attention of the consumer,” said Reimer. “Packaging innovation has gained in importance as the marketplace has gotten more crowded as a means to distinguish both categories and brands.”

He noted that as the number of beverage categories has proliferated, so have packaging alternatives. For example, when “multi-packs” debuted in the 1970s, they were six-packs. Today, multi-packs are available in a variety of sizes such as 6-, 12-, 15-, 24- and 30-packs, as well as new configurations. There has also been a proliferation of PET bottle sizes from their 2-litre debut in the 70s to 3 litres, 12 oz/500 ml, 16oz, 20oz, 32oz, 34oz, as well as 96oz. Within PET, there are now proprietary shapes and interactive packages.

In terms of iced tea and coffee packaging, Reimer said that premium RTD has moved to PET and chilled, while can share has been hit by the trend away from carbonated iced tea and there is a relatively high carton share due to popularity of powdered tea (which surprised me as I was unaware that powdered tea was still popular or even available at mainstream retailers).

Today is the last day of Pack Expo Connects, but it may not be too late to still register (

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