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When size does matter – small bottle with tailor-made closure drives Coca-Cola’s growth in India

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The launch of a new 250ml Coca-Cola PET bottle in India is a prime example of how cross-company projects drive innovative ideas to market maturity. Thanks to the know-how and cooperation of its suppliers, particularly one of the world’s leading closure manufacturers, the German BERICAP group, the rollout was a great success.
It’s not the size that matters – or is it? At least there are circumstances under which a close look to the size might be worth it, as the example of The Coca-Cola Company shows. In 2016, the world’s largest beverage company introduced an innovative plastic bottle to the Indian market and experienced what can be called a rocket start. Today, the new packaging size is significantly driving Coca-Cola’s growth in the Indian market.

Coca-Cola is offering over 500 brands to people in more than 200 countries – amongst others in India, where Coca-Cola India Pvt Ltd acts as a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company with a company-owned bottling entity named Hindustan Coca-Cola Beveragess Pvt. Ltd., and various licensed bottling partners. But how does a global company with category-leading brands find the key to promising innovations for local markets?

The secret is to pay close attention to the consumers demands and wishes. Not only in India but globally, Coca-Cola is strategically striving to become what they call a “total beverage company” by providing consumers the drinks they want in more package variations and in more locations. “Bringing people the drinks they want means putting their preferences and needs first”, says [first name name], [title or function] at The Coca-Cola Company. In India, where more than one billion citizens are among the worlds poorest, and where logistics are facing a country that covers more than one million square miles, the formula is as simple as supplying fresh and affordable products in the remotest parts of the sub-continent.

“In a country the size of India, expanding the reach of products into rural areas, and doing so affordably, has been a key challenge facing the consumer goods industry for years,” says T. Krishnakumar, CEO, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beveragess Pvt. Ltd. “We all want to increase the availability of our products, but to do so requires transporting them over many miles – and sometimes many months – to reach the most rural areas.”

The devil is in the details.
What sounds quite simple – introducing a new bottle size while keeping the product itself untouched – gave rise to various challenges linked to the production and bottling process. In order to meet these challenges, Coca-Cola worked closely with their German partners, notably BERICAP as their long-time reliable supplier and partner of closure systems for Coca-Cola bottles, since the closure as an important component of the beverage package plays a major part for product quality, freshness and shelf-life. It took the cross-company innovation team nearly three years to create a bottle (and closure) that provided the look Coca-Cola expected while preventing carbonation loss during transport and storage under climatically challenging conditions.

The target was to develop a bottle neck and closure for a 250 ml bottle with a relatively small diameter and weight in order to reduce the packaging cost to a minimum while securing high quality, maximum freshness and a long shelf-life - known officially as the Affordable Small Sparkling Package – or “ASSP”.

After discussing several design options, the design freeze was finally made in January 2015. It was agreed to choose a 22 mm diameter as the best option. Starting with the order placement, it took the closure experts no longer than six months to identify and develop the whole sufficient production equipment for the closure and to build and test the production line. The line is, by the way, located in India to guarantee short ways and optimum production conditions for Coca-Cola. Supply started in February 2016. Since May 2017, a further ASSP filling line started in Indonesia under the responsibility of Coca-Cola Amatil Indonesia. Again, BERICAP was able to deliver from a supply point nearby – the BERICAP location in Johor, Malaysia. Today, three production tools are in operation: two in India with a capacity of 720 million and one in Malaysia with a capacity of 400 million.

Rocket start for tiny bottles
Only ten weeks after their launch, the new ASSP bottles showed their potential with more than 700,000 cases sold. Available in eight of India’s states from the very beginning, Hindustan Coca-Cola expanded the availability of 250 ml bottle throughout India in 2017. “We are glad that we had BERICAP as experienced partner at our side during the whole innovation process”, said [name]. “Thanks to their global presence and vast know-how, the 250ml bottle serving the challenges of the Indian market was finally brought to market maturity.”

Of course, the launch of the new bottle in India will also have positive ancillary effects in other markets. The bottles will help Coca-Cola to expand the availability of smaller, more convenient packages to support people to control their sugar consumption more easily – not the major challenge in today’s India, but one of the most urgent demands in North America as well as Europe. And this is exactly what makes innovation that exciting: serving a maximum variety of requirements with one good idea at the right place.
Christoph Thünemann

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Christoph Thünemann
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