Monday, March 25, 2013

Bottles and Cans and Just Clap Your Hands 

I'm assuming NASA scientists were loaned to Samuel Adams recently. They, and I suspect MIT engineers, had to be involved in the million-dollar development of their new beer can and canning facility. Tack on few more dollars more for time, research and development, too.

Not for nothing, but $1,000,000+ is a lot of scratch.

That got me thinking—what other company's have invested a good bit of moollah into their containers? Sure, companies change logos or packaging all the time, but one company stood out—not only because of how many iterations its bottle went through, but because of how iconic that bottle is.

Coca-Cola has redesigned, tweaked or outright changed its bottles and cans seventeen times in the last 119 years. Which means, by comparison, Sam Adams, should have already changed its bottles three times since its start in 1984.

In any case, it was a Mississippi shop owner in 1894 who first bottled the, at the time, predominantly fountain-based Coke—in what's known as a Hutchinson bottle. Hutchinsons were straight-sided soda bottles with a stopper attached to a wire ring. "Hutches" were common to all brands of soda, not just Coke.

By the turn of the century, Coke was bottling in straight sided, tapered-neck bottles similar to a modern beer bottle. These bottles came in both "green" and brown glass. In 1915 Coke execs decided that the company need to do something to stand out from other soda brands, and contacted Terre Haute, Indiana's Root Glass Company. Coke's famous green-glass, contoured shape was born. The new bottle debuted the following year in 1916.

As the soda's popularity grew they company began selling its bottles in six packs and by the end of the 1920s, bottle sales exceeded fountain sales. The 6-1/2 ounce, green glass, contoured bottle would stay a constant until 1955 when 10, 12, and 26 ounce bottles became available—all with the distinctive Coke contour. In 1957 a bottle with a slightly narrow taper at its waist was introduced, and then in 1961 a white-clear glass bottle replace the traditional green glass.

While Coke had toyed with canning its soda in the 1930s—culminating in 16 and 32 ounce cone-top test cans—it wasn't until 1955 that they actually began to can for production. These early punch-top cans were only sent to American military troops stationed abroad. 1961 saw the first wide-spread production cans, now sporting a peel-top. By 1967 the company began using aluminum en lieu of steel. All of theses cans came in various sizes—ranging between 10 and 16 ounces. In 1978 the company would again look to the bottle, this time it was the two-liter, resealable, PET bottle, invented by its largest competitor PepsiCo, eight years earlier.

In 1991 the company would switch from white back to green glass for its glass-bottled product, but would move the bulk of its production into the now common, plastic 20 ounce contour bottle. In 2000 Coca-Cola introduced the impact resistant Ultra-glass, making its contoured glass bottles 40% stronger and 20% lighter, saving both glass and money for the company. Five years later they would introduce the 100% recycled aluminum contoured bottle and just two years ago the company released a contoured bottle made from 30% plant material.

What's interesting about all this is that in all I read I didn't see anything about how any of Coke redesigns from 1894 up—be it with their bottles or cans—enhanced the drinker's experience. It's all marketing and cost-cutting. Coke had confidence it was going to taste great in any container situation. Jim Koch on the other hand has a whole "blog" post dedicated to how the new Sam Can is the second coming for the beer lover. 

Albeit a "subtle but noticeably better" second coming.


  1. I believe no container can significantly affect the flavour, however some are just more pleasing to use and, well, purchase. The shaped Coke bottle, just like the original Michelob bottle, are just cool shapes, people like(d) them and it makes a good drink even better (in that sense).

    Whereas an ungainly container can, or so I believe, make a drink taste "bad", i.e., in the converse sense. I recall that I wouldn't buy certain liquors when they appeared in ugly bottles, just couldn't do it, it doesn't make sense I guess, but there you have it!

    I always liked the original Coke bottle and the green one especially, as many others did hence its return. It's hard to rationalize these things and the area is of the preserve of various kinds of marketing specialists, but it is good to draw attention to the phenomenon as you've done.


    1. I think it's important to point out that some phenomenons aren't always as new of an idea as they are presented.