The Birth of an Innovation: The Tropicana 89-Ounce Container

PepsiCo innovators develop a recyclable Tropicana container to meet consumer preferences.

Developing innovative products takes the time and talents of amazing PepsiCo associates who work hard to deliver consumers around the world the highest quality and best tasting products.

The development of a new Tropicana orange juice container is one example of how creativity, persistence and teamwork led to increased customer satisfaction and improved juice sales.

In 2007, Tropicana wanted to change the way their orange juice products were packaged to meet consumer preferences for clear containers.  At the time, Tropicana containers with handles were made of opaque, white plastic.

Tropicana turned to the team at PepsiCo Advanced Research in Hawthorne, N.Y. to identify the materials and processes needed to produce a new 89-ounce juice container with a handle that was both clear and recyclable.

The resin commercially available in 2007 did not meet PepsiCo’s requirements. They lacked the melt strength necessary for extrusion blow molding large containers, a process used to make plastic containers with handles and were not recyclable.

Extrusion Blow Molding

Tropicana 89 ounce containers are produced with an extrusion blow molding process, where molten resin is formed into a hollow tube and inflated inside a mold. Cooling within the mold helps the package take its final shape as a strikingly clear beverage container with an integrated handle.

When Clarence Sequeira, a material scientist at PepsiCo Advanced Research, asked a major resin supplier when a resin meeting PepsiCo’s performance and sustainability requirements would be available, he was told five to seven years.

So Sequeira and his team went to work to develop one that was recyclable and capable of high-speed production.  After extensive research and experimentation, they produced a compounded resin that had the right properties and met PepsiCo’s requirements.

While pursuing a partner that could mass produce the PepsiCo resin, the team identified a supplier with a resin that was nearing commercial readiness and was similar to the PepsiCo resin. The supplier’s resin was tested and, with modifications based on PepsiCo’s research and development efforts, was made suitable for the production of the Tropicana containers.

Next, Sequeira worked with a wheel blow molding equipment manufacturer to pilot test a high-speed production process by modifying existing hardware to melt, process and blow mold containers from the newly formulated resin.

The pilot tests were successful and helped move the development of the 89 ounce container to the validation phase.  At a Tropicana plant in Bradenton, Fla., Sequeira worked with Tropicana and equipment vendors to create a new, full-scale production unit using lessons from the pilot test.

Sequeira and Ed Socci, director with PepsiCo Advanced Research, equipped a mobile test laboratory adjacent to the Bradenton plant to provide rapid analytical feedback during the validation process.  The team used sophisticated equipment to evaluate the containers coming off the production line. Working long hours over several months, the team measured resin moisture content, container thickness and clarity.

“This was a truly open and collaborative process,” said Sequeira.  “We had the full commitment of all partners, including vendors. Everyone was there to address problems, identify solutions and make the project a success.”

Also present was Nicole Green, the project leader for the overall packaging qualification project, who had the important job of commercializing the research and development team’s work.

Green worked with brand design teams to come up with a package that included not only the shape of the new bottle, but outstanding functionality.

“We wanted something that looked elegant, that people felt comfortable putting on the kitchen table or using during Sunday brunch,” said Green.  “We wanted it to look premium to reflect the high quality of our juice.”

Green and her team developed a flip-top cap design and worked with equipment suppliers to overcome cap production challenges. They tested handles for size, feel and “positioning with respect to the package’s center of gravity.”

They tested containers for strength and durability. And they tried various design concepts to ensure that the orange juice poured smoothly from the very first pour.

Success was not guaranteed said Green.  “We learned a lot and made modifications to the custom equipment specifically for the project,” she said.  “Once we were able to fine tune the process and get the data we needed from our tests, we were able to tell the business we felt comfortable going forward.”

Green also worked with suppliers to ensure that their systems were modified and scaled, both upstream and down, to support PepsiCo’s new materials, equipment and processes.

Today, thanks to the hard work and dedication of PepsiCo employees and the company’s commitment to improving its products through research and development, clear, elegant and recyclable Tropicana 89 ounce orange juice containers can be found on supermarket shelves.

Consumer reaction to the new 89 ounce package has been overwhelmingly positive. The added functionality of the easy-to-open lid, easy-to-pour handle, and clear container that allows consumers to see the juice have worked together to drive consumer excitement for the package, and the in-market results prove it.

In the year of its launch, dollar sales of this package grew 40 percent. Tropicana’s dollar share of 89 ounce orange juice grew 7 percentage points while Simply Orange’s decreased 5 percentage points. Repeat on the Tropicana 89 ounce package has also improved from 56 percent of buyers to 57 percent, signaling that consumers are happy with the package after they use it.

For their efforts, Sequeira, Green and Neil Enciso were presented the 2013 PepsiCo Academy of Sciences Award in the science and technology category.  The team was also awarded in 2013 a silver Visionary Award in the packaging development and design category sponsored by Packaging Digest, and Pharmaceutical and Medical Packaging News.

“This was a four-year journey for me as well as the rest of my team,” said Green. “And Clarence and Ed were already working on the resin before I joined.

“It was quite an effort,” she said.  “It’s definitely one of those projects where you’re going to look back and say we did really well, and we should be proud of the work.”