When consumers from Chile to China and the U.S. to the U.K. reach for a Coca-Cola, they’re now opening happiness in a happier bottle thanks to the company’s latest sustainable packaging innovation.

Coca-Cola introduced PlantBottle™ packaging – the first-ever fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from plants – in 2009 and has since distributed more than 15 billion of the breakthrough bottles in 25 countries. Approximately 8% of the company’s PET plastic bottles last year contained PlantBottle technology.

“Thomas Edison said the power of an idea is in its use,” says Scott Vitters, who manages the PlantBottle platform at Coca-Cola. “Making PlantBottle real has been our mantra since day one, because the true benefits of a sustainable innovation are only fully realized once it reaches the marketplace and is used. PlantBottle packaging is making a difference our consumers can reach out and touch today.”



PlantBottle Exhibit

A new exhibit at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta chronicles the PlantBottle journey, to date.


In addition to eliminating the equivalent of approximately 140,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions from the company’s PET plastic bottles, to date, the innovation has boosted sales of key brands like Dasani. PlantBottle also has strengthened Coke’s competitive advantage with key customers, racked up headlines and sustainable and innovation awards, and caught the collective eye of the supply chain and investor community.

But the PlantBottle journey is just beginning, Vitters insists.

“This is not a pilot test, nor are we limiting this technology to a niche brand,” he says. “We have committed publicly to convert all of our PET plastic bottles to PlantBottle packaging by 2020.”

PlantBottle packaging offers the same functionality and recyclability as traditional PET plastic, but with a lighter carbon footprint and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. The packaging uses natural sugars found in plants to make ingredients identical to fossil-based ingredients traditionally used in polyester fibers and resin for bottles.


Working together with environmental organizations and academic researchers, Coca-Cola has been careful to identify current and future plant sources that truly deliver improved sustainability performance and do not compete with food crops.

‘Bigger Than Coca-Cola’

Coca-Cola believes PlantBottle will serve as a catalyst for redirecting the entire polyester fiber and plastic resin industry toward a renewable future. The company is actively working with partners around the world to build a global supply chain for PlantBottle material, including teaming up with JBF Industries Ltd. to build a world-scale production facility in Brazil.

“A challenge we wrestled with early on is how to realize the full potential of PlantBottle if we held the technology just to ourselves,” Vitters explains. “We had to redefine what winning in the sustainability space meant to us. We still wanted to lead, but instead of keeping people out, we made the decision to purposely bring others into the space in order to accelerate supplier investment, drive down cost and enhance our overall environmental benefit.”     

In 2011, Coca-Cola took the first step in this collaborative innovation approach by licensing PlantBottle technology to H.J. Heinz for use in its ketchup bottles. More than 200 million 20-oz. packages – which feature “talking labels” asking, “Guess what my bottle is made of?” – have since reached store shelves and foodservice counters in the U.S. and Canada.”

The Complete Package

Last summer, Vitters was eating lunch at a café outside Washington, D.C. when his ears began to burn based on a conversation overheard at the adjacent table.



Dasani and Heinz PlantBottle packaging

In 2011, Coca-Cola licensed PlantBottle technology to H.J. Heinz. More than 200 million ketchup packs with labels asking, 'Guess what my bottle is made of?' – have reached the market.


“A guy was reading the back of a Heinz ketchup bottle, and he looked up and asked the others if they were familiar with PlantBottle packaging,” Vitters recalls. “The girl across from him was drinking a Dasani and noted that the two packages were both produced with PlantBottle technology… which she had first learned about on a recent Delta flight.”

The quick exchange demonstrated, in a nutshell, how the partnership between Coca-Cola and Heinz is building awareness of the groundbreaking innovation in a marketplace cluttered with “green” messaging.

“The conversation was sparked by a Heinz ketchup bottle promoting Coke's PlantBottle technology, thereby reinforcing our sustainable packaging leadership – while plugging two of our customers and informing and delighting a group of consumers,” said Vitters.

Millions of consumers have scanned QR codes printed on the back of Heinz ketchup bottles to learn more about PlantBottle technology. This program and others motivated Coke to step up its marketing and tell the PlantBottle story more effectively.

Green Within the Green



PlantBottle packaging ad

Dasani's visual identity for PlantBottle has resonated with sustainability-conscious consumers.


No brand has done this more effectively than Dasani, which used PlantBottle to reverse several years of volume decline in the U.S. at the height of the recession. In 2009, several retailers decided not to carry multiple waters after struggling to see differentiation from brand to brand.

“With PlantBottle, we saw an opportunity to engage with consumers and build love for the Dasani brand while making a difference with a better designed bottle,” said Geoff Henry, Dasani’s brand director for North America. “After a successful pilot, we rolled it out nationally during Earth Month in April 2011.”

The brand created a bold, eye-catching visual identity for PlantBottle – including an image of a big leaf and green closures that played up both the packaging’s connection to plants and nature, and Dasani’s clean, crisp taste.

“We used the visual of the bottle rising out of a plant to help consumers understand the PlantBottle technology, and how Dasani was giving them an opportunity to make an environmentally responsible choice without raising the price of the product or compromising quality,” Henry adds.

PlantBottle packaging resonated with Dasani drinkers, who saw the brand as a sustainable packaging leader. More people started buying Dasani – and more often. Dasani volume in the U.S. increased 12 percent in 2011, outpacing the bottled water category by more than 2.5 times, and brand health metrics also improved.

Aside from giving consumers more reasons to buy Dasani, PlantBottle also gave retailers more reasons to stock – or restock – the brand. “PlantBottle provided us with both a compelling brand story and category growth story to share,” Henry says.

Connecting with Consumers

Over the last few years, the company has learned that the PlantBottle message must be tailored from brand to brand. Since Dasani and Coca-Cola speak with different voices and to different consumer groups, for example, they cannot take the same communications approach to PlantBottle.



Students

'With PlantBottle... we’ve made a technology that's about ‘we’ relevant to ‘me’ without focusing on price or cost savings,' says Coke's Scott Vitters.


“Carbon footprint and emission reduction connect with some people, but for many it can be a lot to take in,” Vitters said. “When you link sustainable innovations to ‘me,’ they’re successful. Take hybrid vehicles, for example. Most people who buy them are not doing so because they want to save the planet. Most want to save money at the pump. With PlantBottle, there is not that immediate gratification return, yet we’ve made a technology that’s about ‘we’ relevant to ‘me’ without focusing on price or cost savings.”

How? By leveraging consumers’ emotional connections to plants to enhance experiences with the company’s brands. 

“If being around plants has been proven to make people happier, then why wouldn’t we want to make our bottles out of plants when delivering moments of happiness?” Vitters asks. “Simply juice is about natural goodness inside… so why wouldn’t we want that goodness outside, too? And shouldn’t smartwater be offered in a smarter package?”

Building an Even Better Bottle

The next generation of plant-based PET packaging – or PlantBottle 2.0 – is squarely on the drawing board. In December 2011, Coca-Cola invested in three leading biotech companies – Virent, Gevo and Avantium – to speed the commercialization of a PET plastic bottle made entirely from plants.

“While the technology to make bio-based materials has been proven in a lab on a small scale, we believe these partners have high potential to continue to develop the technology to global commercial scale within the next few years,” says Nancy Quan, VP of global R&D at Coca-Cola.



Press Event

Collaborative innovation partnerships continue to fuel the PlantBottle journey. “To accelerate innovation, we reached out to other like-minded consumer product companies that are interested in catalyzing change,” Vitters said.


For example, Coca-Cola, Ford, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble formed the Plant PET Technology Collaborative in June 2012. Together, these brands are working together to pursue a 100% renewable polyester plastic solution made entirely from plants for use in everything from clothing and footwear, to automotive fabric and packaging.

Work is also underway to develop new technologies to source sugars from plant waste such as barks, stems and peels, and Coke is partnering with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to create guiding principles for sourcing agricultural feedstocks used in PlantBottle packaging. 

“In addition to ensuring the plant material we use continues to deliver on the environmental promise of the PlantBottle platform, we see an opportunity to deliver greater social value to farmers around the world by creating jobs and boosting incomes,” Vitters adds.