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In line with its goal to transition to 100 % recycled and plant-based PET bottles by 2030, the Suntory Group unveiled a prototype PET bottle made from 100 % plant-based materials partnership. The prototype bottle was developed in collaboration with US-based Anellotech for Suntory’s Orangina and Tennensui soft drinks brands in the European and Japanese markets, respectively. Given Suntory’s claims that its plant-based bottle overcomes several issues associated with bioplastics, it represents a step forward for the beverages industry towards the holy grail of biodegradable packaging, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Bobby Verghese, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Compostable/biodegradable plastics are presently a lower priority than recyclable packaging for Japanese consumers validated by as GlobalData’s Q3 2021 consumer survey. Only 30 % of Japanese respondents in the survey consider compostable/biodegradable an important factor in a product, when compared with 63 % of respondents who prioritize easy to recycle products*.

Verghese continues: “This is partly as consumers are disillusioned by earlier plant-based packaging innovations such as Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle, which failed to take off after the initial hype due to functional and cost challenges. Also, a large section of consumers are unsure how the biodegradable bottles will safeguard its contents.”

While bioplastics are touted as the penultimate solution for the plastic waste problem, most products have hitherto failed to match the performance of conventional oil-based plastics. Additionally, the cost of raw materials and overhauling existing manufacturing lines to accommodate bioplastics remain quite prohibitive. Moreover, bioplastics degrade only under specific ambient conditions, thereby posing an environmental threat. Furthermore, cultivating crops for producing bioplastics locks up agricultural land that could otherwise be used for food production.

Suntory claims its bioplastic material is made from two compounds, namely PTA and MEG, which are made from non-food biomass and non-food-grade feedstock, respectively, which minimizes its impact on the food chain. The plant-based bottle is claimed to be generate far lower carbon emissions than petroleum-derived plastic bottles.

Verghese concludes: “Suntory’s plant-based bottle can attract 39 % of Japanese consumers who consider products with reduced carbon footprint to be quite/extremely important, and 41 % of consumers who say the same for products that are sustainable/made from renewable sources*. However, the pros and cons of the bioplastic will only come to light after the full-fledged market launch.”

*Data taken from GlobalData’s Q3 2021 Consumer Survey – Japan with 527 respondents, published in September 2021

Suntory Group announced that, as a crucial step toward its aim to use 100 % sustainable PET bottles globally by 2030 and eliminate all petroleum-based virgin plastic from its global PET supply, the company has successfully created a prototype PET bottle made from 100 % plant-based materials. The prototype has been produced for the company’s iconic Orangina brand in Europe along with its best-selling bottled mineral water brand in Japan, Suntory Tennensui. This announcement marks a breakthrough after a nearly decade-long partnership with the US-based sustainable technology company Anellotech.

PET is produced using two raw materials, 70 % terephthalic acid (PTA) and 30 % mono ethylene glycol (MEG). Suntory’s prototype plant-based bottle is made by combining Anellotech’s new technology, a plant-based paraxylene derived from wood chips, which has been converted to plant-based PTA, and pre-existing plant-based MEG made from molasses which Suntory has been using in its Suntory Tennensui brand in Japan since 2013.

“We’re delighted with this achievement, as it brings us one step closer to delivering this sustainable PET bottle to the hands of our consumers,” said Tsunehiko Yokoi, Executive Officer of Suntory MONOZUKURI Expert Ltd. “The significance of this technology is that the PTA is produced from non-food biomass to avoid competition with the food chain, while MEG is also derived from non-food grade feedstock.”

This innovation is an additional step towards achieving Suntory Group’s ambition to eliminate use of all petroleum-derived virgin PET plastic bottles globally by transitioning to 100 % recycled or plant-based PET bottles by 2030. The fully recyclable prototype plant-based bottle is estimated to significantly lower carbon emissions compared to petroleum derived virgin bottle.

“This achievement is the result of over ten years of thorough and painstaking development work by Anellotech’s dedicated employees, together with Suntory and other partners,” said David Sudolsky, President and CEO of Anellotech. “The competitive advantage of Anellotech’s Bio-TCat generated paraxylene is its process efficiency (it uses a single-step thermal catalytic process by going directly from biomass to aromatics (benzene, toluene and xylene)), as well as the opportunity it creates for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to its identical fossil-derived paraxylene in the manufacture of PET, especially as it generates required process energy from the biomass feedstock itself.”

This technology is one of the latest investments from Suntory in the company’s long history of addressing the social and environmental impacts of containers and packaging. In 1997, Suntory established its “Guidelines for the Environmental Design of Containers and Packaging.” For plastic bottles specifically, it has used its 2R+B (Reduce/Recycle + Bio) strategy to reduce the weight of containers, including labels and caps, and actively introduce recycled or plant-based materials in its plastic bottles used globally. Most significantly, it has created the lightest bottle cap, the thinnest bottle label, and the lightest PET bottle produced in Japan to date.

“Suntory has been entrenched in the work to create sustainable packaging solutions since 1997. This plant-based bottle prototype honors our historic dedication while shining a light, not only on our path to achieving our 2030 fully sustainable PET bottle goal, but also towards our ambition to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the entire value chain by 2050,” said Tomomi Fukumoto, COO of Sustainability Management at Suntory Holdings.

This milestone amplifies the great momentum of Suntory’s continuous work on promoting a plastic circular economy, through the development of sustainable materials, adoption of circular processes, investment to pioneer advanced technologies and promotion of behavioral change for consumers. Suntory aims to commercialize this 100 % plant-based bottle as soon as possible to meet its 2030 fully sustainable PET bottle goal.

The PET bottle has emerged as the preferred packaging for drinks among Japanese millennials due to its ease of use and eco-friendly nature. Against this backdrop, beverage giant Suntory Beverage & Food Limited (SBF) is looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of this packaging format to drive ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee sales amid a shrinking RTD market in Japan, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

According to the company’s report: Success Case Study: Suntory Craft Boss – Craft-style ready-to-drink coffee resonates with Japan’s Millennials, Japan is the largest RTD coffee market in the world, selling 3,574 million liters in 2017. However, the market volume growth in Japan has been slow in recent years and is expected to decline at a compound annual growth rate of -0.89 % between 2017 and 2022. On the other hand, GlobalData’s Market Analyzer reveals that the percentage of sales of PET bottled RTD tea & coffee has increased by 2.81 % from 6,659.30 million liters in 2017 to 6,851.58 million liters in 2018.

Suntory launched Craft Boss, a new range of RTD coffee under the Suntory Boss brand, in April 2017. The Craft Boss range is sold in PET bottles rather than metal cans to offer new consumption experience to millennial consumers.

Shagun Sachdeva, Consumer Insights Analyst at GlobalData, says: “The company’s move to launch craft-style coffee drinks in a PET bottle format is part of strategic product positioning to tap new consumer groups, particularly millennials. This clearly demonstrates that it has understood the importance of innovation in terms of appeal and packaging format, in line with the demographic changes in Japan.”

Craft Boss PET bottled coffee series crossed 27 million cases in 2018. It was the biggest driver of Boss coffee sales, which crossed 100 million cases last year. The success of this series helped Suntory compensate decline in other products, with a very strong growth of 8 million cases in 2018 compared to the previous year.

Sachdeva concludes: “Suntory is one of the first major manufacturers to react to the slow market growth of RTD coffee in Japan. The company has quickly identified the market gap and is catering to the evolving demands of the white-collar millennials to take advantage of the appealing market segment. Simply put, the company used incremental innovation and customer-centric strategy to gain a clear, competitive edge over rivals.”