Coca-Cola isn’t the only one celebrating some milestone in its history. In this case the 100th birthday of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle. There are more celebrations of milestones in packaging this year, but one of the fascinating ones is the birth 50 years ago of the bag-in-box.
The bag-in-box 50 years? One of the most popular packaging formats for drinks of recent years?
Yes, 50 years ago in Australia of all places (nobody is expecting some remarkable packaging developments from down-under), an Australian wine-grower invented a packaging system, which can be classified as the birth of the bag-in-box.
Let’s take in some history.
Goon Sacks: The Early Years
In 1965 winemaker Thomas Angove radically changed Australian wine packaging with his invention of the wine cask as an alternative to the half-gallon flagon, the so-called “goon”, the 2.25-litre glass bottle that was a standard receptacle for table wine at the time.
The Angove wine cask consisted of a soft collapsible inner liner of fine plastic film surrounded by a sturdy (paperboard) outer container. Based on the European ‘wine bladder’, the resealable wine cask allowed wine to be poured out of the container without exposing the remaining wine to air and potential spoilage.
The bag-in-the-box concept was born. The Angove wine cask design took two years to develop and the graphics for the first edition were designed by South Australian Wytt Morro.
Tom Angove’s original 1965 cask design, pictured above, didn’t last long. The consumer had to open the box, take the bag out, snip off a corner to pour the wine, and seal the bag with a paperclip. A not very efficient and rather messy operation, and on top of that during the first years there were soggy boxes, dodgy pourers and freshness issues.
Nevertheless the wine cask became a popular storage solution for Australian wine, while during the next few years other wine merchants improved the design.
Melbourne wine merchant Dan Murphy worked with Geelong inventor Charles Malpas to develop a tap that could be attached to the bag, letting wine out but stopping air getting in. This design enabled the bag to stay in the box and be used like a traditional wine cask. Malpas also introduced the metallised plastic bag.
Penfolds winemaker Ian Hickinbotham also worked to perfect the tap idea and it appeared on that company’s first version of the cask in 1968. A bag inside what looked like a paint tin. The tin was a necessity as in those early days, the actual bag was the biggest problem. ICI didn’t seem capable of making a film which did not leak. Rather than pursue a superior film, Penfolds launched their “wine cask” in a can about the size of a large paint tin, painted to resemble a barrel. It wasn’t really a commercial success and abandoned after some months.
At which point another wine merchant, David Wynn, entered the picture. Wynn was quick to abandon the ICI film, replacing it with a superior product from Japan. In 1971 Wynns adopted reliable bag-in-box technology that had been patented by the American company Scholle in the 1950s for battery acid containers.
Today’s packaging is the result of many years of further research and experimenting with laminates and tapping devices, but the fundamental concept of a flexible bag inside a rigid box, giving the airless flow packaging concept was that of Tom Angove. Although, I have to say, that the idea of the wine- or water-bladder goes back many ages, as we see it in Ancient Egypt and Greece. The South Australian museum has a fine example in its astonishing Aboriginal collection, made from the hide of kangaroo, and used for carrying water.
But whatever the origin the combination of plastic bag and rigid paperboard box for wine was innovative and brought a new and popular packaging format to the market.
Wine in Bag-in-Box, an overview from around the world
Although in these days the bag-in-box is used for a variety of liquids, it is wine that pushed this packaging format to the forefront. And I must say with a lot of creativity. Let’s make a quick world tour to see what designs have been seen on the market in recent years.
For the first time a bulk packaging, minimal the content of 3 bottles, could safely and efficiently store wine as the benefits of the Bag-in-Box packaging include a longer shelf life after opening, easy handling, a lower price per litre and significant environmental advantages.
The evolution of the Bag-in-Box over the years reflects the changing consumer habits and social trends and meets the needs of the modern wine drinker, allowing busy people to enjoy one glass at a time, with the guarantee that the quality will not deteriorate over many weeks. This is something that cannot be achieved with wine packaged in a traditional glass bottle.
The first editions were really a bag in a box. And although the original design, rectangular corrugated box with a plastic bag and tap inside, are still seen on the supermarket shelves wine merchants have gotten creative over the years and allowed for more out-of-the-box designs, which gave them the opportunity to bottle quality wine into the bag-in-box format to defy the common impression of the consumer that wine in bag-in-box was of common table, or even inferior, quality.
The first slide show included here is of the standard corrugated paperboard box. The second one in the next article shows the more creative varieties. The third slide show gives some examples of the bag-in-box used for other products than wine.
Developments in the standard Bag-in-Box
To be sturdy a Bag-in-Box system generally has to consist of a heavy duty outer corrugated paperboard box to hold the pillow inner bag, which tends to cause undue pressure on the outer box.
Some years ago, Elite Packaging in the UK, developed a gusseted bag, which is sealed in each corner of the bag. The advantage of this revolutionary design is that the bag becomes more stable, is more-or-less square and sits better and more efficient in a paperboard box. It forms a cubic shape when filled and its unique structure ensures minimal lateral bulge.
Quad Bag is the name SCA Packaging gave to this new system for bag-in-box. The name hints that a bag that fills all the way out into the corners uses the box’s whole volume.
The chance of “chubby” boxes is avoided even if the corrugated paperboard packaging is made of a thinner material than usual.
A strong argument for the system is that the quadrangular bag makes the package easy to empty down to the last drop. Tearing up the corrugated paperboard box in order to squeeze the last few precious drops out of the packaging is now history.
Smurfit Kappa developed a ready to use Bag-in-Box with the tap on the outside of the box. The Vitop tap is positioned on the outside of the box at the end of filling, while the bag is inserted into the box, and can be added either manually or automatically according to specifications and usage. The Bag-in-Box is then displayed on retail shelves with its tap visible.
Not only is the new Bag-in-Box more practical as the end user doesn’t have to remove the tap from the box, but also more intuitive as the consumer can see the tap when the product is on the shelf and understands instinctively how the packaging works.
Badger Mountain Vineyard wanted to produce Washington State’s first certified organic wines, which led to the more eco-friendly bag-in-box (BIB) format to supplement the winery’s traditional 750 ml glass bottles.
With this packaging Badger Mountains proves to the world that the once elitist moss-grown wine chateaux are transformed into a wine industry bubbling over with packaging innovations.
The box has the aura of high quality up-scale spirits, such as an exclusive French cognac and has nothing in common with the typical bag-in-box packages for table wines.
The cartons for the Pure Red/White 3 ltr bag-in-box, made by Pacific Southwest Container, are constructed from an E Flute – 012SBS top sheet (solid bleached sulphate, a virgin paperboard made from kraft pulp with a clay coating) – 33lb medium – 35lb kraft inside liner. A so called SFL Carton (Single Faced Laminate carton).
Pacific Southwest Container prints the SBS substrate using 3 UV inks and a UV gloss coating, after which the printed top sheets are laminated to the medium (the wavy section) and the inside liner board.
Badger Mountain chose a collapsible inner bag with tap from Scholle Packaging. The film is a Scholle DuraShield High Barrier Film, a three-layer film that provides a high oxygen barrier with a transmission rate as low as .387cc/m2/day. The film is manufactured as a single-ply, which creates exceptional strength in the seams.
The fitment is the Scholle FlexTap (see image above), the first push-button automatic shut off tap, with which consumers can regulate the flow rate by the amount of pressure they use on the tap.
A perfect and beautiful example of the evolution of wine in bag-in-box packages.
So, that is the standard paperboard bag-in-box for you. In the next article I will show a variety of designs. All called bag-in-box, but the box is often cleverly replaced by some other type of container.