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Four million unique Absolut vodka bottles see Ardagh claim ‘packaging history’

By Ben Bouckley , 01-Oct-2012
Last updated on 01-Oct-2012 at 17:13 GMT

Ardagh Group is claiming packaging history after modifying bottle decorating machinery to produce 4m different bottles for Pernod Ricard's Swedish brand Absolut Vodka.

This month will see the ‘Absolut Unique’ bottles – all of which are uniquely designed and individually decorated – go on global sale, initially through global travel retail sector.

Each bottle has a different color coating and pattern, as well as a unique label number, with Absolut looking to provide consumers with a truly personalized product.

‘Making it happen was the hard part…’

Ardagh said this work with Absolut contained one extreme challenge, namely the need to adapt a glass decoration process designed to minimize design variation into something that delivered the exact opposite.

Asked whether the process was more costly than conventional decoration, Ardagh group head of marketing and public affairs, Sharon Crayton, told BeverageDaily.com: "Decorated bottles always incur additional cost to plan bottles – but we cannot comment on the detailed commercial aspects of this product."

"Decoration definitely brings added value, when applied appropriately to the brand, whether as a limited edition, or an integral part of the branding."

Eric Naf, director of packaging development at Absolut, said: “When I first saw this idea…to be honest, coming from the engineering side, I saw a lot of question marks: to realize this would be extremely hard.

“We had to reprogram the machines to create variation and randomness, where they were designed to create stability and control.”

Continual color changes

A computer algorithm places individual patterns on top of a specially applied coat of paint, allowing nearly endless variations (Absolut estimates that 94 quintillion bottles could be produced before two identical ones appear) from 35 colors and 51 patterns.

Frederik Källqvist, development manager glass,Sweden and Denmark at Ardagh, described how the process (the project is showcased in a video below) worked.

“We developed a computerized valve and control system to automatically and continually change colours and spray patterns on the bottles.We also came up with a system to randomly add contrasting ‘color splashes’ to the bottles during the coating process.”

A screen printing machine was also modified to randomize the print start for every printing station on the machine, Källqvist added.

“We also created a screen and color changing scheme for the screen printing process balancing variation and productivity, and established systems to mix the bottles during and in-between the process steps to further increase variation,"  he said.

Asked whether other Ardagh clients were interested in producing such effects, given such impressive results, Crayton told this publication: "We have had several discussions with customers prior to this development about making unique or individual bottles, but Absolut were the first to have the focus and drive to make the idea a reality.

"The launch of this product is very new, so it is still a little soon to say what interest it generates from other customers."

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