Bickford’s installs complete Sidel aseptic PET line

Flexible aseptic technology with dry preform decontamination

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Bickford’s, a family-owned Australian brand, has, for the first time, purchased and installed a complete Sidel flexible PET line, handling both sensitive beverages and carbonated soft drinks (CSD). Riding the wave of healthy living, Bickford’s was not only able to expand their portfolio but also to improve production efficiency and sustainability. All in all, this significantly optimized their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), while relying on new bottle designs.

Bickford’s is one of the oldest and most valued Australian brands, holding a premium positioning in the market with exports to 32 countries worldwide. Founded in 1839, they are an independently owned business with head office and operations based in Adelaide, South Australia. Its diverse product range includes CSD, cordials, flavored water, still and sparkling water as well as juices, dairy and non-dairy drinks, syrups, and alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, spirits, and cider.

In Bickford’s home of Australia, as in many other countries, one can observe increasing health consciousness and wellness concerns as key drivers for the growth of beverage categories such as bottled water, especially flavored options. Juices, nectars, soft drinks, isotonics, and teas (JNSDIT) are also affected by this change in consumer behavior and are predicted to show a positive trajectory in the next three years. Notably, Australia also has a strong coffee culture. Although the focus on RTD coffee is about taste and functionality with customers seeking a quick energy boost, future products might shift towards health-promoting benefits.

Aseptic filling lines

Furthermore, given the keen competition within these segments, new product developments are increasingly focusing on flavor variety, accompanied by the introduction of new packaging formats for further diversification in the market. In the beverage industry but in particular in water, JNSDIT, and CSD segments, PET is projected to remain a popular packaging material in the future.

Bickford’s aseptic PET bottling with dry preform sterilization

To accommodate those opportunities, grow their share, and diversify their portfolio, Bickford’s started to search for a very flexible production line able to handle both still and sparkling, as well as low- and high-acid products with two different short bottlenecks and two distinct decoration possibilities. For this particular challenge, they turned to Sidel – the leading expert in aseptic PET applications and packaging design – for the first time in their long history. This also marks the very first time the Australian player invested in aseptic technology with dry preform decontamination, which has not yet been widely adopted in the country.

“Previously, we were mainly familiar with hot-filling PET applications. We decided to partially shift to aseptic PET bottling because we wanted to optimize our production set-up and achieve a better TCO, which is, of course, critical if you plan to attract more consumers,” says Angelo Kotses, Bickford’s chief executive officer and owner. “Plus, we really wanted to diversify our product portfolio by introducing new references, including dairy products and plant-based alternatives, and by moving some drinks formerly packaged in glass and can to PET,” he goes on. For such a large-scale project, Bickford’s needed a full solution partner- one that is an expert in packaging development, bottling machinery, production, and services. The Australian brand decided to inaugurate this cooperation by investing in one complete, versatile Sidel PET line, managing both sensitive products and CSD through an Aseptic Combi Predis and a Combi SF300, respectively.

This move helped Bickford’s enjoy great freedom in terms of packaging design. They can now benefit from the full branding surface to apply both sleeve labels and pressure-sensitive labels (PSL). Moreover, thanks to Sidel’s proven dry preform sterilization technology, the Australian player is also leveraging a safe, easy to operate, cost-efficient, and sustainable packaging solution. In total, the new line now processes more than 20 different SKUs, including still water, coffee with milk, coffee with almonds, four different flavored water, and eight types of juices – all in either 250 milliliters, 500 milliliters or 1-liter formats. 

Outstanding bottle and decoration design

“At the start of the project, Bickford’s team visited three of our customers’ sites in Thailand, Japan, and France and was able to experience the advantages offered by Sidel’s Aseptic Combi Predis first hand. On top of that, they could rely on us through every step of the journey, including the choice of raw material suppliers and the right designs for the preform and the bottle,” says Herve Herambert, account director sales Aseptic South East Asia Pacific at Sidel. He continues, “They were particularly impressed by Sidel’s 40-year experience in aseptic PET applications as well as in packaging – the family-owned company appreciated the support offered to design and industrialize the containers, including the perfect application of the labels to the new bottle’s shapes.”

Throughout the project, Sidel’s packaging experts worked in close collaboration with Bickford’s marketing team to launch their products. “Looking at our water and CSD range filled through the Combi SF300, we wanted to achieve an iconic shape to help our brand stand out in a very crowded marketplace. Our new bottles needed to offer convenient handling to our consumers and be robust enough to hold their ergonomic shape and carbonation once opened,” explains Beverley Reeves, senior brand manager at Bickford’s. Talking water, the Sidel packaging team started from scratch – new containers were designed for the 1-liter Aqua Pura branded water, applicable both to sparkling and still water, with the latter supported by the proven StarLITETM base. To accommodate future needs, Sidel also developed an additional 600 milliliters design, perfectly applicable to a variety of recipes, including flavored water.

A redesign was also needed around the family of drinks previously packaged via hot-fill technology. In this case, the number one priority was to optimize the packaging, while keeping the same premium brand attributes, and also light-weighting the bottle. For instance, by changing the production set-up from hot-fill packaging to aseptic PET bottling with dry preform sterilization, the Australian player halved the weight of their 1-liter juice bottle – down to 32 grams – while enhancing its attractiveness and expanding its shelf life up to 8 months. The new bottles are designed with quite straight body panels with simplified ribbing at the sides to allow the application of either sleeve labels or PSL – the most significant format (1 liter) engraved with the iconic Bickford’s brand name. “We were impressed by Sidel’s packaging capabilities. To streamline our decision process, they provided many bottle design alternatives and great conceptual designs with current labels as well as new prototypes. Considering the productivity advantages we gained and the high consumer acceptance around our redesigned containers, we are planning to strengthen the cooperation with Sidel further and launch a 1-liter format for sparkling products, for water as well as CSD,” concludes Reeves.

Extensive flexibility for greater product variety

Refreshed designs within a diversified, premium portfolio are answering the needs of a niche market, which is why Bickford’s is targeting small batch production – an approach entirely supported by the Sidel low-speed aseptic line. To install the new set of equipment, Bickford’s reorganized the production set-up and raw material localization – for instance, by removing two out of three hot-fill lines they had, they gained empty floor space to be dedicated to the new complete line. The challenge for Sidel’s team was to complete the installation without disrupting the production routines, while also securing the very high hygienic requirements needed in aseptic production.

The new versatile PET line, set-up at the Adelaide plant, includes Tetra Pak Processing Systems technologies, guaranteeing full product safety and maximizing uptime starting from the process step. Additionally, the Aseptic Combi Predis is completed by the Capdis system for dry cap decontamination. At the same time, the CSD Combi features the compact and hygienic BlendFILL configuration, combining carbonator and filler in a single system for reduced consumption of CO2. Gebo OptiDry, a fully washable, stainless steel drying system with proven efficiency of over 99%, is integrated. As part of the line, the customer also opted for Sidel’s proven Roll Adhesive labeler, ensuring high stability and precision in the process, plus a sleever intended to handle PSL.

Bickford’s hyper-flexible line manages both aseptic and regular PET packaging on two different Combis, thus dealing with products featuring two various bottlenecks, namely 28 millimeters for CSD and 38 millimeters for the aseptically-bottled products. They chose to use one single End-of-Line (EOL) solution to optimize the TCO while leading to maximized uptime, as changeovers are very easy. This EOL includes a VersaWrap wrap-around case packer and a PalAccess palletizer. Both pieces of equipment are designed with multi-format versatility and fast and simple format changeovers in mind, therefore perfectly suiting Bickford’s needs.

The line is now running at 12,000 bottles every hour (bph) for the aseptically filled drinks and up to 18,000 bph for the CSD products, with greater efficiency than the one committed on the purchasing agreement, thus contributing to a production capacity reaching approximately 60 million bottles per year.

Safe and cost-effective 24/7 solution

“It is important to note that this fantastic opportunity to switch from one product to another is not compromising the sterility of our production, rather the opposite. The PET aseptic line in our factory runs ten hours per day, and Sidel managed to keep the product in the filler under complete food safety conditions between the last shift of the day and the first one the day after, meaning for more than twelve hours,” highlights George Kotses, operations manager at Bickford’s.

“By shifting from hot-fill to aseptic PET applications, we are benefitting from an optimized TCO. Namely, the Combi Predis offers a very competitive cost-efficiency ratio and a great environmental footprint because it does not consume any water and uses only very few chemicals. The solution allowed us to reduce the bottle’s weight drastically,” he continues. Lastly, the reduced need for cleaning in place (CIP) lowers maintenance costs.

Bickford’s first sellable product from the new line was introduced to the market in the summer of 2019. As a final point in this successful journey, the treasured brand celebrated the opening ceremony for the line commissioning in September in the presence of Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, and premier of South Australia, Steven Marshall.

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