Inside CI: Quality Counts

Glass is a material indicative of the finer things in life - a material indicative of quality.

On March 9, Miller Brewing Co. announced that it would begin packaging a large majority of its beer products in plastic bottles. Beer drinkers around the nation groaned at the news.

Sure, the plastic will allow the company to sell more of its product where glass containers are prohibited, such as stadiums, parks and beaches. And it may be a good alternative to plastic cups and aluminum cans. But for anyone who really enjoys the taste of beer, a glass bottle wins hands down. For me, it's just about the same with any beverage-give it to me in a plastic bottle, and I'll pour it in a glass. There's just something about glass that makes things taste better. It's a material indicative of the finer things in life-a material indicative of quality.

According to Joe Cattaneo, executive vice president of the Glass Packaging Institute, Miller's switch to plastic isn't anything new-it's been going on for at least two years, and the announcement is more than anything a marketing strategy. However, production and shipments of glass containers for beer products have not declined in the past two years. In fact, they've both continued to increase steadily. Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce show that shipments of glass containers for beer increased 21% between 1994 and 1999, with more than 5% of that growth occurring between 1997 and 1999 alone.

The announcement is cause for some concern, Cattaneo says, if only because it's a major glass bottle user touting certain advantages of plastic over glass. But "the plastic bottles will primarily be a stadium package, brought in to replace plastic cups," he says. And beer drinkers who appreciate quality will no doubt continue to demand glass bottles.

Glass and ceramics have always faced their share of challenges from alternative products. In some cases, the alternatives gain market share because they're less expensive, more easily attainable or more widely accepted in certain applications. But in any application where quality is at stake, ceramic and glass will continue to stand their ground.

As evidenced at some industry exhibitions and conferences, these materials are increasingly found on the cutting edge of technology; for example, one of the main topics of the upcoming American Ceramic Society (ACerS) annual meeting symposia is "Ceramics in Information Age Technologies and Systems." And at shows like Powder & Bulk Solids, which focuses on a wide range of materials and industries, ceramics and glass are increasingly stepping into the spotlight. (See pages 53-59 for previews of these two shows.)

So yes, Miller may be switching to plastic bottles. But when a situation calls for fine china, you can be certain there won't be any plastic on the table.

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