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Plastic beer bottles could be fantastic for brewer profits

By Michele Simpson

Friday 20th October 2000

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Brewers are getting excited about the invention of a plastic bottle for beer that keeps it fresh and fizzy.

Lion Nathan chief executive Gordon Cairns predicts beer drinkers will make the switch from glass and aluminium cans to plastic within the next five years.

In its annual results to August 31 out this week Lion Nathan took a $4 million hit from the weakening Kiwi and Australian dollars.

Lion Nathan said the cost of buying aluminium cans is set in US dollars so it has become more expensive for its Australian and New Zealand markets over the past 12 months.

Reverting to putting beer in steel cans is not an option as steel cannot be recycled and plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) has not been ideal because oxygen and carbon dioxide leak out and over time affect the flavour and fizziness of the beer.

Mr Cairns said the move to make beer bottles plastic would be widely supported especially for use in stadiums, parks and at the beach.

The new bottle is a PEN (polyethylene naphthalate) which gives beer a three-month shelf-life and can be reused.

Plastic beer bottles are seen by some brewers as a chance to increase market share. Carlton & United Brewers has dabbled in using the plastic bottle along with Heineken, Bass and Miller Brewing in the US.

Mr Cairns said the only problem facing brewers was waiting for the cost of the bottle to come down and then convincing drinkers the product tastes the same out of plastic as it does in glass or aluminium containers.

But whatever packaging beer comes in, Lion Nathan is bracing itself for a 2% decline in its beer sales in New Zealand in the next 12 months.

Lion bases the estimation on its 2% drop in turnover every year for the past decade.

"There is a trend where people are actually keeping fit and healthy. They don't want to walk around with a beer belly," Mr Cairns said.

This week Lion Nathan, which switched its head office from Auckland to Sydney this year, announced a $130.2 million net profit for the year.

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