When PepsiCo announced its ambitious plans to ensure all of its packaging material would be recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable by 2025, it was clear that a lot of changes would be coming. Its product lines, especially its familiar beverage and snack options, rely heavily and nearly universally on packaging that features substantial amounts of plastic. How could consumers get their bottled water, if not in a bottle?
At the moment, the answer involves several options. One of them will be pretty familiar to Pepsi’s existing consumers: Put more things in cans. That is, consumers have long been accustomed to drinking carbonated soft drinks out of cans. Similarly, Pepsi is putting its carbonated, flavored water bubly into cans, with the promise that it will never appear in plastic bottles. It also is moving Aquafina toward aluminum can containers, rather than the familiar clear plastic bottles that have been the most common packaging.
For its LIFEWTR brand, Pepsi instead is experimenting with a completely recycled and recyclable type of plastic, called polyethylene terephthalate. While still officially a plastic container, this version avoids releasing the microplastics that research now indicates may be responsible for much of the environmental and oceanic degradation associated with our vast use of plastics.
The different solutions also reflect the varied branding methods that Pepsi applies to each brand. For example, bubly aims to be something different and distinct, by “shaking up” the sparkling water category. Packaging the fizzy, fun beverage in cans gives a nearly unavoidable link in customers’ minds with the idea of being shaken up, in a different context but with a clear cognitive link. For LIFEWTR, the brand image seeks to be inspirational, so using recycled plastics in the packaging gives a nod to the ways in which consumers can be inspired to do the right thing for the environment.
Whether these moves are sufficient remains a debate. Some scientists note the issues involved in the production and disposal of aluminum cans too, for example. They assert that the best option is still to drink tap water from a container that the consumer reuses over and over. But that option isn’t the best one for a company determined to sell beverages. Accordingly, Pepsi is betting that by vastly reducing the amount of virgin plastic it uses, it can help consumers feel better about its drinks and thus encourage them to keep buying.
1. Can you think of any other packaging options that might be effective for Pepsi’s beverages? How would you assign them, based on various brand images?
2. Is Pepsi likely to reach its ambitious packaging goals by 2025? Why or why not?
Source: Chris Wack, “PepsiCo to Make Packaging Changes for Beverages,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2019; Ewan Palmer, “PepsiCo to Sell Water in Aluminum Cans Under Plans to Reduce 8,000 Tons of Virgin Plastic Use,” Newsweek, July 1, 2019; Jonathan Shieber, “Pepsi Is Going to Start Putting Its Aquafina Water in Aluminum Cans,” TechCrunch, June 27, 2019