Featured image for Bud Light's KeelClipTM Puts Form And Function On Par With Sustainability

Bud Light's KeelClipTM Puts Form And Function On Par With Sustainability

by Chloe Gordon on 02/09/2022 | 5 Minute Read

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Background: In the modern world, great design is about more than form and functionality. It’s also about sustainability. Given the risks posed to society by environmental issues such as climate change, plastic pollution, natural resource depletion and poor waste management, no individual or organization can design for today without considering tomorrow. 

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), the world's largest brewer and the business behind brands such as Budweiser, Becks, Corona and Leffe, fully understand this and its 2025 Sustainability Goals reflect that. 

Introduced in 2018, these goals are the company’s most ambitious public commitments to date. They aim to ensure a holistic environmental and social impact and to drive transformational change across the brewer’s entire value chain. 

One of the goals the business has set itself is to close the loop on its packaging waste. As part of this, AB InBev has stated it will continually look for ways to: 

• Increase the use of recycled materials in its packaging • Increase recycling rates around the world through the recovery and reuse of its packaging • Reduce the amount of material it uses in its packaging • Educate consumers on the importance of recycling. 

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Requirement: As the world’s largest brewer with well over 500 different global brands, AB InBev produces 530 million hectoliters of beer each year. This beer is packaged in a variety of recyclable and returnable formats such as glass bottles, aluminum cans and kegs, all of which are conducive to a circular economy. 

Historically, AB InBev has complemented some of these pack formats with additional plastic materials such as shrink film and plastic rings. Given that an alarming 91% of plastic is not currently recycled, AB InBev wanted to address this material use. It approached Graphic Packaging International for help in developing a more sustainable alternative for its multipack cans. 

Graphic Packaging proposed a solution that was made using 100% renewable fiber from sustainably managed forests and could be easily recycled post consumer use through existing and widespread consumer recycling channels. 

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Initially, we considered utilizing an existing food clip system but after preliminary ideation, it became apparent this would not provide our desired levels of pack integrity. 

To overcome this, our design and development team developed a minimal material solution where the tops of the cans are covered with paperboard complete with apertures to hold the can tops. A rigid paper keel further helps to secure the cans in place whilst providing additional structural strength. This innovative new solution is called KeelClipTM. 

Additional design considerations and benefits: Aside from giving AB InBev a more sustainable alternative to plastic rings, KeelClipTM addressed many other important design considerations: 

• KeelClipTM is designed to work with all can heights and diameters as well as multiple pack configurations. This is vital given the sheer breadth and variety of AB InBev’s product portfolio. • The top of the pack incorporates finger holes, making it easier for consumers to comfortably and safely carry. 

• An innovative ‘Flip and Pull’ mechanism allows consumers to flip the top of the pack and to quickly release the clip from the cans. They can then grab an individual can and remove it with equal ease. • When used with slim cans, KeelClipTM can incorporate a comfortable ‘Grip Zone’ to improve the consumer experience and maintain brand trust. 

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• Cans can be precisely orientated with KeelClipTM filling machinery, assuring that brand graphics are always facing the consumer, and allowing for a single larger graphic to be formed by multiple cans (billboarding), to maximize brand impact and differentiation of the package. The paperboard top of a KeelClipTM pack also offers a large and uninterrupted print area. Combined these factors ensure impressive visual impact and on-shelf differentiation at the point of purchase. 

• There is a small amount of adhesive used in each KeelClipTM and this is also full recyclable. • KeelClipTM is made from Graphic Packaging’s OmniKoteTM SUS (Solid Unbleached Sulfate) board. This 100% kraftboard benefits from high stiffness and tear properties, even in potentially moist environments such as retail refrigerators. It is PCFC approved and fully recyclable through consumer waste recycling chains, as well as produced at our carbon neutral paper mills. 

• Traditionally, multipack cans have required secondary packaging such as a shrink film and / or trays to secure them during transit. KeelClipTM allows packs to be directly palletized with no secondary packaging, further reducing packaging waste and increasing efficiency. • By fully covering the tops of the cans, KeelClipTM offers a more hygienic option compared to packs where the can tops and can openings are exposed. 

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• KeelClipTM is supplied flat allowing more packs to be transported to packers in fewer loads. This helps to reduce associated vehicle emissions and the product’s carbon footprint. 

Execution and delivery: Given the size of AB InBev’s operation it was important that KeelClipTM could be employed at scale and at speed. Using Graphic Packaging’s existing and proven MarksmanTM 1600 machine as a starting point, we developed the KeelClipTM 1600 high speed packaging system. 

Featuring a product orientation technology in each lane, an integrated turner divider rejection system and glue detection, this machinery is specifically designed to maximize KeelClip’s benefits. It is also incredibly robust featuring a heavy-duty tubular steel frame and corrosion resistant coatings and materials. In addition, it enables clear visibility for operators with sliding guard doors for easy walk-in access. 

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The KeelClipTM system was easily installed into AB InBev’s existing production facilities with very little interruption to its current operations. The roll-out initially commenced at the UK and Ireland plants operated by Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I. The system was introduced across three canning lines operating across two breweries and with a collective output of more than 4,000 cans a minute. 

AB InBev estimates that the move away from plastic rings and shrink film, in part facilitated by KeelClip, has helped the business to eliminate 850 tonnes of plastic waste - the equivalent weight of 67 double decker buses - each year. These figures are expected to grow significantly if KeelClipTM is implemented across a broader section of the AB InBev brand family. 

Bud Light and Becks were two of the brewer’s first brands to benefit from the KeelClipTM system with packs starting to appear on-shelf throughout 2020. The commercialization of the system has since continued with further canning lines coming on stream across the world in 2021. 

The marketability of the KeelClipTM system has also led to it being embraced by other key players in the beverage sector such as Coca-Cola.