Absolut Paper – Not Just an Idea on Paper

Niclas Appelquist is The Absolut Company’s Future of Packaging Director. His job is to find the perfect packaging for each specific purpose. The key ingredients? Sustainability, consumer delight and conviviality.

So far, the most up-to-date and visible of Niclas’ and his team’s work is the recent roll-out of the Absolut Paper prototype bottles – an addition to the company’s packaging catalog and a first step in Absolut’s journey towards a fully bio-based packaging alternative. 

“We’re very excited, but we still have a few things to figure out before it can be seen in bars or stores. First, we need to know if our consumers are on board”, says Niclas Appelquist.

A new approach to sustainable packaging

The Absolut Paper bottle prototype is the first physical output from The Absolut Company’s Future of Packaging program. An important aspect with the program is to make sustainability part of the foundation in all packaging development. Another key aspect is the collaboration with external partners in innovation and packaging development.

In the development of the Absolut Paper bottle, The Absolut Company has teamed up with Paboco (Paper Bottle Company) and a community of three other large companies with a focus on the future of packaging – Coca Cola, L’Oreal and Carlsberg. The idea behind this collaboration is that it creates a better environment for innovation; it improves the project’s financial stability, generates more reliable and diverse consumer insights, and substantially increases the potential to transform recycling systems to suit the final product.

“With our Future of Packaging program our packaging development is guided by three principles – sustainability, consumer delight and conviviality. It’s important to make sure that all of these are part of the picture. Because if you remove, say, consumer delight you risk ending up with a product that no one will buy.”

To guarantee consumer delight, The Absolut Company uses the concept of TLO – “test, learn and optimize” – in its packaging development. In short, this means that development is done in iterations, releasing early prototypes at several stages in development that are tested with consumers and optimized along the way. This way, the team gets regular feedback throughout the process making sure that the packaging will suit its intended purpose.

“We sometimes call it purposeful packaging. It’s a change of mindset around packaging for us and a big part of it relates to consumer interaction – before, during and after use”, says Niclas Appelquist.

A journey that has just begun

According to Niclas Appelquist, there are several reasons why a paper-based bottle is the first new addition to Absolut’s packaging mix. “First of all, paper is a widely used packaging material that people are familiar with. Secondly, it’s bio-based and comes from a renewable resource. Last but not least, it’s a material that consumers know how to recycle through already established systems.”

The initial batch of 2.000 prototype paper bottles will be tested with consumers during winter 2020-2021 to assess both functionality and how consumers respond to the new design and material. And although it’s still early in development, the vision for the paper bottle is clear – to make it fully bio-based and recyclable. 

“We’re still in the early stages, but our goal is to make this bottle completely bio-based. This first prototype has a thin plastic coating on the inside, like in all paper bottles or cartons for food and beverages. It’s what keeps the paper dry and prevents it from dissolving. Long-term however, we want to get rid of plastics so we’re already exploring biobased alternatives. In parallel, we have the iterative TLO process that makes sure we meet consumers with the best possible solutions.”

A second pilot production run of Absolut Paper prototypes is planned for Spring 2021.