For centuries, people all over the world have been drinking fruit juice. Today, it is available in both frozen concentrate and liquid form and packaged in a variety of ways, including bottles, cans, and—most recently—boxes. A juice box is an individual-sized container that usually holds 4-32 oz (118-946 ml) of juice and generally comes with an attached straw that can be removed and inserted for drinking. A juice box is considered an aseptic container, meaning it is manufactured and filled under sterile conditions and requires no refrigeration or preservatives to remain germ-free. Along with its portability and convenience, the juice box has gained widespread popularity due to the brick-shaped container's composition of unbreakable materials and tight seal.
The aseptic container was invented in the 1960s by a Swedish man named Ruben Rausing. In 1963, Rausing was trying to figure out a more efficient method to get milk to the market. He needed a container that was smaller and less cumbersome than the metal canisters being used. Rausing developed a precursor to the juice box: a brick-shaped box he named the Tetra Brik. Because of their rectangular shape, Tetra Briks, when stacked on top of each other, took up half the space of the old containers. Five years later, Rausing made an even bigger breakthrough when he figured out how to fill the Tetra Briks under completely sterile, or aseptic, conditions.
Once the juice box was introduced to the United States in 1980, competitors began entering the market at a rapid rate. These companies began implementing all sorts of ideas to gain larger shares of the market, including filling the juice boxes with a variety of different flavors, adding vitamins and other nutrients, and making packaging changes to widen the juice box's appeal. By 1986, juice boxes made up approximately 20% of the United States juice market.
When juice boxes first entered the market, they were often filled with diluted juice drinks rather than real fruit juice. However, realizing that Americans were becoming more health conscious, the juice box industry responded by filling the boxes with healthier beverages. A number of companies added vitamins, such as A and C. In the early 1990s, Minute Maid became the first company to add calcium to its juice boxes. Other companies soon followed.
Despite their growing popularity, not everyone had positive things to say about juice boxes. Environmental groups were worried about the effect that juice boxes and other aseptic containers could have on the environment. Specifically, these groups were afraid that aseptic containers would fill the nation's landfills because they are not as easy to recycle as other types of packages. The state of Maine even went so far as to ban the sale aseptic containers. This ban was later repealed, but other states have considered adopting similar legislation.
In response to this opposition, the Aseptic Packaging Council (APC), a trade association that represents the major United States manufacturers of aseptic packages, was formed in 1989. Their primary mission was to inform the American public about the product benefits and environmental attributes of aseptic packaging. Since its inception, the APC as been working closely with communities nationwide to encourage the inclusion of juice boxes in recycling programs. These efforts have already proven successful in some communities. In addition to recycling efforts, juice box manufacturers argue that aseptic containers are actually friendlier to the environment than other types of containers. For one, they take up less room on trucks when being transported from factory to store, thus conserving energy by requiring fewer trips and using less fuel. The aseptic filling process itself also requires less energy than traditional canning and bottling methods. The manufacturers also point out that packaging makes up only 4% of the weight of a filled aseptic container in contrast to filled glass bottles, which are typically 30-40% packaging. This leaves less packaging to dispose of when dealing with an aseptic container.
In the late 1990s, attitudes about the environmental friendliness of the aseptic package began to change. In 1996, the aseptic carton won the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, and the aseptic packaging industry was recognized for demonstrating environmental responsibility throughout the product life cycle. In 2001, this increased acceptance by environmental activists, combined with the industry's efforts toward incorporating new and innovative marketing ideas, continues to make the juice box the driving force behind the juice industry.
Juice boxes are typically made up of six layers of paper (24%), polyethylene (70%), and aluminum foil (6%). The paper provides stiffness and strength and gives the package its brick shape. Polyethylene serves two purposes. On the inner most layer, it forms the seal that makes the package liquid tight. On the exterior, it provides a protective coating that keeps the package dry and provides a printing surface for nutritional and marketing information. The aluminum foil forms a barrier against light and oxygen, eliminating the need for refrigeration or preservatives to prevent spoilage. The straws are made of plastic and wrapped in cellophone. Multipacks contain six or more juice boxes, and are often wrapped in a cardboard sleeve that displays the name of the product and other specifications, then shrink-wrapped in plastic.
Although they are available in a variety of sizes, virtually all juice boxes have the same basic design features. Each of these features was designed to serve a specific purpose. First, the rectangular, brick-shaped design was chosen for its convenience, particularly during transport. Second, the materials from which juice boxes are made were selected to keep the beverages inside safe and fresh.
The third basic design feature is the drinking mechanism. This can be either a straw affixed to the side of the package that can be removed and inserted into a preformed hole in the top, or a pull tab incorporated into the top of the package that may or may not be resealable. The type of drinking mechanism used depends on the size of the juice box and/or who will be using it. For example, juice boxes designed for small children often use a straw, while boxes with more adult appeal may use a pull tab. Boxes that contain more than one serving would typically use a resealable tab.
The aseptic packaging process is considered a major breakthrough in the beverage industry. During the process, the juice is sterilized outside the package using an extremely high temperature (195-285°F [91-1410°C]) and then cooled before being poured into the specially designed pre-sterilized juice box. This sterilization process is called flash heating and cooling because it is accomplished within a very short amount of time, usually three to 15 seconds, substantially reducing energy use and nutrient loss associated with conventional sterilization. This process is so revolutionary that it has won an award for innovation from the Institute of Food Technologies.
Creating the carton blanks
- 1 The juice box itself is made UP of six layers of papers, polyethylene, and aluminium foil. First the raw paper, which is rolled on a mother roll, is printed with the appropriate marketing and nutritional information. Then the layers of polyethylene and aluminum are added. The layers are bonded together using special extrusion-lamination equipment.
- 2 Next, automated, high-speed machines crease and cut out several carton blanks, or sleeves, from the roll. The sleeves are now ready to be formed into cartons, sterilized, and filled in specially designed filling machines. This filling is generally performed at another location, separate from the plant that created the sleeves.
Sterilizing and filling the juice boxes
- 3 A programmable logic controller (PLC) monitors and controls the filling machine that is run by an operator. First, the pre-formed sleeves are loaded into a magazine directly from the shipping box. The sleeves are then extracted individually by suction, shaped into a rectangle, and slid onto a mandrel.
- 4 The inner layer of the sleeve, which is made of polyethylene, is thermally activated by convection heating.
- 5 As the mandrel wheel transports the sleeves to a pressing station, the sleeves are folded for bottom sealing. Then the sleeve bottoms are formed and sealed, creating a carton base with the top still open. The cartons are then transferred from the mandrel to the pocket chain where the tops are pre-folded.
- 6 Once the tops are pre-folded, the cartons enter the aseptic zone, where fresh air is sterilized by filters. Once in the aseptic zone, the cartons are sterilized with hydrogen peroxide vapor. Using compressed air, liquid hydrogen peroxide is forced through a nozzle into a heater where it is vaporized before being injected into the cartons. Sterile air is heated and blown into the cartons repeatedly to dry out the hydrogen peroxide, while a fan extracts vapors from the aseptic zone.
- 7 Once the cartons are sterilized, they are filled with the pre-sterilized product. Any foam that is produced during filling is extracted from cartons as necessary.
- 8 The tops of the filled cartons are folded and sealed ultrasonically above the product level. The ears are convection heated and folded down against the side panels. The finished cartons are then discharged from the filling machine on a conveyor belt.
- 9 The next step is to add the drinking mechanism. The most common mechanism is a straw, although some companies offer alternative methods such as pull tabs. If a straw is used, it is wrapped in plastic and glued to the side of the box with a temporary adhesive that will allow the straw to later be pulled off the box, unwrapped, and inserted into a hole punched in the top of the box. The straw hole is created via laser cutting. If a pull tab is used it is added to the top of the box, also using a laser cutting process for the opening. This completes the creation of an individual juice box.
- 10 Often, several juice boxes are pack-aged together to form multipacks. The individual boxes are wrapped in a cardboard sleeve with nutritional and other information printed on it, then shrink-wrapped in plastic for shipping.
To ensure quality and safety standards are met, a PLC monitors and controls the operation of the filling machine during the sterilization of the liquid and the filling of the juice boxes. This controller is run by an operator from a console that complies with all United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reporting requirements. Hundreds of manual and automatic quality checks are preformed before, during, and after the sterilization and filling processes to ensure that the temperature of the liquid and speed of the process remain in the proper range; that the sterility, nutritional content, and flavor of the beverage is never compromised; that the boxes themselves remain intact with no leaks; and that the drinking mechanisms are properly attached.
Despite early skepticism from environmentalists, juice boxes and the aseptic packaging process used to fill them have proven to be highly environmentally friendly, resulting in much less waste and energy use than traditional beverage packaging methods.
Also, because of their light weight and unique brick shape design, juice boxes help save energy by taking up less space during transport than bottles or cans. In addition, aseptic packages do not require refrigeration during transport or storage, which also reduces energy use. During the aseptic filling process, the time and temperature are carefully monitored to ensure maximum energy efficiency without compromising the integrity of the product.
Recycling of used juice boxes helps reduce waste as well. In the 1990s there was an increase in the number of communities including juice boxes as part of their curbside recycling programs. Through a process called hydrapulping, the paper is separated from the polyethylene and ground into pulp to be used to produce other paper products.
In the 1990s, sales of single-serve beverages such as juice boxes experienced record growth, and experts expected such growth to continue into the twenty-first century. Factors contributing to this growth include expansion of international operations by industry leaders such as Coca-Cola, Tropicana, and Pepsi-Cola; continued implementation of new flavors and marketing ideas to appeal to wider market segments; and new venues for selling the product such as health clubs and bike shops.
One factor that may hurt the juice industry is the fact that in 2001 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended a reduction in juice consumption by children, explaining that drinking too much juice can lead to obesity and other health problems. It remains to be seen whether this recommendation will offset the many benefits that parents have experienced with juice boxes so far and the innovative ideas yet to be implemented by the juice box industry.
Where to Learn More
Kelly, Kristine Porney. "Bountiful Growth for Juices, Juice Drinks." Beverage Industry 86, no. 9 (September 1995): 10.
Kulma, Linda. "Junking the Juice Box Habit." U.S. News and World Report 130, no. 20(21 May 2001): 71.
Skenazy, Lenore. "Juice Boxes, Practical, Convenient, Fun." Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service (3 November 1998): K7326.
Aseptic Packaging Council Web Page. <http://www.aseptic.org>.
Combibloc, Inc. Web Page. <http://www.combi-blocks.com>.