THE CLEAR CHOICE

In the juice aisle, one thing is perfectly clear: Plastic and glass containers sell better than other packaging types.According to retailers, consumers prefer plastic and glass packaging over cans and aseptic boxes because they allow them to see the contents while connoting a fresher taste and appearance, especially with popular items like apple and cranberry juices."As a whole, in the juice category,

In the juice aisle, one thing is perfectly clear: Plastic and glass containers sell better than other packaging types.

According to retailers, consumers prefer plastic and glass packaging over cans and aseptic boxes because they allow them to see the contents while connoting a fresher taste and appearance, especially with popular items like apple and cranberry juices.

"As a whole, in the juice category, glass or plastic are definitely the stronger packages," said Michael Ludlow, category adviser at Fleming Cos.' Portland, Ore. Division.

"We're seeing a growth in plastic bottles. We find they are a little more consumer-friendly and are easier to handle and easier to pour," he said. "Our sales in cans are dwindling. There are still a lot of cans out there in items like tomato juice and pineapple juice. But they are also starting to move more in plastic and glass bottles."

Pat Redmond, grocery buyer at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash., said his chain recently reset its juice aisle, reducing the number of cans it stocks.

"We're down to just absolutely a minimum -- maybe 4 feet at most -- of items like pineapple juice and tomato juice, which only come in cans," he told SN.

"We're probably 80% to 85% plastic bottles in our stores. There is just very little glass left. Of those glass containers that we still have, we have been informed by the manufacturers that most of them are changing. All of the sport drinks come in plastics now, so I guess that is the way it is going to be. However, most single-serve drinks are still packaged in glass," he said.

"In the juice aisle we find more of the growth is coming from bottles," said Larry Mink, head merchandiser at 16-unit E.W. James & Sons, Union City, Tenn.

"Consumers like the bottles because they can see what they are getting," he said.

Gary Price, vice president of merchandising at Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, said glass is the preferred packaging type among his shoppers. However, cans sell well in some items and are also popular among lower-income shoppers, partly because some canned items are included in the WIC program.

"When we have a big display of [glass] bottles, they always sell well. I think glass is more popular with our consumers because it recycles more easily than plastic. I also think the consumer finds the product tastes better when packaged in glass or plastic than in a can," he said.

"It looks like more of the manufacturers are going to glass and plastic bottles from cans, and I think their sales results have a lot to do with that," Price added.

It appears the jury is still out when it comes to the acceptance of the aseptic juice boxes.

"The flavor blends seem to be doing better and the kids' drinks in the aseptic packages are a growing market," said Ludlow of Fleming.

But Mink of E.W. James & Sons said, "In our market, the juice boxes are very slow. We have reduced the facings that we carry as a result."

"We have a lot of juice boxes because we're close to the Canadian border," said Redmond of Rosauers. "They originated in Europe, went to Canada and then through to the U.S., but we just have not seen real good response to them, and I don't know why. They offer a convenient package," he said.

"But as the manufacturers start eliminating other forms of packaging, we don't have much of a choice except to carry them. Maybe that is what it will take for our customers to see them as acceptable," Redmond said.

Retailers use a variety of means to merchandise the category, often varying techniques according to individual store layouts and regions.

"Our stores have flexibility and are able to merchandise on a regional basis," said Ruth Kinzey, corporate communications manager at Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C.

"Consequently, some locations may merchandise shelf-stable juices in more than one location within the store. This also means that the other items merchandised in the shelf-stable juice aisle may vary from store to store. However, Kool-Aid and other similar drink mixes are frequently located in this aisle," she said.

"In our stores, we merchandise the juices by packaging types, first by the cans and then by the bottles and jars," said Mink of E.W. James & Sons.

Peter Jost, head buyer for grocery at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said his chain expects to implement category management of the aisle in the future.

"Once we get some systems in place that we need to here, we will definitely be looking to the category marketers to help us with our merchandising," he said, adding that in his stores juices are merchandised in the same aisle as breakfast foods.

In most regions, apple juice reigns supreme as the most popular juice.

"We carry several different brands of apple juice. It is always our biggest shelf-stable juice seller. We have a half-gallon bottle of private label for only $1.50, which sells well," said Price of Minyard, adding that cranberry juice is also a big seller.

According to figures provided by Beverage Marketing Corp. of New York, a beverage industry consulting firm, apple juice is by far the leading 100% juice product, encompassing 43.8% of all 100% juice sales. In 1995, unit sales of apple juice grew 2.7% to 230.1 million gallons, up from 224.1 million gallons in 1994.