Bags vs. Bottles

Aug. 15, 2007
Weighing consumer and environmental benefits of water cooler dispenser systems

About the author: Caitlin Cunningham is associate editor for Water Quality Products. She can be reached at 847.391.1025, or by e-mail at [email protected].

Out with the bottles and in with the bags. Well, not quite. But the option of dispensing drinking water through recyclable barrier bags is now a reality for water cooler bottlers, distributors and customers worldwide.

The Bag System

St. Louis-based International Packaging Innovations, LLC (IPI) has developed a water cooler bag system that aims to provide a more user-friendly, cost-efficient and environmentally responsible alternative to bottles. Nine patents are secured and others are pending on the firm’s Purelock technology, which allows for 3-gal bags of water to be dispensed directly through existing coolers with the help of a one-size- fits-most converter.

IPI representatives said their company’s new system virtually eliminates drinking water’s exposure to air and bacteria and that a single-use Purelock bag weighs an average of 19 lb less than a traditional 5-gal dispenser. The creators also emphasized that with a bag system like Purelock’s, consumers would no longer need to make deposits, continually purchase new bottles or wash out old ones with a cleaning solution because both its inner and outer bags are 100% recyclable after use.

How It Works

Purelock filling equipment produces water cooler bags using 100% recyclable polyethylene film rolls. Each roll takes up about as much space in a plant as roughly four 5-gal bottles but is capable of producing about 3,000 bags, making bag systems potential space- and money-savers.

“The filling machinery has the capability to produce up to 780 bags per hour,” said IPI Vice President of Sales and Marketing Alex Reby, “and the dimensions are small enough that a bottler can have both bagging and bottling machines under the same roof.”

A bag system may positively impact companies’ delivery times and costs as well. “A bottler or distributor can fit almost twice as much water on a truck with the bag than with the bottle due to the dimensions of the product,” said Reby.

Upon delivery, a customer removes the Purelock system’s outer protective barrier bag and drops the inner bag into a converter that sits atop the water cooler. The converter’s “spike system” penetrates the bag, creating an airtight seal and allowing water—or any other noncarbonated beverage that might fill the bag—to dispense directly into the cooler’s well. The Purelock bag collapses as its contents flow outward.

Testing Consumer Appeal

In July 2006, IPI contracted with Delve Marketing to conduct two consumer focus groups centered on the Purelock product. Delve preselected participants based on only two criteria: they served as office managers and worked in an office with a water cooler. Those chosen entered a room containing several coolers and 5-gal bottles in Delve’s Des Peres, Mo., office. The Purelock product was covered, not yet visible at the time of participants’ arrival.

The focus group facilitator, an employee from an outside marketing firm, opened with a discussion by asking participants to share their office water cooler bottle likes and dislikes. Following this 30-minute session, the facilitator unveiled the Purelock bag and converter, introducing the combination as an alternative to traditional water cooler bottles but not explaining much else about it.

Focus group members tested the bagged product and discussed its strengths and weaknesses. Each person filled out two ratings forms evaluating the system on a scale of one to five—one being the least favorable and five the most—in various categories. Respondents’ average scores for the 5-gal bottle and 3-gal bag are summarized by category in Figure 1.

Nearly 80% of focus group participants agreed they would likely switch to a bagged system once it became available to the public.

The Future of Water Cooler Storage

IPI is currently solidifying distribution agreements with various bottlers across the country.

“We know that we will never replace the bottle,” Reby said, adding that water cooler storage methods come down to a matter of personal preference. He sees the introduction of IPI’s innovation as a process comparable to that which soft drink providers experienced when they transitioned from bottles to cans. “It’s the same product, different package that ultimately has made for a more efficient distribution method,” Reby said.

Author’s Note: Product information provided by IPI. For additional details, please visit or contact IPI Vice President of Sales and Marketing Alex Reby. He can be reached at 314.292.6902.

About the Author

Caitlin Cunningham