Processing Magazine

Behind Coors'' color-changing beer cans

July 15, 2009
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Lyle Small annoyed his housemates by spending days on end painting their Ping-Pong table in rainbow shades of ink. He brewed chemicals to create inks that changed hue when exposed to light and heat. Two decades later his passion is paying dividends, according to Fortune Small Business. Small''s Colorado Springs company, Chromatic Technologies Inc., is booming while rivals in the ink industry are cutting back. Music distributors, foodmakers and the beer giant MillerCoors are using Small''s color-changing ink to make their packaging stand out. CTI landed 120 new customers in 2008. Small expects sales to double this year, to $10 million. Thanks to CTI''s ink, the mountains on Coors Light cans turn blue when the beer reaches optimal drinking temperature (roughly 43°-50°F). Coors already used color-changing ink on paper labels for bottles, but the brewer had struggled to find a contractor that could create the same effect on cans. MillerCoors signed a two-year contract to buy all of its ink for cans from CTI. The beer company will account for 40% of Small''s revenue this year. The deal took persistence. When CTI first approached Coors in 2001, Small couldn''t guarantee that the ink would work in high-volume production. Coors printed 20 million cans of Coors Light every day; any downtime would be costly. So Small arranged painstaking tests in canning factories in eight countries. Three years later he was ready to ink a deal. The brewer''s faith has paid off. Amid flat beer industry sales, Coors Light saw 3% growth this year. The color-changing artwork is prominently featured in the company''s TV ads. CTI also produces inks that glow in the dark, change color in the sun or transform when tilted in the light. For a recent sweepstakes, Dairy Queen used CTI''s ink on its Blizzard cups; when placed in sunlight the cups revealed whether they were winners. More recently CTI signed deals with Hite beer in Korea, Carlsberg beer in Hong Kong, Skol beer in Brazil and Pizza Hut in New Zealand and Mexico. This year''s mission: Expand international operations to 50% of the company''s business by tackling customers in India, Japan, Malaysia and Russia.