Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Economic Conundrum: Square vs. Round Containers

Q: Why does milk usually come in a square container, while most other liquids come in round containers (water, beer, soft drinks, etc.)?

Update: Thanks for all of the comments to this question, I agree with "ty b" who said:

A: "Milk requires expensive refrigeration, so the shippers and sellers want to maximize the use of refrigerated space. The square containers do that."

That is the answer I had in mind. Milk and cream require constant refrigeration from the time of processing and packaging, during shipping, and at the point of sale, and square containers maximize the use of refrigerated space. Water, beer and soft drinks don't need constant refrigeration, and so square packaging isn't an issue. Another example of square containers is the Tropicana varieties of pasteurized "Pure, Premium" orange juice, which would also require constant refrigeration.


At 10/03/2007 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Milk is supposed to fit conveniently in your refrigerator. It is rarely transported elsewhere, other liquids-- soda ,juice, water want to be taken to a picnic

At 10/03/2007 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so why can't square containers be conveniently taken to a picnic?

At 10/03/2007 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an udderly ridiculous question. Original milk containers are actually quite orb shaped.

At 10/03/2007 10:20 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/03/2007 10:21 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Square containers can be taken to the picnic, but they don't comfortable fit the hand. Single serving sized milk containers are often round, but the larger containers are square in order to conserve shelf space.

At 10/03/2007 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Motor oil always came in a can. You had to have a special punch and spout to pour the oil. In 1986-1987, a company name Pur-Pak invested tremendous time and resources into developing a "milk box" for motor oil. The idea was that it would use smaller boxes and take up less shelf space. Also, when opened, the box made and excellent pour spout.

It was right around this time that the idea for all plastic containers overwhelmed the market.

Having used the motor oil box, I remember it being much more convenient than the plastic bottles used today.

I know this has little to do with drinkable liquids, but it was still an interesting application of cartons.

At 10/03/2007 12:01 PM, Blogger Ty said...

Milk requires expensive refrigeration, so the shippers and sellers want to maximize the use of refrigerated space. The square containers do that.

Water doesn't require cold storage, so they can ship it in any shape they want.

Cans are round because they maximize the volume for the material required.

At 10/03/2007 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cans maximize space??? A round can is probably has the worst volume for space ratio. Cans and bottles of soft drink are round because of the internal pressure that must be constrained. A milk carton will simply expand on each side when the pressure is increased. The can is designed not to expand. The possible expansion is the reason for the bottom design in the can. Plastic and glass bottle are also designed to handle the pressure.

Can and bottle design have nothing to do with minimizing space.

At 10/03/2007 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't most milk come in plastic jugs? I remember milk containers going from glass bottles, to cardboard containers, to plastic jugs. I can't remember the last time I saw milk in any container other than a screw-top plastic jug with the little ring that falls in your cereal if you don't take it off. But, then again, I'm not the milk buyer in the family and far from an expert in that area.

At 10/03/2007 3:15 PM, Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

Doesn't most milk come in plastic jugs?

Gallon-sized are in plastic jugs, 1/2 gallon in plastic jugs and cartons. I'll have to look to make sure - we rarely buy milk by the 1/2 gallon.

The milk jugs are .. squared off.

At 10/03/2007 5:39 PM, Blogger james said...

As a producer of food products I can tell you that markets like square products compared to round because you can shelve more square items on a square shelve mathmaticly than you can round items.

At 10/03/2007 5:41 PM, Blogger james said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/03/2007 8:49 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Thanks for all of the answers and comments. Please see the original post for an update, and what I think is the correct answer.

At 4/02/2008 6:05 AM, Blogger Nam_Mard said...

I know I am a little late to this party, but due to the luxury of my job I get alot of responses to this question, and some themes do come up. And yes, I do eventually have problems with the orginal question.

First, is the need to get rid of some hurdles. Namely, the pressurized container illusion. While it is true that round containers are likely best for carbonated drinks, that still does not explain the proliferation of round containers for non-fizzy things like water, juice, sport drinks, etc. Another popular canard is the "vending theroy", this is either a logical extention of the "soda only" illiusion or can be explained by it is possible to create a vending machine for square objects. Last time I checked my snickers bar was not a tube.

Another popular red herring is the cost or fesabilty of a round paper milk carton. This leaves out the possiblity that non-fizzy drinks could just as easily be put into square paper ones (think juice boxes).

That all said, that leads to the "cost of refrigeration" awnser, yet I find this unfulfilling. I can see the logic strongly about the costs, yet one must recognize all space as a cost refigerated or not. Thus it would be most efficent for both refrigerated and non-refigerated goods to be stored in a square fashion.

A final thought in this. When milk is stored in bulk it is usally in round contaners. If it was hip to be square these bulk tanks would have the same shape I would think.

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