No more crying over spilt milk as carton era ends

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The Independent Online

Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Britain's two leading supermarket chains are to abandon the cardboard milk carton - a revolution in convenience packaging which most people have never quite found the knack of opening.

The flat-topped TetraPak cartons made their manufacturers, the Swedish- born Rausing brothers, a fortune and dealt a body blow to the glass bottle. But their propensity to leak, spill and shoot out milk in the most unexpected directions when they are opened has never endeared them to consumers.

From Monday they will disappear from Sainsbury's shelves. Tesco follows suit in September. For connoisseurs of consumer iconography, this weekend may be a good time to start collecting.

Sainsbury's dairy products director, Angela Megson, yesterday said customers had long complained about the messiness and spillages from cartons.

"Passions do run very high about them. Many people find them very difficult to open and I think the industry has perhaps been a little slow in producing alternatives," she said.

The cartons will be replaced by plastic "polybottles" and "improved" TetraTop cartons. These feature pull-up plugs, screw taps and tamper- proof soft caps which pour more accurately and can be resealed. The new cartons are thus more suited to today's designer drinkers, as opposed to the "gluggers" of a generation ago.

Although the milk carton appeared in the United States around 1915, it did not become widespread in Britain until the 1960s. Before then most milk was delivered by bottle - first seen in the 1880s and itself a revolutionary advance on the milk churn and jug.

The first cartons were opened by snipping off a corner. The TetraPak "winged" variety were seen as a major advance. They originated in Scandinavia and made Hans and Gad Rausing, who abandoned Sweden's tax regime to live in England, a fortune worth a reputed pounds 4bn.

The growth in supermarket milk has seen doorstep deliveries decline to less than half of milk sales. However, with TetraTop among the new generation of containers, the Rausings' empire is unlikely to suffer unduly.