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New bottles carry drinks with a twist

Take a plastic bottle, cinch it in the middle and dip it in tie-dye, and you'll have the new ergonomic beverage bottle.

In the past few years, scientists have developed these slimmer, curvier bottles because they're easier to grip and more fun to look at. At places like Quaker Oats, Dannon and Nestle, the efforts have meant bottom-line success.

But is bottle-making really a science? Gatorade says yes. Over a two-year period, Quaker Oats, the manufacturer of Gatorade, tested 219 subjects in eight cities. Researchers made plaster casts of hands, videotaped people drinking, and measured average gulp sizes and mouth lengths.

The result was the Ergonomically Designed Gatorade Experience, or the EDGE bottle. Since its release last January, the taller, more tapered bottle has boosted Gatorade sales as much as 25 percent, says Marie Devlin, Gatorade's marketing manager.

With more companies jumping on the ergonomic bandwagon, Gatorade is not the only brand devoting lots of time to drink bottles. This spring, PepsiCo introduced a new Lipton Iced Tea bottle. And this summer, Snapple came out with its Elements line to compete with SoBe's tall glass bottle.

"There's a lot of competition out there," said Joe Malone, Nestle sales representative. "These days everything can be gripped and put in cup holders."

The beverage market in general is pretty cutthroat too. Although the Market Research Center estimates the U.S. non-alcoholic beverage market is $160 billion, chugging liquid is a limited market. An average person drinks only eight to 10 cups of fluid per day.

This stiff competition means beverage companies must target their largest demographic. For ergonomic bottle-makers, this equals kids.

According to Business Week magazine, Generation Y controls $60 billion in spending power. These 77.6 million Americans born from 1979 to 1994 appreciate bottles that can be grabbed and gulped on the run.

Gatorade investigated the importance of young buyers during its EDGE research. Scientists discovered teens could drink 31.2 ounces of Gatorade per minute. They also found that half of athletes prefer squeezing fluid out of bottles rather than guzzling it straight.

Fruit drinks and sports drinks aren't the only beverages that come in ergonomic bottles. In the hopes of luring more kids, Dannon has launched the hourglass-shaped Frusion bottle. Touted as the first prepackaged yogurt smoothie, the new Frusion drink comes in a curvy and colorful container. The resealable cap also allows the normally fickle dairy product to stay in the fridge longer.

Dannon spokewoman Anna Moses says this bottle was designed to appeal to young people.

"The college market is very important to us," said Moses. "Frusion is positioned as a morning food, and the new bottle is perfect for kids rushing off to class."

At Nestle, ergonomic dairy bottles are used for NesQuik flavored milk. Like Dannon, the youth-friendly yellow Nesquik bottle can be capped for resealing.

Malone said revenue has increased as much as 135 percent thanks to the new package.

"Milk in a paper carton is so passe," Malone said. "It's square; it's not cool. The bottle allows easier chugging and can be sold in vending machines."

Malone claims the most successful demographic for the bottle has been males aged 18 to 34. The drink began vending machine distribution in Virginia this month.

"We're definitely targeting college kids, especially men," he added. "A lot of them are looking for alternatives to sports drinks."

While some bottle-makers insist on their commitment to college students, at the University ergonomics are not the only criteria for beverage success. Head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba is wary of any kind of bottle, ergonomic or otherwise.

"One hundred football players can't have 100 bottles," Saliba said. "Kids might use squeeze bottles when they work out, but during games and practices, things are very time regimented. We don't want athletes drinking from each other's bottles and getting sick."

When athletes do use bottles, Saliba said ergonomics are not that critical.

"We get conventionally designed bottles," he said. "It really doesn't matter if they're ergonomic or not."

Varsity wrestler Andy DeMartino was similarly skeptical about the new bottles.

"When I buy the EDGE, I always end up unscrewing the top so I can get more of the Gatorade faster," DeMartino said. "The top is comfortable when one is sipping Gatorade, but when I'm working out, I will generally not be doing much sipping"