It all started in the 1940s, with the search for a better way to package milk.
Something that could protect what was inside—and the people who drank it—by keeping it safe and stable, even when refrigeration wasn’t available. Something efficient, with a minimized impact on the environment.
“Doing something that nobody else had done before is actually quite hard.”
What we set out to do had never been done, and it took a decade of development to create the first paper-based package that could do what we had in mind. Even the way we planned to fill it (and keep it safe, healthy, and free of bacteria in the process) presented a puzzle that eventually became one of our hallmarks.
Our aseptic cartons were considered one of the most important food innovations of the 20th century.
It was an enormous challenge. But it’s how we created the first Tetra Pak carton package, the distinctive tetrahedron-shaped packaging that inspired our name with its simple, efficient design.
For over half a century, we’ve been creating carton packaging that can safely and sustainably hold liquid food—including milk, of course—to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of people every day.
Today, we’re able to get food to people everywhere, protecting them by protecting what’s inside, with only minimal impact on our environment.
At Tetra Pak, we protect what’s good.
We still abide by our founding philosophy, the idea that packaging should save more—food and resources—than it costs. It's a way of thought that matters even more today than when we started
out—and one which will matter even more tomorrow.
All over the world, people are hard at work in small ways on the things that matter to all of us most, from the environment around us to the food that fuels us.
They’re changing how we raise, consume, and think about food, how we care for ourselves and our resources, and they’re sharing the kind of ideas that will change our future for the better.
They’re doing it at the grassroots, quietly and without fanfare.
We’re sharing their stories.
At Groundwork, we’re giving them the attention they deserve: yours. We’re sharing their stories so you can, too.
It’s just one small way you can make an impact. Because when it comes to innovation, inspiration, and changing the world, sometimes one good idea, shared, is all it takes.
Spread the word.
Know someone who’s doing their part to change our world from the ground up?
When Dr. Ruben Rausing invented a new way to package milk, he probably didn’t realize he’d just changed the world.
It didn’t take long to figure out that these cartons were perfect for packaging more than milk. Today, airtight, shelf-stable Tetra Pak® cartons are used around the world to keep juice, water, soup, olive oil, nutritional shakes, vegetables, and more safe and sound.
Tetra Pak cartons use multiple layers of materials to ensure nothing gets in or out of the package. The cartons are made mostly of paperboard, with thin layers of plastic and aluminum working together to keep light, oxygen, and bacteria out, meaning no contamination and no preservatives needed. Ever.
By protecting the integrity of the product, the carton preserves both the taste of the food and all the essential nutrients stored inside.
In fact, Tetra Pak cartons have a better package-to-product ratio than an egg. By using just the right amount of material, Tetra Pak can ensure maximum product protection while using minimal resources.
Protecting our environment, our food sources, and our natural resources is an essential part of preserving our shared future. That’s why Tetra Pak is committed to using renewable materials—natural resources that replenish over time—and meeting environmentally friendly manufacturing standards.
100% of the paperboard in Tetra Pak cartons is Forest Stewardship Council Chain of Custody certified, meaning all of it can be traced back to responsibly managed forests.
And after they’ve been recycled, the cartons can be turned into tissue, paper products, and green building materials.
Good, but not the best.
Back in the day, if you wanted milk, you’d bring a container to a distributor and fill it from their keg or bucket. It worked, more or less, but it left a lot to be desired on the hygienic front.
In 1879, the first glass milk bottle was sold in the United States. It was a huge improvement, but because of milk’s short shelf life—and the inconvenience of hand washing the cumbersome bottles and returning them to the market to be refilled—the need for better packaging continued to grow.
Enter the first paper-based carton.
Ruben Rausing, a young Swedish man studying at Columbia University, was fascinated with American food packaging and “self-service” stores. Determined to find an alternative to the glass bottle, Rausing came up with the idea of creating a package that could store milk with minimum material and maximum hygiene.
What he developed was a paper-based tetrahedron-shaped carton—the first Tetra Pak® package.
The real challenge was airborne.
But there was one problem: the filling process. The flow had to be stopped and restarted for each package, allowing enough time for airborne bacteria to get in. This operational flaw ultimately stunted the shelf life of milk, so despite otherwise leak-proof packaging, milk couldn’t be stored for long, especially in hot climates.
“Like sausages at Christmas.”
According to Rausing, who was dead-set on being the first to produce a paper-based milk carton, the problem was solved over lunch with his wife, Elisabeth:
“Why don’t you fill the milk above the next package continuously, and then seal it off through the milk in the same way as we do when we make sausages at Christmas?”
What had just been discovered was a continuous filling method that would become a Tetra Pak trademark and one of the greatest food innovations of the 20th century.
With continuous filling, milk was filled through a machine from the top of each unit, and then sealed off below the liquid level. No unsterile air came in contact with the milk, which remained bacteria-free.
The brilliance of the Tetra Pak design depended on how it was filled. Here’s how the first filling machine worked.
Source: The first Tetra Pak film (1950s)
How do you top that?
The continuous filling method was a big step forward for the milk industry—but that wasn’t the end of the story.
Tetra Pak then did what other packaging failed to do: it extended the shelf-life of milk even further by combining continuous filling with aseptic technology.
This made it possible to distribute milk (and other liquid foods) to all corners of the world.
Today, Tetra Pak has 17 different types of filling machines to supply billions of people with safe food and beverage products worldwide, continuing the continuous filling legacy that Rausing began over 60 years ago.
And milk in glass bottles is pretty much a thing of the past.