More Japanese milk manufacturers are switching to cartons with plastic caps amid the coronavirus pandemic as a way to reduce possible infection as consumers no longer need come into contact with the pouring surface when they open the container.

Supplied photo shows Meiji Holdings Co.'s "Meiji Oishii Gyunyu." (Photo courtesy of the company)(Kyodo)

Megmilk Snow Brand Co. and Meiji Holdings Co. are among major Japanese beverage makers that are moving over to 900-milliliter cartons with screw caps, with the move coming at a time when many manufacturers are in the process of upgrading their equipment.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, spreads through small droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, according to the World Health Organization.

These droplets can land and stay on objects, infecting people who touch them and then go on to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Megmilk Snow Brand launched its "Tokuno" rich milk, sealed with a plastic cap, on Sept. 8, after adopting caps for its other brands such as "Mainichi Honebuto MBP" and "Accadi Onakani Yasashiku" from April.

Meiji Holdings has also replaced the old carton for its "Meiji Oishii Gyunyu" brand with a screw-cap version.

The new cartons have been welcomed by the elderly, who are said to be more vulnerable to the virus and who are also the main buyers of milk, according to Nippon Paper Industries Co., a paper and pulp manufacturer and supplier of carton-making machines.

Some consumers regard the switch as an effective price hike, however, as milk has previously been sold in 1,000-ml cartons. A Megmilk spokeswoman said the content was reduced to keep the price unchanged despite value added to the products by adopting caps.

The new package pursued the added values of "both deliciousness and functionality, such as cleanliness and easiness to pour," she said.

Nippon Paper Industries expects sales of carton-making machines that can adapt to the screw-cap design to increase by half from a year earlier in the fiscal year ending March 2021 and reach 10 billion yen ($95.3 million) in five years.

While most cartons sold overseas have plastic caps, about 90 percent of paper cartons for drinks in the Japanese market currently do not, according to the paper manufacturer.

Japanese drink makers kept using machines for old-type cartons, as their capital spending dwindled following the collapse of the asset-inflated bubble economy in the 1990s.

"Cutting costs had been more important than usability," a company official said, adding that the old folding type will be gradually replaced with those with plastic caps.

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