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Canmakers shape up for a fight

Metal packaging can be perceived as “old fashioned”, something the makers hotly deny and they are fighting back with innovation and flair. Rod Abbott reports

The biggest problem facing heat-processed food can makers is one of public perception. Certainly, the young consider it to be old fashioned, especially when they compare it to its more modern plastics peers.

Marketing manager of Corus Packaging Plus, Roger Steens, speaking on behalf of material suppliers to the industry, reacts strongly to any suggestion that the can is old-fashioned.

“Pouch and laminated carton producers are very vocal on what they see as the benefits they bring to heat-processed food products. They pride themselves on being modern, convenient and environmentally superior. For years we have had to listen to visionaries that say there is no future for the can. They say we are a mature industry that produces old fashioned and boring packs. Enough! There is a growing awareness in our industry that we should not let poor imitations of the original food can get away with presenting themselves as the ‘new, improved’ alternative.

“Traditionally, we have spoken about the efficiency of our filling lines, running at 600 plus packs a minute. We speak about our extreme low failure ratio in can closure, excellent seam integrity and long shelf life. Impressive, but this is not about the facts.

“So how offensive and outspoken can we really be? Well, I think we have excellent credentials to bring about this change. Other pack formats show disturbingly high failure rates in closing. The can does not. They need additives to preserve food and do not offer a truly sustainable profile that satisfies today’s environmental issues.

“The can is the only pack format for heat-processed food that allows brands to keep their products natural whereas plastic pouches and cartons need antioxidants to keep the red of tomato soup red and chicken broth from going rancid.

“Is this enough? I don’t think so. Being quicker in the realisation of new steel packaging formats is essential. Exciting new steel grades and polymer-coated steels have already brought about new opportunities for the steel packaging industry. Convenience is now a necessity, consumers demand it and brands strive to deliver it. We need to work out what that means for the evolution of steel packaging for both existing and new generation steel packs.

“Finally, if we are going to tackle this perception of the can being dated, we need to take responsibility for how it looks. Brand enhancement through decorative developments for material – pack bodies, closures, labels and print – could go a long way to change how the steel can is perceived. Let’s help dress the can up for the brands of the future.

“Metal packaging has the best recycling rates in Europe and is committed to continuing this trend. It is too precious a material to waste and the increasing number of household collection schemes, as well as the efficient magnetic extraction of metal packaging from the waste stream means more going to make new cans.

“It is a consistently high performer in terms of sustainability criteria – waste, energy and CO2 emissions. The impact of metal packaging on total waste is just 0.1%. In other words 99.9% of total waste does not come from metal packaging. Energy usage has been halved over the last 20 years and CO2 emissions have been reduced by 65%.

“In the UK we achieved record recycling levels of 51% for steel packaging in 2005 and 57.3% in 2006. As the environmental credentials of goods, including their packaging, increasingly influence consumer purchasing, so sustainability has become the driving force in our industry”.

So, the processed can food makers certainly seem to be squaring up for a fight. So what are the industry’s representatives doing? Well, Canned Food UK and UPPIA initiatives are communicating to consumers the values of canned food. Apeal, the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging, has initiated a business-to-business communication campaign called “Trusted experience, value for the future” and EMPAC, European Metal Packaging, is mobilising all players in the metal packaging industry.

The heat-processed food can makers also appear to be climbing up a gear or two to hold onto market share. For example, canned food tonnage in the UK grew last year by just over 0.5%. In terms of value it was 2.5%, which is reasonable in a market where consumers may perceive the can as old-fashioned.

Steve Thomas, Marketing Manager, Crown Food Europe, is the current chairman of Canned Food UK. “Packer fillers are naturally anxious to give fresh life to a mature market through creative branding and above the line promotions,” he says. “They can do this in many ways with metal packaging including shaping, embossing, sophisticated printing technology and ease of openability.

“They also have to accept that, with the fast pattern of modern-day living and take up of convenience foods, packaging must meet the consumer half way. To date, the metal packaging industry has done this with the introduction of retortable food bowls and portable lunch box style single meals.”

As a consequence Crown has reintroduced the fluted Quantum can, which was adopted by Homepride in the early 90s, in a bid to give soup manufacturers greater shelf appeal. Similarly, another interesting shape – Waistline – was developed for products that meet certain diet criteria. The hourglass shaped food can enhances product differentiation and has been designed to run on existing machinery without changing filling or retort processes.

Crosse & Blackwell, one of Premier Foods’ leading canned food brands, launched seven new Waistline diet foods in the distinctive shaped cans to meet increasing demand for healthier foods. The three-piece cans feature easy-open Eole III ends and decorative shrink-wrapping that accentuates the distinctive waisted package shape.

Eole III and PeelSeam, Crown’s easy open can ends, have contributed much to simplifying safe openability, but there is still room for improvement, which Crown continues to address and develop.

“Innovative shapes are liked by all sectors of the food chain, including the packer fillers, but retail pressure on cost is hindering the development of improved functionality. Until the supermarkets release their grip on cost, the can maker is unable to produce shaped cans in sufficient quantity to bring the unit cost down,” adds Thomas.

Crown Food Europe operates 36 plants in 19 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. North Africa is a growth market for fish canning and for metal packaging. In general, seafood is a growth driver in Europe, although it has slowed down in the UK. France, Germany and the UK are all big users of the can for processed foods. Spain and Italy are also key, and the Polish, Russian and Hungarian markets are also expanding.

Metal packaging for food is safe, convenient, recyclable, cost-effective and can be microwaveable. It is also reputed to prevent food wastage of up to 20% in developed countries and up to 50% elsewhere.

Over the past decade cans have become lighter through down gauging and yet they have retained their inherent strength to remain the best barrier against light, dust, humidity and damage.

Impress has a strong history of reducing raw material usage, introducing the first 73mm diameter Easy Open can ends of 0.18mm thickness in 2005. Even today 0.18mm ends are exclusive to the company and used by Impress customer Heinz.

Impress realises only too well the value of innovative design with visual impact. Direct-printing technology for high resolution images with a range of visual and tactile effects, plus easy open closures to helps heighten brand awareness and increase market share for its customers around the world. “This strong focus on product development enables the group to be a leader in high added-value market segments.”

Heat-processed food accounts for 65% of the group’s turnover and comprises three main sectors – Food Europe, Seafood and North America. Impress supplies two- and three-piece round cans to the high volume segments of the food market including fruit, vegetables, soups and ready meals. A range of retortable food bowls and differentiated value-added cans are also available.

Impress is Europe’s second largest producer of processed food cans and has 18 factories with good geographical and market coverage across Western, Central and Eastern Europe.

The group is also a global leader in seafood cans with over 150 different shapes and sizes in aluminium and steel packs, each one adapted to the characteristics of a particular product. One example of a particularly innovative concept was the introduction of seafood salads in printed bowls with peelable ends, a major factor in the creation of an entirely new product for the seafood market.

Consumers concerned with Afterlife

Tony Woods, director, Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association says recent research highlights “green” confusion

Metal has long been one of the packaging industry’s most misunderstood materials when it comes to evaluating its green credentials. Despite the fact that metal is a packaging material that can be infinitely recycled, many consumers and retailers regard it as having a more negative impact on the environment than other materials.

In recent research conducted by the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA), consumers were asked to rank nine “typical” items likely to be included in a weekly shop, the items collectively representing all types of food and drink packaging, in order of their negative impact on the environment. Interestingly drinks cans were considered by consumers to have a greater impact on the environment than drinks cartons, which are made from multiple materials and are more difficult to recycle.

This is just one example of the confusion that can surround different materials when it comes to determining the environmental impact of packaging. With major retailers including Marks & Spencer, ASDA, and Tesco, in addition to organisations like the Carbon Trust, developing methodologies for identifying and sharing with consumers a product’s environmental credentials, there is a vital need for a consistent and fair evaluation system. Retailers must also take into account what environmental credentials matter to the consumers who will rely on the new labels to assist them in making ethical decisions.

The MPMA’s “basket of goods” research also examined consumers’ perceptions of the effect packaging and packaged products have on the environment, and which factors are most important for them in making ethical choices. The survey shows that as retailers strive to develop a measurement and labelling system to help consumers assess products’ environmental impact, it is not necessarily the most obvious environmental features that are top of mind with their customers. It also makes clear that consumers are more concerned about what happens to products after purchase than what has gone on before they buy. This finding is particularly important when one considers the fact that the Carbon Trust measurement stops at the supermarket shelf and does not take into account what happens after consumption.

The most important measure in consumers’ minds to assess a product’s environmental impact is recyclability – 89% cite this as the top aspect they would expect supermarkets to measure when determining a product’s sustainability. We also found that recyclability was the aspect that mattered most to consumers personally, as it was the most highly rated factor by 30% of consumers. For the metal packaging industry, this means that communicating the recyclability benefits of metal is more important than ever before.

After a general consensus on recyclability, there is a gap between what consumers feel matters to them and what retailers are taking into account when developing their sustainability measures. Only 12% of those surveyed ranked the distance a product has travelled to get to the shop as an important measure in determining the overall sustainability, indicating ‘food miles” may not be the overriding concern some retailers suggest. Over three fifths, 62%, of consumers cite “how a product is thrown away and what happens to it next” as having the most harmful effect on the environment, compared to 30% who cite “how a product is made and gets to the shops” as most harmful, meaning that for shoppers, it is the “carbon shadow” a product leaves behind that matters more than its ”carbon footprint”.

Consumers are eager to make more ethical decisions when doing their everyday food and drink shopping. The onus is now on manufacturers and retailers to work together to develop a single method for evaluating the whole supply and consumption chain and produce a labelling system that enables consumers to relate the products they buy to the sustainability features that matter to them.

Can makers confident

The Can Makers – the body representing the UK manufacturers of beer and carbonated soft drinks (CSD) cans – is confident about the future of this ubiquitous form of packaging:

o In 2006 the drinks can industry shipped nearly 8 billion cans in the UK market and it remains the largest national market within Europe. The drinks can market is continuing to grow strongly in 2007 carrying on from substantial growth in 2006.

o The Can Makers see the prospects for drinks cans in the UK market as good. This view is supported by the continued strong performance of the take home beer market, the signs of investment in new products in the CSD market that meet consumer needs and the strong environmental position of the can, compared with other forms of drinks packaging.

o In the take home beer market, drinks cans continue to be the main pack for both lager and ale and are helping drive volume in the dynamic cider market.

o Investments in new low/no sugar products, functional drinks and the energy sector are introducing products that meet changing consumer requirements for healthy and nutritional drinks. Over time they should impact positively on the CSD market and the demand for drinks cans.

o The drinks can industry has been investing significant amounts in new can diameters and sizes, and features such as ink finishes, embossing, and shaping to provide variety in drinks can designs. This investment enables brand owners to use bespoke cans that meet their marketing requirements.

o The past year has seen a considerable amount of attention focused on the environment which is putting the spotlight on all forms of packaging. In the case of drinks cans, there is a strong environmental position due to the following factors:

– All drinks cans are recyclable – both aluminium and steel.

– The metals industry has the capacity to take back all the cans that are collected

– Overall 438,160 tonnes of metal packaging was collected for recycling in the UK in 2006. (DEFRA)

The Can Makers consists of three can manufacturers: Crown Cork & Seal-Bevcan Europe, Ball Packaging Europe and Rexam Beverage Can who supply the UK market, together with their raw material suppliers: Corus Packaging, Darex UK, ICI Packaging Coatings, Pechiney, and Hydro Aluminium. AMG/Shardal Castings, the specialist detinning company and the multi-pack suppliers ITW Hi-Cone are also members.

T: +44 (0)20 7072 4149. – in the “Drinks Can Market” section is the Can Makers 2007 report which provides more detailed information on the above points.

Contact details

Corus Packaging Plus
T: +44 (0) 20 717 4444

Crown Food Europe
T: +44 (0) 1905 762000

Canned Food UK
T: +44 (0) 800 243364

Impress Metal Packaging
T: +44 (0) 1476 594400

William Say & Co
T: +44 (0) 207 2374500

Crown has reintroduced the fluted Quantum can in a bid to give soup manufacturers greater shelf appeal Crown’s World Star-winning Eole III easy open end The Waistline can enhances product differentiation and has been designed by Crown to run on existing machinery Slip and lever cans from William Say finished in a new coating – the company is the only general line tin maker in the UK with a personal custom range of tins This printed two-piece bowl with an Easy Peel closure from Impress creates a strong brand image for a creamed chestnut product filled by Minerve in Brittany This drawn Hansa can, produced by Impress in Cuxhaven, Germany, has an embossed Easy-Open end designed for Appel 200g herring and tomato snack MPMA director, Tony Woods, says metal is misunderstood