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Despite increased competition from plastics, it looks like metal as a packaging medium is set fair for growth largely due to the changing shape of the EU and heavy investment in r&d says Rodney Abbott

MPMA director Tony Woods is adamant that the admission of 10 new countries to the EU will bring new opportunities for the metal packaging industry. “We’re talking about a large number of people and growing economies which will be very attractive to leading western European brands,” says Woods. “This will create great new opportunities for all our metal packaging manufacturers but particularly for our volume sectors such as beverage, food, aerosols and general lines.

“The good news is that, through the industry’s continued investment in modern manufacturing processes, pan-European logistics and innovative new products we are well placed to supply these emerging markets.

“As part of well established pan European operations, UK beverage can makers Ball, Crown and Rexam are particularly well positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the new Baltic, eastern European and southern European member states.

“New geographical markets, not quite so geared up to the microwave culture, will also be welcomed by food can manufacturers. Food cans offer convenient, protective packaging, allowing ambient storage for food products. There should also be great opportunities for aerosols and for DIY products where sales in eastern Europe are making a significant contribution to growth.”

Metal packaging may be convenient, cost-effective and recyclable, but the industry has had to work hard to retain market share in the face of growing pressure from other materials.

Despite a major downturn in Germany caused by specific legislation on deposits, the European beverage can market is showing growth particularly in eastern and southern countries. The market increased for the third consecutive year in the UK in 2003 with beer cans reaching an all time high.

The European aerosols market continues to show steady growth. After remaining relatively static, food cans are showing a little growth. In the general line sector, simple slip lid and screw top aluminium and tinplate containers have found a buoyant niche market for hair grooming products, candles and aromatherapy products.

It’s good to see long established companies like Metal Closures, William Say and Roberts Metal Packaging finding new opportunities for both components and containers.

Peter Wilkinson from William Say sees candles and aromatherapy products as a growth market for the tin plate containers his company has made traditionally for inks.

Within the health and beauty sector brands are turning increasingly to metal to add value and bring brand differentiation particularly for hair products. Mike Pountney from Roberts says that the level of interest, especially from the USA, is phenomenal. They are also making good progress in the godet/pans market for colour cosmetics and are now competing with ACME, the largest single supplier in the USA.

We are now seeing some brilliant metal paint cans with superb paint finishes, all round printing and innovative features to improve convenience. The triple tight tin from DKS has an inner ring into which the lid fits, preventing it from coming into contact with the paint and avoiding drips. Paint can manufacturers are also using the naturally attractive finish of metal combined with wire handles to create a popular retro look.

Without exception metal manufacturers in the volume sectors have focussed on innovation to maintain a competitive edge against other materials. In the beverage sector there has been great investment in shaping as well as new print and finishing techniques to bring enhanced promotional and shelf appeal.

Blown shaped cans, first developed by Crown, continue to grow in popularity and have moved from the niche promotional market to mainstream products. Working closely with its ink and varnish suppliers, Rexam achieved a breakthrough for successfully canning milk products in aluminium cans and, as a result, we are now seeing a growth in iced coffee drinks. Traditionally, the inks and varnishes used could not withstand the sterilisation process.

Rexam has also developed innovative new print finishes including thermochromic inks that change colour in response to temperature, UV fluorescent ink that lights up under UV light, and tactile inks that give a wet look or an ‘orange peel feel’.

Embossing is a major development in can decoration and Ball has developed what it calls “true” embossing where only the desired graphic is raised from the can without any debossing. There has also been a continued focus on light weighting to bring down materials costs. Crown’s lightweight 202 Super End has brought significant material cost savings along with improved ends and seam performance.

Aerosol manufacturers are also using shaping, pioneered in Europe by USC, and new print finishes to create shelf impact. Patterned Varnish, which has a patent pending, from Crown Aerosols creates a reflective 3D effect that can be applied over the entire surface of the aerosol or, topically, to accentuate a name or logo. ‘Colour Change’ transforms a brilliant green to a soft lilac as the can is rotated while ‘Soft Touch’ is a new over varnish that creates a highly tactile effect.

&#8220We’re talking about a large number of people and growing economies which will be very attractive to leading western European brands”

MPMA director Tony Woods

As food cans, in particular, come under pressure from other materials, there is a determined focus by both major European manufacturers, Crown and Impress, on enhancing the convenience of the can by improving access.

More consumer friendly, full aperture easy open ends, made from thinner and thinner gauge steel, require significantly less force to open.

A new curved tab from Crown adds even more convenience. Both Impress and Crown are now offering peal seam cans to European customers, and Crown has developed an oblong glossy version for the canned fish market.

In the food business, the extent of the amalgamations and reorganisations means that, although there are still a large number of brands, the number of individual food fillers is quite small. This has enabled the food can manufacturers to develop a very close working partnership with them. In 2001 the food can sector set up a singular supply chain organisation – Canned Food UK – in a bid to reinforce metal packaging’s relevance to today’s lifestyle. Today, its membership covers all major manufacturers of metal packaging for food and major fillers and materials manufacturers who have combined forces to promote the benefits of canned food.

Supporting the work that individual food can manufacturers are doing in food development, it has made many more people aware of the nutritional and convenience factors. Every year Canned Food UK mounts several vigorous campaigns to raise the profile of canned food among consumers, so much so that the sector is showing signs of growth. Only last year the organisation formed a grocery retailer group to liaise with supermarkets and organise partnership activity within the retail environment.

The 2004 campaign continues to keep the focus on nutrition and health but will place greater emphasis on peoples’ lifestyles. Among half a dozen creative ideas to increase the public’s awareness is a study undertaken by leading psychologist Dr David Lewis, called the Canny Shopper, which will provide insight into the nation’s shopping habits.

MPMA at Total

Ball Packaging Europe is a leading provider of 2-piece steel and aluminium beverage cans with easy open stay-on-tab ends in a wide range of sizes.

Corus Packaging Plus is one of Europe’s leading producers of packaging steel, supplying a comprehensive range of high quality steel packaging products.

Crown Food Europe is the largest supplier and a “leading innovator” of rigid metal packaging for dry and processed food in Europe.

Crown Speciality Packaging provides and develops “high quality innovative” packaging ranging from highly decorated promotional containers to high performance packs for paints, inks, DIY products, chemicals, automotive and household products.

&#8220As food cans, in particular, come under pressure from other materials, there is a determined focus by both major European manufacturers, Crown and Impress, on enhancing the convenience of the can by improving access”

MPMA director Tony Woods

DKS Packaging is one of Britain’s largest independent specialist tin can and drum manufacturers. It manufactures a variety of lever lid and slip lid cans, drums and trays.

Impress Metal Packaging is one of Europe’s largest metal packaging Groups manufacturing “high quality” containers for food, seafood, speciality and decorative and protective finishes.

Linpac Metal Decorating is the largest independent metal decorator in the UK supplying major can makers, tin box and 35mm cassette film companies in the UK and Europe.

Massilly Group is a “world class performer” with a “world class network” helping customers to achieve their objectives through total commitment, performance and productivity.

USC Europe, a US can company, offers the “widest range of aerosol cans in the industry” with strong commitment to quality, service, product innovation and investment in plant and technology.

William Say & Co is a producer of quality tinplate products and is one of the largest independent tin box manufacturers in Europe making lever lid, slip lid, screw top, ring pull and outside curl tins and seamless boxes.