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Story should be canned

Even though we’re often warned “Don’t believe everything you read in papers”, it is disappointing when a high circulation, national broadsheet gets its facts badly awry, albeit on a “specialist” subject like packaging.

On January 16 The Sunday Times carried a prominent story suggesting rising steel prices could soon spell the demise of metal foodcans. With dubious logic and questionable conclusions, the writer suggested that with hot rolled coil prices having recently “almost doubled”, and some retailers and brand owners “experimenting with other materials”, cans’ popularity could soon be seriously on the wane.

Investigation of steel can production’s commercial realities, however, revealed a rather different story. According to a metal industry analyst, steel typically accounts for just a fraction (perhaps 1-2p) of a can’s total manufacturing cost. Thus, even a doubling in steel prices would have little effect on shopping bills.

Meanwhile, the article omitted to mention the rising price of competitor materials like plastics while, the Metal Packaging Manufacturers’ Association pointed out, the price of packaging steel specifically has actually only risen by about 20% in the last year, “an unwelcome development”, but no reason for can manufacturers to hoist the white flag.

A salutary lesson then to treat packaging stories in non-specialist publications with caution.

The analyst also made an interesting point: “Why are metal packaging manufacturers so good at innovating, yet so bad at highlighting their achievements to brand owners and the public?” Over to the metal men.

Jonathan Baillie