When the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called in its 2009 report “School Meals” for increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with reducing saturated fat and sodium, the Canned Food Alliance jumped on the bandwagon and waved vigorously with a study of the University of California at Davis, that concludes that all forms of fruits and vegetables – canned, fresh and frozen – are nutritionally similar and contribute important nutrients that comprise a healthy diet.
The goal of this action of the Canned Food Alliance is obvious. Although steel cans belong to the select group of oldest and most trusted pillars of the packaging industry it is beyond discussion that the steel can, like glass and wood, lost considerable market share to the new developed packaging formats which claim to be lightweight and consumer friendly with sophisticated designs and printing options.
And indeed it should be said that in general the tin is, except for the decorated tins promoted as collectables, a dull packaging format, with its cylindrical shape and paper-wrapped label. Except for some printing, neither vegetables, not fruit and other food products are showcased in this packaging format worth the 21st century.
And still steel is a material that is particularly suitable for food packaging due to its many different properties. Just to refresh the memory, a steel can or tin can, or just a tin, is a single-walled container moulded mostly by impact extrusion of tinplate or black plate (including tin-free steel). Tin plate has been replaced by tin-free steel which is given a tin coating, usually as thin as a human hair, to prevent rusting. Protective (plastic) coatings applied to the inside of the cans ensure the integrity of the contents, allowing tins to hold a wide variety of products.
The canning process does not require the use of preservatives; precise heating in the canning process and vacuum sealing maintain the quality, safety and integrity of the product. And then there is the sustainability, the ‘greenness’ of the tin. Tins are 100% recyclable – which means that there are no waste and waste substances in the recycling process as with plastics or paper/cardboard. And furthermore the latest figures from APEAL (the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging) show that 69% of steel packaging is recycled in Europe. This represents over 2.5 million tons of food and drinks cans and other steel containers, saving 4.8 million tons of CO2. Top performers were Belgium and Germany where more than 90% of steel packaging was recycled. Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands follow closely behind, recycling over 80% of their steel containers.
In other words recycling is second nature for steel as recycled materials are an essential part of the steelmaking process. Steel is one of that few materials that have an infinite recycling loop – it can be recycled over and over again without any loss of its inherent properties.
So, when it’s such a perfect packaging material, why are the results, the designs, so dull. Shape communicates instantly. Shape creates memorable and recognizable branding. It also offers upscale, sophisticated cues. Innovative, shapely designs support brand positioning. A complimentary high-resolution colour printing helps contemporize metal packaging and the products they contain. Where is the creativity in simple steel cans?
I have to be honest. There is some. In 2008, Silgan Containers Corp., the largest manufacturer of metal food cans in the United States, launched it’s shaped can manufacturing capability under the brand name “Sculptured Metal Technology”, in a move to provide increased value.
And fortunately there is more to come. In Europe the R&D department of the Danish can manufacturer Glud & Marstrand developed a range of shapely steel containers under the name CupCan and CreaTin with remarkable decorating results in off-set printing.
The CupCan range is launched in a 100 ml ø73×36 mm and a 150 ml ø83×40 mm size with easy-open lids and full panel opening. The CupCan has a conical shape which gives it a nice organic look. It fits well in the hand and will have great eye-catching effect on the shelves, enhancing its perceived product value. The can is therefore well suited for more exclusive or modern products.
The new conical can is stackable which means that it only takes up approximately one-quarter of the space required by the traditional straight walled can when being transported and stored.
CreaTin is a product range – with a lot of different opportunities – made in either ø73 mm or ø99 mm and are available in different heights and different shapes. For the CreaTin range G&M developed a technology which can expand cans into new and unconventional shapes, starting from two expanded cans in the standard selection, creating a unique can that results in an exceptional sales promoting package.
The Milk Can as shown in the picture above is made by making a ground design that supports the effect with a finishing combining different lacquering techniques. By combining glossy lacquers with matt surfaces Glud & Marstrand created a three-dimensional graphic effect that accentuates the milk streaming over the top of the can.
Printing on metal is approaching photographic quality. Sharp and beautiful colours make the product stand out from other products. Using various matt, glossy and texture lacquers create a special visual (e.g. crackle) and touch feel (e.g. velvet) effect.
And furthermore there is the proprietary”Can2Can” design – a plastic ring that makes it possible to combine various cans from the G&M assortment in one package – metal packaging expands to new application areas. A nice opportunity for co-promotion of products from various categories such as sweets and toys or various components for ready-meals.
With some creativity the steel can certainly has a bright future.
If you want to know more about the steel can, its history and evolution, read my post: The Revival of the Tin Can – The Collectible as Marketing Tool , as the tin’s history began in 1795 when Napoleon Bonaparte, who famously noted that an army “travels on its stomach”, offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could invent a method of preserving food. From a marketing point of view the tin container became a very popular collectible in the past and of which we see a revival lately.
Crossposted at Packaging Digest blog: Excellence in Packaging