Self-Heating Packaging Containers – Part 1

110751-fdrinks top of Mt Fuji 540x318 100dpi

Consumer who want it the way they want it and want it now, are no longer just sitting in London, New York or Los Angeles. They’re also in São Paolo, Moscow, Taipei and Shanghai. As lives around the globe are becoming more complex and time increasingly a luxury, on-the go consumption is on the rise world-wide. Just in the last three years, the demand for convenient eating options has gone up to 40%, and the habit to “sip a drink while walking” became with 35% almost as popular. Increasingly sophisticated consumers expect high levels of convenience, including related to the environment.
110398-Hot-Can Picture 7 W320 100dpiBased on the products on show at Pack Expo 2012, it’s clear that convenience is one of the hottest trends, especially in beverage packaging. Apparently for the consumer, it’s all about convenience, ease of use and ease-of-recycling. In response to these requirements consumer goods companies have focused on active, smart and higher-value-added packaging that boost consumer safety, user convenience, shelf appeal and recyclability.

121045-HotCan exploded-can 160x672 100dpiBut convenience with a smart or active technological touch costs money. It’s obvious that the value vs. convenience equation in self-heating and self-cooling packaging translates into the usefulness and valued functionality versus the preparedness of the consumer to pay for it. For this type of smart packaging the functionality is obvious and it is not difficult to appreciate the usefulness of a self-heating or self-cooling beverage. But the 1,000-dollar question is what is the consumerprepared to pay extra for the convenience of hot or cold drinks or hot food away from home, on the road, at the beach?

To make things more complicated self-heating/cooling beverages, like so many packaging innovations, have a rough and bumpy history and the reviews on the internet aren’t very positive, even often plain negative, although that has more to do with the quality of the beverage than the non-functionality of the self-heating/cooling device. Nevertheless the general result is negative.

Unfortunately the consumer is well-aware of this bumpy history and is, for the time being, leery to unconditionally give this packaging format the “let’s try it”.

In this article I will only talk about self-heating (self-cooling is reserved for a separate article later). We will see the developments of Hot-Can from Malaysia, the Fast Drinks from Spain, and the Heat Genie from the USA. All in metal cans. Recently the Belgian company ScaldoPack entered the arena with a self-heating stand-up pouch. A really interesting development.

The History of Self-Heating Technologies
121045-100172-self-heating W320 100dpiThe only viable form of heat engine for self-heating is an exothermic chemical reaction. A number of options are available with varying degrees of heat output, but the most reactive are also the most dangerous, using potentially toxic chemicals and producing undesirable gaseous by-products.

The exothermic chemical reaction of choice for consumer packaging is lime reacted with water because it generates substantial heat output, lime is cheap and readily available, and the by-products of the reaction are environmentally acceptable. The Ca(OH)2 (calcium hydroxide aka slaked lime)component in the self-heating cans combines itself with the CO2 found in the atmosphere to form calcium carbonate and water, reducing the very gas that’s known to be one of the main players in the greenhouse effect.
An alternative reaction is the hydrolysis of calcium chloride, which has the advantage of producing no reaction by-products, but generates a lower heat output.
Note: HeatGenie uses a solid fuel source, different from the above mentioned ones. Later in this article more about the HeatGenie solid fuel.

100144-envase-autocalentable-Nestle-en-envapack W320 100dpiOne of the most successful self-heating containers was launched in UK test markets during 2001, as a joint venture between Crown Cork, Thermotic Developments (company dissolved as of 11 Feb 2011) and Nestlé. The 210 ml “Hot When You Want” Nescafé canned coffee heated, with an occasional shake, to around 40ºC above ambient in about 3 minutes. Although the trial was said to be a success and demonstrated that there was a significant market for such a product, Nestlé aborted the project in 2004.

By contrast, in many Mediterranean countries, small quantities of strong espresso coffee drunk at medium warm, not boiling temperatures is frequently the beverage of choice. CaldoCaldo, an Italian development, uses the exothermic reaction between anhydrous calcium chloride and water to meet this need. After the substances are mixed, the consumer shakes the container for 40 seconds so that the hot solution swirls around the aluminium cup containing 40 ml of beverage, producing a temperature rise of around 23ºC. Although a niche market the hot drinks sells across the Mediterranean in sports venues, motorway rest areas and many other outlets with variants as coffee, cappuccino, chocolate, coffee with grappa and tea with lemon.

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The pioneer in taking the self-heating formula to the USA market was Ontech, which introduced the Hillside Beverages and convinced back in 2004 WP Beverage Partners to introduce the 10-ounce (295 ml) Wolfgang Puck gourmet lattes in self-heating cans. Based on the lime/water reaction, the largely plastic container was portable, fitted into a cup holder and heated the coffee to around 60ºC (145ºF) in six minutes and kept it hot for some 30 minutes. The foam label added a degree of heat insulation.
Unfortunately, it was technically not a success and many a law suit was thrown around. Hillside Beverages (OnTech) went out of business in Nov 2008.

121045-60562-WolfgangPuck W540 100dpi

Let’s have a look at the current players in this market. We start with Fast Drinks from Spain.

Fast Drinks
The 200 ml 2GO SHC (Self-Heating Can) of Fast Drinks in Spain was launched in April 2005. The can is a welded tinplate can and consists of a number of readily-available components such as three-piece welded and expanded tinplate can bodies and a full-aperture easy-open end to reveal the press-button that starts the heating process. Using ready-made standard components from third parties reduced the development costs of this self-heating system. The graphics are applied to a shrink film label.
110751-fdrinks 2go 0005 320x433 100dpiThe system consists of three compartments that are separated within the can: the first is the packaged beverage; the second, calcium hydroxide; and in the third, water. Once the calcium hydroxide is dissolved within the water, it generates, in just 3 minutes, a large amount of heat (up to 40 degrees Celsius, 104ºF), which heats the beverage that is located in the first compartment of the can and allows for it to remain hot for up to 20 minutes.

There are two sets of ring pulls on the can, one on top and one at the bottom. Pulling the bottom reveals the heating-module (see photo) which should be firmly pressed on the centre to start off the reaction that makes the heat, as it mixes the water with the calcium oxide.

The company claims that its technology is the only one that is retortable after that the heat-module is assembled. This technology translates in a few simple processing steps: Assembling, Filling, Retorting, Labelling and Packaging.

Furthermore the can, being made of welded tinplate, is said to be 100% recyclable, as well as the Ca(OH)2 (calcium hydroxide) used to create the heat reaction as I have argued above.

121045-Bottom of Fast Drinks left and Hot-Can right

Bottom of Fast Drinks left and Hot-Can right, after removing the protective seals

In contrast to Fast Drinks which uses three-piece tinplate containers with components supplied by third parties, Hot-Can of Malaysia uses Drawn Wall Ironed aluminium cans made at its own can making plant near Kuala Lumpur. The graphics are applied to a shrink film label.

121045-HotCan Soup W320 100dpiAs said most self-heating technologies use slaked lime in a small canister to which water is added to create the energy that raises the temperature of the drinks by about 40oC. In Hot-Can’s case, the double chambered aluminium can contains the beverage in the outer chamber and the water and calcium oxide (quicklime) separately in the inner chamber. The canister, fitted in the base, is part of the drawn aluminium can body, taking up about 120 ml of the overall 330 ml, leaving a nett volume of 210 ml. This is said to simplify the manufacturing process, making it more cost effective, so long as high volumes are produced.
When the button at the bottom of the can is pressed in, the water mixes with the quicklime, starting an exothermic reaction that heats the contents of the outer chamber in less the 3 minutes.
This is the same process, by the way, as used by Fast Drinks, and also by Nestlé for its Nescafé self-heating can project which was aborted about ten years ago.

121045-Hot Can01 W320 100dpiAs the others, Hot-Can claims full recyclability of its aluminium cans, as it only produces natural bi-products: water, calcium carbonate, and calcium hydroxide.

In the next issue of the article we talk about HeatGenie, whose approach to self-heating is unlike other self-heating technologies involving mixing quicklime or other chemicals with water. Further we shall have a look at the new development of a self-heating/self-cooling stand-up pouch ScaldoPack.
-to be continued-

11 responses to “Self-Heating Packaging Containers – Part 1

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  4. Well, in Norway HotBooster self heating cans have been banned due to the fact that one blew up in the faces of 4 9 year olds, causing horrific eye injuries. A potentially lethal product!

    • Jane, that’s always the case with new developments still in its infancy. We have seen similar accidents with beverage bottles under pressure. The most infamous self-heating can was the coffee from Puck in the USA. I don’t know HotBooster and I don’t say it shouldn’t be avoided, but it’s the prce we pay for development.

      • Do you have any other examples besides Puck? There is a law suit pending and it would be interesting to know of any other cases. The fact that these products have no warning signs of dangerous chemicals in the heating compartment is very worrying. No one should have to risk their health for a hot drink. Have you heard of Fastdrinks2go who produce Hot Booster ?

      • Jane, I know Fastdrinks2Go. I haven’t any info about problems with its self-heating cans, besides what you told me. Puck is the only one I’m aware of and you can’t compare Fastdrinks with the Puck design. They are completely different. I have the impression Fastdrinks is quite succesful in the market.

    • Lindsay, I have no idea. I know they have been discussing a contract with the US Armed Forces, but have no info whether that led to a contract. Furthermore I know that they are close with Crown (the beverage tin company). As I’m sitting in Brazil, it’s often very difficult, if not impossible, to screen the shelves in US supermarkets. To be honest I dount they really are in the market at this moment. Your best bet is to contact them (the link is in the article) and just ask where you can find products in Heat Genie packaging.

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