Metal Packaging: How Covid-19 Triggered a Can Food Resurgence

Enzo Orellana

Global Market Strategy Manager

It’s fair to say Covid-19 has caused a few unexpected occurrences in the packaging world this year, especially regarding its use within the food and beverage industry. Food safety continues to be a top priority for consumers and panic buying an ongoing occurrence, making the role of metal packaging – to protect and extend the safety and quality of food – more critical than ever.

 

More surprisingly, it has triggered the resurgence of the can. After years of stagnant or declining sales – which, in North America, went from 32 billion units of food cans shipped 20 years ago, to approximately 24.5 billion by the end of 2019 – September YTD statistics from the Can Manufacturers Institute showed cans purchasing in the U.S. was up almost 15% compared to last year. As a result of consumers stockpiling items such as canned beans, soup, vegetables and meat, many industry insiders  are encouraged in the resurgence of a canned foods, suggesting a new trust in this valuable packaging option.   

Canning: a brief history

To fully understand the journey undertaken, it is worth looking back at the can’s timeline. A fairly recent food preservation development invented in 1810, it was a revelation initially that provided travelers with a way to supplement rations long term. Its benefits further came to the forefront during the World Wars, when canned goods ensured millions fighting overseas or stuck at home were adequately fed. They became a pivotal part of the wartime experience and remained popular for decades after. 

 

While developments such as refrigeration caused dips in popularity, it’s actually only since the start of the millennium that canned food lost its appeal.

Reasons for this include:

  • A preference for buying fresh, “healthier” food.
  • It being considered “old fashioned” compared to other options such as flexible or frozen packaging.

 

Yet, arguably it was another factor that had the most negative impact on the canned goods industry in the late 2000s: bisphenol A (BPA).

Canned Food and BPA 

Concerns regarding BPA, an industrial chemical used to toughen up polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins – including those used to line cans – However, it wasn’t until the 1990s, when scientists and non-governmental organizations voiced concerns that BPA mimics the hormone estrogen. Considered an “endocrine disruptor”, it was feared it could be linked to various health issues. However, after rigorous safety assessments over the years, the US’s Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current perspective is that “BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”

 

In spite of the vote of confidence from food safety authorities, consumer trust in cans quickly reached an all-time low and the industry decided they needed to seek alternatives to respond to the consumer pull for BPA-free goods.

The Push for BPA-free

Since then, many coatings manufacturers – including Henkel, who were one of the first companies to introduce BPA-free technology – have responded to consumer concerns by spending years developing, testing and implementing new generation can linings into their production lines. These new BPA-free technologies are typically made from acrylic, polyester, or olefin polymers. To learn more about the latest regulatory standards in food coatings, new innovations contributing to sustainability, and the latest trends and developments in the can coatings industry, I invite you to view our online seminar: "Henkel Solutions for emerging trends in Metal Packaging".

 

The collective effort has been so immense that the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) – who launched the ‘Trust in Cans and Can Linings’ campaign in 2016 – say 95%+ of food cans sold in the US are now BPA-free.

The Power of the Can

The pandemic stockpiling of canned food has undoubtedly given the sector an unexpected reboot. The fact that people have filled their pantries with canned goods during the crisis highlights not only the comforting safety net this type of container still provides families, but also the practical benefits: 

 

  • It’s affordable.
  • It can be stacked and stored conveniently.
  • It’s infinitely recyclable.
  • It’s formidable ability to preserve food safely for long periods of time.

 

It further highlights a renewed trust for cans. Due to the extensive and organic industry response to consumer preferences, we have enabled a resurgence – and not just among former can buyers.

Canning: the future

It was Albert Einstein who said: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” Remarkably, the final unexpected occurrence triggered by this unimaginable pandemic is that it has allowed the food canned industry to introduce itself to – and captivate – new consumer generations. In particular,  the ‘infinitely recyclable’ feature of can packaging is assisting us to captivate new environmentally-conscious audiences to this format. As an industry, we have then further responded in other innovative ways, such as by working with influencers during the lockdown to create recipe inspirations aimed at younger generations that provide examples of nutritious meals made with canned staples.

 

By continuing to respond promptly and appropriately to consumer behavior in this manner, it’s hoped the industry’s collective efforts will ensure canned food once again becomes a regular feature in all our pantries for years to come. 

 

If you’d like to discuss the BPA-free adhesive and coating solutions provided by Henkel, please get in touch Enzo Orellana via LinkedIn.

Enzo Orellana

As the Global Market Strategy Manager for the Coatings and Sealants segments of the Metals business, Enzo is responsible for developing global business and product development strategies based on trends and innovations in the industry, such as the drive for more recyclable, sustainable and safe products as well as more efficient production processes. With a background in business & marketing and almost 15 years of experience in the industry, he offers a wealth of product expertise to both internal stakeholders and external customers.

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