In the overall U.S. beverage industry, cans account for 41 percent of the volume share in the market, says Jim Peterson, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs for Ball Corp. Although beer and carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) are popularly packaged in cans, other categories are starting to break into the packaging format because of the material’s portability, flexibility and sustainability benefits. For example, some companies are packaging wine in cans to capitalize on the package’s portability, Peterson says. Packaging water in cans has grown 30 percent since 2008, surpassing the 250 million unit mark in 2011, he adds. In the beer category, aluminum cans make up approximately 53 percent of the market, experts say.

"This growth is driven partly by a trend in craft brewing toward packaging in cans", Peterson says.

"This growth is driven partly by a trend in craft brewing toward packaging in cans", Peterson says.

“The evolution of craft beer into cans continues at the staggering growth rate of roughly 150 percent in 2011 as more craft brewers have come to realize the economic and sustainability advantages of choosing cans,” Peterson says.

Up until this point, craft brewers faced three challenges: Volume, equipment and consumer perception, says Dale Katechis, founder and owner of Oskar Blues Brewery. The volume of beer made by craft brewers is much smaller than large beer makers, and at the time, it was difficult to find a can manufacturer that would sell its products in such a small quantity. Plus, the production equipment was not available for craft brewers prior to 2000, he says. The last and biggest hurdle has been the consumer’s perception of beer packaged in a can.

“There were a lot of myths out there that beer tasted like metal in a can, and they were indeed just that — they were modern day myths that the consumer really did believe to be true,” Katechis says. “Once we learned that they were all myths, we decided to challenge ourselves, the industry and the consumer that you could truly put craft beer in a can and it would be even more draft-like than our colleagues that were bottling their beer at the time.”

Recently, the beverage industry has seen multiple craft brewers latch on to this trend. More than 100 craft brewers now are canning their beers and it seems that a new one is being introduced every month, says Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association.

Sizing up beverages
The variety of sizes available is helping beverage-makers, such as Red Bull and Monster, differentiate and brand their products. The Red Bull slim can is a distinctive, iconic package for the brand, says Robert Budway, president of the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI). Monster, on the other hand, makes use of a larger can, which also is iconic for that brand, he notes. Oftentimes, unique can sizes have to do with branding, Budway explains, but they also can aid with value and calorie-control propositions.

Although the 12oz can makes up approximately 85 percent of all cans sold, demand for specialty can sizes has increased approximately 20 percent in the last two years, Ball’s Peterson says. From 5.5oz mini cans to slim cans to 32oz jumbo cans, beverage-makers are leveraging specialty sizes to draw attention, brand their products and appeal to a variety of consumers.

In the energy drink and beer categories, Crown Holdings Inc. has noticed an increase in demand for larger can sizes. With regards to beer, larger can sizes are an ideal option for holding multiple servings, says Neill Mitchell, vice president of marketing and business development at Crown Holdings’ North American beverage packaging division.

Aluminum bottles also are in demand with consumers and beverage-makers. Peterson notes the popularity of the company’s Alumi-Tek bottles in 12- and 16oz sizes because they reinforce key brand equities and extend bottled beverage occasions into venues where other packaging materials are not allowed and extruded aluminum is unaffordable.

Differentiating with graphics

“Graphics are a large part of the traction to the consumer base to cans,” CMI’s Budway says.

Graphics also play an important role in differentiating canned beverages and attracting consumers.

“Graphics are a large part of the traction to the consumer base to cans,” CMI’s Budway says. “We’re able to provide eight-color graphics and eye-popping graphics more recently, which provide a branding and a billboarding opportunity to our customers.”

“You’ll see probably more of that as we get ahead in the soft drink industry and in other innovative non-CSD markets,” he adds.

Crown Holdings enables its customers to take advantage of cans’ large printable surface area with its Pictoris high-quality printing technology that creates sharp images and helps products stand out on the shelf, Crown Holdings’ Mitchell says.

“[Pictoris] makes use of proprietary separation techniques and special high-resolution printing plates to allow for improved dot spacing, leading to superior print reproduction of complex images on cans,” he explains. “The technique is particularly suitable, for example, for reproducing fine details such as the fruit depicted on juice products, which now look more life-like and help convey the freshness of the brand.”

The company also offers a variety of finishes that bring depth and sophistication to can designs and add a tactile feel, Mitchell says. For instance, Crown Holdings’ thermochromic ink changes color to inform consumers of the optimal drinking time.

Showcasing sustainability
Additionally, there has been an increased demand for sustainable consumer packaging in the last five to 10 years, according to Megan Daum, director of sustainability at CMI. The real push has come from retailers and manufacturers, although consumers also have noted a desire for more responsible products and packaging, she says.

Cans are infinitely recyclable and have the ability to move from bins to shelves in as little as 60 days, experts say. The current U.S. recycling rate for aluminum cans is approximately 58 percent, they add. Using recycled material in new aluminum beverage cans requires 95 percent less energy and emits 95 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than manufacturing cans from virgin materials, Ball’s Peterson says. Like other material types, aluminum cans can be lightweighted to reduce the weight of shipments, decrease fuel use and reduce costs, he says.

Today, aluminum beverage cans are 28 percent lighter than they were 20 years ago, Crown Holdings’ Mitchell says. Because cans are shatter-proof, less product is lost in the packaging and distribution process, he adds. Most importantly, they are able to protect beverages from light and oxygen damage, which can extend a product’s shelf life and maintain taste, he says.

  Editor’s Note: This feature was adapted from Beverage Industry’s May 2012 and Dec. 2011 Packaging articles.