Show your metal – the PCI metal packaging round table

21 September 2015

Earlier this year, a group of drinks brand-owners sat down to discuss metal packaging, trends and developments. The meeting was held by our sister magazine, Packaging & Converting Intelligence, and while the anticipated focus had been on metal’s sustainability credentials, which have been boosted by the increasing lightness of material, the evening covered multiple aspects of metal packaging, its innovation and thoughts for the future.

In a global market of 1.2 trillion packaging units, metal currently accounts for 17%, although this will drop to 16% of 1.4 trillion units in 2018.

There are a number of trends affecting metal material selection. Product differentiation is a major driver in packaging, and the use of distinctive containers enables marketers to reposition a product from conventional to premium to help justify higher packaging costs. In addition to the package's shape, other crucial distinctions can be made through printing, labelling and other decoration methods.

The changing shape of their packaging, and the potential this has to improve production and sales, was a theme of particular interest to the drinks brand-owners that attended a dinner event held earlier in the year, which was moderated by Nick Smith, business development manager at Beverage Packaging Innovation's sister magazine, Packaging & Converting Intelligence.

All agreed that changing size or shape provides a chance to stand out on a crowded shelf. However, with new shapes and forms, companies have to account for changes in bottling and filling technology to accompany these improvements. This is one reason why downgauging, or lightweighting, is so popular, because it does not involve changing a shape, which means the same capital equipment can be employed, reducing costs throughout the supply chain.

Formatting issue

Continuing the conversation on new pack formats, convenience was one of the key topics of discussion.

"Cans are moving from the standard 330ml, 500ml and 1L formats that have been a mainstay of metal packaging for the past ten to 15 years," said Daniel Coe. "We are seeing increasing interest in slimline, and 250ml, 440ml and alternate sizes, driven by convenience and the need to separate our brands and products on shelf."

The others agreed that, aside from the graphics on the cans themselves, one of the ways in which brands are able to stand out from the crowd is through the different sizes, as they can be more immediately identified on a shelf surrounded by standard formats.

The convenience of a measured slimline can that can contain pre-mixed drinks was also seen as responsible for a growing opportunity and market. As consumers are busier and their shopping habits have evolved from the more traditional one-major-shop-a-week habit to tending to buy products on the go, it is much more convenient to buy four or six-packs of pre-made drinks than it is to buy a larger bottle and separate mixers, and transport them. It also encourages responsible drinking and portion sizes that can support increasingly aspirational consumer health and vitality requirements.

Recyling old material

Sustainability and recyclability are among the major trends affecting the global market of metal cans. Globally, metal beverage cans have a collection rate of around 70%, or more than double that of any other beverage container. In addition, over the past two decades, metal cans have become considerably lighter, and weight reduction is a major contributor to the prevention of waste. It is improvements in can-making technology and the continuous development of metal grades have made the lightweighting of cans possible.

Recycling dominated the evening's discussions, due to the frustration on the issue of waste ownership. As things stand, local authorities are responsible for taking waste and ensuring it goes into a centre where it can be reclaimed. However, this process depends on where it is taking place, and can, occasionally - for example, in the UK - be poorly managed, which means that not all the material makes it through to be recycled.

There was a lively debate regarding the prospect of the industry taking over the recycling process in order to secure a more productive solution, with solid arguments for and against. Andre Fourie, packaging manager at SABMiller, asked whether it might be better for the UK Government to step in and take responsibility for the centres, as the producers were already doing their part in packaging responsibly and the consumers were ensuring their packaging was correctly streamed. However, Louise Gedge, senior packaging engineer at Bacardi, explained that this was essentially how the current system operated and it did not seem to be working.

The discussion remained unresolved that evening, but it did give those who attended the event ideas to take forward and inform the next steps in their own sustainability programmes.


  • Louise Gedge, senior packaging engineer, Bacardi
  • Julian Rebello, senior buyer - packaging, Britvic
  • Klaus Stadler, director - water and environment, Coca-Cola
  • Lorna Bridge, global procurement - category manager, cans and crowns, Diageo
  • Daniel Coe, SVP packaging procurement, Diageo
  • Graham Fox, packaging operations manager, Innocent Drinks
  • Sam Woollett, packaging technologist, Innocent Drinks
  • Andre Fourie, packaging manager, SABMiller.

In their words


"Lightweighting remains one of the key strategies for metal packaging across Britvic and Pepsi's product range, and with sustainability very high on the agenda for the company strategy, it looks set to remain there. Slimline bottles and increasingly strong recycling rates are contributing to the growth of this sector that, along with glass packaging, continues to fulfil consumers' convenience needs in trade and for consumers across Britvic's portfolio."
Julian Rebello, senior buyer-packaging


"With a recycling rate of nearly 100%, aluminum bottles have historically been used to drive limited-edition sales of our products, and we see successive upswings in sales whenever they are used. Due to the light weight of the bottles, certainly when compared with PET or, more significantly, glass, they are easier to transport and cost less to move around to point of sale and our consumers. In addition, when there is an area that is hotter, the aluminum means that the cold is conducted and held more readily than plastic, so you can put your can into a cooler or fridge, and it will remain colder for longer 'out of the box'. It is one of the most adaptable materials to hold a shape, so we can create slimline or larger cans that will address consumers' needs no matter the occasion - whether it is on an aeroplane, in their packed lunch, to fit into a bag or on the go."
Klaud Stadler, director, water and environment


"Cans are great from a number of perspectives. They provide a format consumers are very used to. They are highly convenient for a multitude of occasions, whether consumers want to relax and unwind at home, or when requiring outdoor consumption at BBQs, parties and so on. They are easy to store in a fridge. They get very cold and preserve that temperature very well. They offer a big surface on which we can deploy branding and consumer messages, and improvements in printing quality that have been made over the years help to keep a premium or craft message."
Daniel Coe, SVP packaging procurement


"The 'Bubbles' product is a lightly sparkling fruit juice that is a first in carbonates for the company, and metal was chosen as the best material to enhance the quality of the product through its shelf life, as well as for consumer convenience and shelf appeal. Appearing in 330ml highly recyclable cans, we were able to use the expertise of our partners in Coca-Cola to not only find the best possible sustainable design and product to get through the supply chain, but also to develop the best possible can for our needs."
Graham Fox, packaging operations manager

Can we do it? Yes we can

Aluminum cans are the most recycled and highest-value beverage container on the market today, according to a new US report released by The Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute. The cans contains 70% recycled content on average - more than three times that of glass or PET bottles - and the material is worth nearly 300% more per ton than plastic or glass.

"This new report confirms that aluminum cans are recycled by US consumers at rates more than 20% higher than that of other beverage containers, making them the sustainable package of choice," says Heidi Brock, president and CEO of The Aluminum Association. "Cans are recycled at the highest rates, and drive recycling programmes across the country because of the high value of aluminum compared with other packaging materials."

Other key findings in the report included:

  • The aluminum industry recycling rate, which measures the amount of used aluminum can scrap, including imported and exported cans that get recycled as a percentage of US shipments, was essentially flat last year at 66.5%. This reflects more than 59 million cans recycled and marks the fourth year in a row the rate has held near historically high levels.?
  • The consumer recycling rate for aluminum cans, which measures domestic consumer recycling behaviour, was up nearly 2.0% to 56.7% in 2014, the highest rate reported since 1997 and a more than 12%-point improvement from earlier in the decade. This compares with consumer recycling rates of around 30% for glass and plastic bottles.
  • Aluminum can scrap is worth $1,491 a ton vs $385 a ton for plastic and almost $0 a ton for glass. The high value of material for aluminum helps make municipal recycling programmes financially viable and effectively subsidises the recycling of the less valuable materials in the bin.
  • Aluminum cans have reduced in weight by 38% since 1972, down to 12.99g on average. They are more than 15 times lighter than standard 12oz glass bottles.

Turbo Tango offers a unique ‘spray’ drinking experience, enabled by its packaging.
Cans were chosen for Innocent’s ‘Bubbles’ products to maintain the beverage quality.
Different packaging formats allow shelf differentiation to catch consumers’ eyes.
Coca-Cola has long favoured aluminium bottles for limited-edition products for a variety of reasons, including their almost-100% recyclability rate and their ease of portability.

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