The good old can: adaptable and timeless

Drinking can
© Forum Getränkedose

No other drink container has seen as many ups and downs in Germany as the can. But now it’s time for a renaissance.

In January 2017, the tin can celebrated its 82nd birthday. The Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in Newark, New Jersey, was the first to introduce the beverage can in 1935. The company chose 2,000 testers to taste its light beer from a 100-gram tin can and was rewarded for its pioneering approach: 91% of the testers answered with a clear “yes” when asked, “Do you like beer in cans?” So began a global rollercoaster of a success story.

Beverage can sales pass the 2.5 billion mark

With the introduction of deposits on all single-use beverage containers in Germany in 2003, the beverage can market collapsed by 90%. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence in demand for cans. In 2011, sales of beverage cans in Germany stood at more than 1 billion. In 2015, they surpassed the 2 billion market at 2.08 billion units. And in 2016, they exceeded 2.5 billion, up more than 20% from the previous year. Interestingly, some 1.5 billion of them were filled with soft drinks.

The can: an adaptable companion

The question is: What is it about cans that customers keep finding so appealing? Ask the beverage industry, and they will tell you that cans have the key advantage of being impermeable to light and oxygen. This protects the quality and freshness of the contents longer than other containers. From a marketing perspective, cans are extremely adaptable in terms of their design. On top of that, they’re made of lightweight materials. Modern 0.33-liter tin cans weigh just 20 grams, and 0.33-liter aluminum cans just 10 grams. Can fans also point to the fact that they are fully recyclable. Germans now recycle at a rate of 96%. This aspect represents an interesting social component as well, explains Thomas Haensch, Senior Vice President for Commercial Global Beverage at Ball Packaging. “We can turn any old can into a new can,” he said. “Since metal can often be recycled an infinite number of times, it is possible for the material used in a beverage can to remain in circulation for generations. In theory, a young man today could be drinking from the same material his father drank from as a teenager.”

Cans promise fun and creativity

From a consumer perspective, the hard facts offered by the beverage industry are only part of the story. For the people purchasing the beverages, the choice of container also seems to be a question of image. Young adults in particular associate cans with coolness, freshness and activity. No doubt one of the reasons why more than 60% of energy drinks in Europe today are sold in cans. The diversity of can design is also plain to see: different formats such as sleek or slim cans, digital printing, embossing, matte surfaces, specially printed labels that features QR codes and traditional or resealable openings – the choice is enormous. And the design is about more than just visual appeal. Cans can also release aromas that complement the drink inside. There are very few limits to creativity; floating capsules, for example, can be used to release vitamins or minerals when the can is opened.

The aluminum bottle: inspired by the 1920s

The diversity also extends to other beverage containers. The Ardagh Group, for instance, has combined a can and bottle in one: the company developed special 25 cl aluminum contour bottles for Coca-Cola Europe’s “Taste the Feeling” campaign. Even the unusual pairing of organic drinks and aluminum bottles seems to be working. Take the Austrian organic lemonade Skiwater, which was recently presented in the Alumi-Tek bottle from Ball. “We were inspired by the clean lines of the aluminum drink bottles used by walkers in the 1920s,” said Skiwater’s founder, Jitse Rupp. “The bottle is a perfect fit for us and our active, environmentally conscious customers.”

A premium container?

Sales of cans and aluminum bottles in Germany and Europe can be expected to grow further, despite objections from the environmental group “Mehrweg ist Klimaschutz”-Allianz. Ultimately, time will tell how consumers perceive the quality of this packaging material. In Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, for example, cans have long been at home in the premium segment. Perhaps this trend will soon extend to Germany and Western Europe, too, driven by customized and elaborate designs.

At drinktec, filling and packaging solutions for cans and aluminum bottles were just as prominent as those for glass and PET bottles. There was a major emphasis on customization of these packaging types. After all, the more they can cater to brands and target groups, the greater the likelihood that they will be successful. Concepts such as digital printing therefore attracted considerable attention.

Friederike Arndt

As a freelance trade journalist, Friederike Arndt is regarded as an expert in the area of beverages. She spent a long time writing for, inter alia, the trade magazines Getränkeindustrie (beverage industry) and Getränkefachgroßhandel (beverage wholesale trade). On the blog, she reports on the latest trends and innovations in the field of non-alcoholic beverages.