Ushering in a new era

Collaboration, sustainability and consumer safety remain critical to the evolution of metal packaging, says Dr Robyn McMillan*

Coca-Cola recently announced that it will launch newly-designed beverage cans in 2023. The brand aims to create more affordable products for consumers as the company published very positive full-year results despite rising inflation rates and raw material costs. To meet consumer expectations, beverage products and packaging will similarly need continued evolution and innovation.

As brands expand their offering with new products and compete for shelf space with non-alcoholic beers, mocktails, coffees, energy, nutrient and herbal-infused beverages, they need distinctive and innovative packaging to capture consumer attention. Thanks to industry innovation, investment, and creativity, many of today’s most successful brands use diverse beverage can sizes, designs and functions to catch consumers’ eyes and create a memorable drink experience that keeps consumers coming back for more. 

Remember when the Monster energy drink entered the market with its larger 16-ounce can, featuring a standout design while packing a jolt of caffeine? Monster Energy partnered with canmakers, coatings and ink suppliers, and label design and print engineers to launch the can with a visual and touch sensation textural surface, bringing its vision to life. Monster Energy was one of the first to widely use a tactile finish, which continues to grow in popularity. This historical example demonstrates how value chain collaboration and differentiation contributed to one brand’s exponential market growth.

Many brands have started to adopt this technology and integrated approach to bring a differentiated package to the consumer. In more recent years, well-established brands with new products entering the market have turned to canmakers and coating suppliers for distinctive finishes and effects. One particularly striking example brought to life is Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic canned cocktails, which feature a matte finish to enhance the aluminium beverage can with a sophisticated premium look and feel consistent with this 260-year-old brand’s iconic history. This 250ml sleek beverage can with rose gold accents and distinctive Bombay Queen Victoria logo successfully personifies its image and iconic brand personality on the container.

On top of the cans, canmakers have offered coloured and laser-etched beverage can ends and tabs for increased consumer engagement and shelf differentiation, and recloseable lids or full-aperture ends that create convenient, memorable, and easy-to-use products. All these innovations bring the brand personality to life for the consumer and require industry collaboration to bring them to fruition.

Aluminium cans bring sustainability

Brands are attracted to aluminium cans partly because they have a higher recycling rate and more recycled content than competing package types. The Aluminium Association estimates that nearly 75% of all aluminium produced in the US is still in use today. Metal Packaging Europe reports that no other beverage packaging can reach such high recycling rates while using so little primary material, resulting in product circularity and carbon emissions reduction.

The growing shift to aluminium beverage cans is further encouraged by the sophistication of can coatings.Interior coatings advancements help to preserve flavour stability, minimise beverage or coating migration, and comply with global food contact standards. Advancements in exterior coatings prevent abrasion or damage during transit and support industry trends toward a wider array of shapes and customised printing options, to ensure products stand out in increasingly crowded shelf spaces. These innovative coatings must allow easy and reliable application in varying temperatures and humidity in different plant conditions. 

What’s ahead for global regulations? 

The packaging industry continues to face ever-changing global food contact regulations. One closely-monitored regulation relates to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS is a large and diverse chemical family used in important products for vital industries, including telecommunications, alternative energy, healthcare, and packaging.

In the beverage can industry, co-ordination remains key to ensure that products comply with ever-changing regulations. For example, PPG’s iSense family of external coatings comply with ongoing changes in PFAS regulations, while helping products stand out on the shelf and offering a durable finish. PPG also prescribes its PPG SafeAssure product development programme for screening starting chemicals and identifying those that could affect the packaged food or beverage, to assure the longevity and sustainability of new packaging technologies.

Another regulatory matter focuses on bisphenol-based epoxies. Bisphenols (such as bisphenol-A) have been a key ingredient in epoxy coatings for metal packaging for more than 50 years. However, there’s a growing body of global regulations restricting BPA. More recently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has proposed a new Tolerable Daily Intake for BPA that could ban bisphenol-A from use in Europe.

The move has raised the attention of the global canmaking industry and accelerated discussions about non-BPA conversion in Asian and Latin American markets where the adoption of BPA-free coatings was believed to be years away. While these regulations have arrived sooner than many in the industry expected, greater industry collaboration and ongoing coatings innovation will prepare the beverage can industry for what’s ahead. 

Partnering with the right can coatings supplier remains critical in every market. Major brands and canmakers, for instance, are converting to PPG Innovel PRO nonBPA technology. The complete removal of bisphenols in food-contact coatings aligns with PPG’s decades-long non-bisphenol strategy. Today, the technology has coated more than 220 billion cans in more than 40 countries. 

Collaboration for the future

Collaboration is the industry’s ticket for continued growth. The beverage industry has boomed in the past few years due to the expansion from beer and carbonated soft drinks to a wide variety of beverages spanning protein drinks, non-alcoholic beer, and carbonated water. As the space becomes more congested by the minute, a decorative package proves an effective strategy to help brands generate interest, demand, and loyalty for their products. Greater industry collaboration can push beverage can sizes, designs, and functionalities to new levels while tackling important industry issues, ensuring the new beverage can era continues well into the future. 

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