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Shaping technology injects market excitement in metal cans

Until a couple of years ago, American packagers using cans seemed satisfied with the straight sidewall profile and functionality of most metal cans. The cans were strong, easy to fill and seam, and offered a number of labeling, case packing and stacking options.
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Consumers too knew what to expect in a can: peas tuna soup. . . comfort foods and familiar favorites like soft drinks. Then Coke got this crazy notion. "Why not put Coca-Cola in cans shaped like our Mae West bottle?" They probably didn't refer to their glass icon that way. But you get the idea. Coke had switched out of stock PET bottles to ones with a chubby resemblance to the classic glass Coke bottle and had subsequently seen sales jump. I can hear them discussing it now: "If plastic bottles with curved walls hiked sales imagine what contoured cans could do!" The atmosphere in the room the day Coke decided to kick their old comfortable can and go for something with a few more curves must have been electric. Anyone worrying about the fact that canmakers weren't yet capable of commercially producing carbonated soft drink cans with modulating walls kept silent or was shushed into silence. The euphoria must have been carbonating. If there were naysayers they soon came to realize that the craziness of the notion was generating an excitement about cans that hadn't been felt since the emergence of the easy-open end in the early 1960s. Coke may have noticed that the European market holds its cans in higher esteem than we do in the States. Is that because Europeans have a wider choice of steel food can shapes graphics and easy-opening devices than we do in the U.S.? When we look for pork and beans our can choices are limited to size and a lack of dents. Not much excitement adventure or romance in the process either. And the added value of excitement adventure and romance is what Coke is looking for in its next generation of cans. There have been shaped beverage cans before of course. Back in the 1970s Hamm's beer rolled out in barrel-shaped cans. And today you can find Sapporo Draft beer in elegant 22-ounce silver fluted cans shaped vaguely like glasses. But those were and are three-piece containers. What Coke's looking for are two-piece contoured cans something a little more shapely than the fluted cylinders American National Can Co. (Chicago IL) Crown Cork & Seal Co. Inc. (Philadelphia PA) Metal Containers Corp. (St. Louis MO) and others can make. CarnaudMetalbox (Paris France)-now part of Crown-may already have a commercial technology to satisfy Coke's thirst for new can angles. For some time now it has been blow molding two-piece cans for the French beverage syrup Teisseire (photo at top). Yes that's a blow-molded steel can. The Crown/CMB process is the focus of a technology alliance with Groupe Sidel (Le Havre France). The goal is to be able to satisfy the shaped two-piece can needs of Coke (and other food and beverage packagers). Hoogovens Packaging (Ijmuiden The Netherlands) says it expects to have a user for its pilsner-glass-shaped steel two-piece can (see page 84) that was prominently displayed at Metpack and interpack in May. Rasselstein-Hoesch GmbH (Neuwied Germany) and Ball Corp. (Muncie IN) are also working on technology for shaping two-piece cans. And Ball's Touch Top(TM) can end has finally reached the marketplace in Colorado (see page 2). Others on the two-piece curved can case are believed to include Reynolds Metals Co. (Richmond VA) and SilganContainers Corp. (Woodland Hills CA). Clearly Coke's "crazy notion" has set the mad mad mad mad world of canmaking to huffing and puffing to conjure up new ways to contour cans. This idea certainly is breathing new interest in one of our oldest container forms. PEN beer bottle has a new 'old style' look Brewers in Europe the US Canada and Japan (and probably elsewhere) are clearly intrigued by the regulatory and technological advances being made with a new resin polyethylene naphthalate (PEN). It won't be long before one of the major brands puts its brew into PEN bottles in a test market somewhere. We think Anheuser-Busch is going to do it first in North America. If the FDA hadn't waited until this past April to approve PEN homopolymers for food packaging A-B would have put PEN beer bottles in the hands of consumers during the Olympics to gauge their reactions. The company scrapped that idea but continues to investigate advances in the PEN bottle arena. When Anheuser-Busch does bring a PEN bottle to market it's likely to be a returnable 22-ounce brown "special occasion" bottle. The high cost of NDC - the basic feedstock for PEN - pretty much prices a one-way PEN beer bottle out of the market for now. "Special occasion" might include parties picnics beaches etc. One interesting PEN bottle concept that Anheuser-Busch is evaluating was developed by Greiner und Sohne (Kremsmunster Austria) using Hipertuf® PEN resins from Shell Chemical Co. (Houston TX). As reported elsewhere in this issue (page 34) Greiner's brown and clear PEN homopolymer and PEN/PET copolymer bottles are being evaluated by several brewers. An intriguing aspect of the Greiner bottle is its closure and neck finish (see photo). The finish permits the bottle to be sealed with a conventional tinplate crown-the "old-style" pry-off type. This will facilitate the bottle's acceptance by brewers since they won't have to install screw cappers to run it. Greiner's bottle incorporates a unique capping support ring. Rather than a flanged ring characteristic of soft drink bottles Greiner's PEN bottle has a sealing groove cut in its thick neck. Special grippers fit into the groove and prevent the bottle from being crushed during crowning. Brewers will have to modify their cappers to incorporate the grippers but Greiner reasons that that's faster and cheaper than installing new screw capping equipment. And considering the current economics of PEN brewers should be happy to toast any approach that can ease the price pinch. c

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