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Packaging managers looking for innovations can be forgiven for focusing most of their attention on the flexible packaging and rigid plastic container fields.

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After all, that's where a lot of the action is these days. But don't let bursts of packaging creativity in the plastic and/or flexible sectors blind you to packaging innovations cropping up in other sectors. Certainly, the creative juices were flowing at the recent Cannex show in Denver. Metal beverage can creativity and the current trend to produce beverage cans with ever-wider openings reached new dimensions at Alcoa's Cannex booth. There, the Rigid Packaging and Development Division unveiled: * an aluminum bottle, * an ultra-wide opening can end that's two-and-a half times larger than today's largest pouring apertures, * a beverage can with a false bottom that conceals a prize-hiding chamber and, * another can with a scratch-off coating covering promotional messages. Alcoa's patented aluminum bottle is particularly interesting. The base of the one-piece, 16-oz aluminum container resembles a conventional 211-diameter can. But where a typical beverage can necks into a 202 or 204 diameter, the aluminum bottle necks down to about 100, then rises straight up, forming a chimney. A polypropylene collar slips over the chimney and locks in place at its base. The circumference of the collar is threaded to accept any of a variety of closures, including the mechanical tamper-evident designs produced by Alcoa Closure Systems Intl. (Indianapolis, IN). Alcoa, of course, doesn't make cans (or bottles). But it is currently working out production options with various canmakers and canmaking machinery manufacturers. Alcoa wasn't the only company with innovative cans at Cannex. Tiny Van Can Co. (San Diego, CA) won "Cans of the Year" honors for two distortion-printed cans currently being introduced by Campbell Soup Co. for its Swanson canned chicken breast. Distortion printed "in the flat" before forming, the high-quality images on the two-piece steel cans include full-color photographs of serving suggestions and all the usual required copy including scannable UPC codes. Another metal packaging innovation seen at Cannex is a retortable aluminum foil can and lid system. The foil has an aggressive heat seal layer that bonds firmly to a special flange finish on the can so that the foil remains firmly sealed despite the internal pressure build up of the retort process. Alcan Aluminum (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), using production equipment from Hans Rychiger AG (Steffisburg, Switzerland), is offering this retortable foil lidding system. Packaging Technology & Inspection (Tuckahoe, NY), representing the Rychiger line in the U.S., showed a range of retortable lids at Cannex, including a remarkable full-color process printed rectangular lid for fish fillets that took honors in the Cans of the Year competition. Every one of these new metal packaging concepts costs more than conventional cans or ends that may prevent them from ever being commercialized. That would be a shame, since many of the newest canmaking innovations have the potential to upgrade consumer perceptions of canned goods. A good example is Heineken's Dutch World Cup Soccer can (see photo). It certainly costs the brewer more than a conventional can. But it's remarkable what the brewer achieves in the short time its newest shaped can is in the market. The limited-run can is shaped and embossed in register with special graphics and copy, i.e., the words to the Dutch soccer player fight song on a raised band that winds around the body of the can. Because it is only going to be around for as long as the Dutch team is in contention for the Cup, the can is coveted and sought out as a collectible! Besides its graphic appeal, the can's shaping is functional in two ways: it makes the can easier to grip, and it transforms the beer can into a patriotic, interactive communications medium. My guess is that the upcharge Heineken paid Crown Cork & Seal's CarnaudMetalbox (Botcherby, England) for the can is more than covered by increased Dutch consumer demand for the unique container. Your container choice speaks eloquently to consumers. When it comes to getting consumers to buy your product, hoping won't make it happen. But investing in an upgraded container will. Are you ready to risk it?

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