The UK canning industry believes that retail giant Sainsbury, which recently championed Tetra Recart packaging, would be wrong to dismiss the potential of steel packaging on the basis of one market survey.
The supermarket recently issued a press release promoting the positive results received from marketing processed chopped tomatoes in new Tetra Recart packaging. The retailer indicated that this new form of packaging could soon be rolled out across all food lines traditionally packed in the food can.
However the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) is concerned that Sainsbury has drawn its conclusions on the basis of incorrect information. MPMA technical manager David Smith argues that any sweeping claim based merely on a test market exercise on a single product is ill advised and premature.
He claims that Sainsbury should not overlook that fact that the steel can is a tried, tested and trusted form of high performance packaging, and that 27 billion food cans are used every year in Europe alone.
Tetra Recart, developed by Tetra Pak, is a square carton package made out of a new paperboard laminate material designed for food products traditionally packed in cans, glass jars or pouches. The carton packages can be used to pack wet shelf-stable products, such as chilli, which contain particles of any size, like beans and rice, with a shelf life of up to 24 months.
Tetra Pak argues that the Recart has several advantages. The concept is, in effect, a combined processing and carton-based packaging system for in-container sterilisation food. Running at a speed of up to 24,000 packages per hour, the production capacity of a Tetra Recart line is similar to that of modern canning lines.
The paperboard laminate material allows the product in the package to be sterilised in the same manner as the traditional canning process, and the package's laser-perforated easy-open feature allows consumers to open the package with no can opener, and presents no sharp edges. The Tetra Recart is recyclable.
In addition, the square shape of Tetra Recart offers efficiency gains throughout the distribution chain because up to 50 per cent more packages can be placed on a standard pallet. The MPMA however argues that the steel can still offers several advantages. The Tetra Recart cannot be handled on can processing lines; instead a special line with an overpressure steriliser is required. The association also claims highest line speed for a Tetra Recart is significantly less that of the 50-60,000 cans per hour that is possible on some lines.
Smith also claims that with the advent of the Easy Opening end and new peelable ends, cans are now much more user-friendly and easier to open. And in any case, the metal food can is also recyclable.
APEAL, the European confederation for the manufacturers of packaging steels, recently reported that 61 per cent of packaging steel (2.1 million tonnes per year) is now being recycled in Europe.
"The metal food can will be around for some considerable time yet," said Smith. "There will always be tests for new products and packages and the food can industry is an active innovator and will go from strength to strength through innovation, the provision of safe, nutritious food, and in addition to all the attributes mentioned above, good value for money."
However, there is no doubt that as manufacturers look to new means of differentiating their products and as packaging technology advances, the steel can will come under increasingly more pressure from new innovations and concepts. These, such as Tetra Recart, purport to offer the same quality and safety features as the can - but with greater shelf appeal.