Packaging Trends -- Metal and Glass: Critical Components

March 12, 2010
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In recent years, the packaging industry has seen increasingly specific demands from consumers, even on the glass and metal sides. Today’s consumers want packaging to be recyclable, convenient and unique.

“As the retail market becomes increasingly competitive, packaging for consumer products must be more than convenient and functional,” says Mike Dunleavy, vice president of corporate affairs and public relations at Crown Holdings Inc., Philadelphia.

A Sustainable Movement

Although “recycling” has been a household word for decades, sustainability is taking the concept of recycling even further, as educated consumers ask questions about product origin, manufacturing, distribution and more. Consumers want to get an idea of how earth-friendly (or not) packaging might be.

For glass packaging, the impact of the sustainability movement has been positive.

“We’re seeing consumers looking more to glass and asking why there isn’t as much as there used to be,” says Joe Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), Alexandria, Va.

Glass packaging, he says, offers a number of benefits on the sustainability front.

 “We can turn the same glass back into the same glass,” Cattaneo says. “It’s not made into anything else, and it’s made and converted at the same location,” he says, also pointing to the impact of closed-loop recycling. “The same bottle can be made into the same bottle, not a park bench or a sweater.”

Consumers’ perception of metal also has improved, thanks to renewed interest in recycling and sustainability. Metal is 100 percent recyclable and has an endless lifecycle, according to Dunleavy.

“Steel and aluminum are infinitely recyclable, with no loss or alteration in quality,” he says. “Recycled in a true material-to-material loop, metals retain their original properties regardless of how many times they are recycled.”

And although the initial production of both glass and metal is energy-intensive, recycling requires less energy.

And for consumers, recycling is familiar and comfortable. According to a GPI study, of the 81.1 percent of households that recycle, 82 percent of them recycle glass bottles.

Convenience Counts

Metal packaging has achieved new levels of convenience. Innovations such as microwavable cans and easy-open ends, Dunleavy points out, have helped food marketers and retailers “meet the needs of their [consumers’] increasingly busy lifestyles.” Easy-open containers also have attracted the aging population, as they require less torque to open. And portability - beyond traditional metal beverage cans - has filled additional voids, thus opening up ample opportunities for meals and snacks away from the home.

Unlike lighter metal packaging, glass packaging often spurs concerns of weight or breakage, making it less than ideal for on-the-go usage. However, Cattaneo believes the purity of glass is a huge asset, especially given today’s focus on health and safety in food and beverage products.

With new research uncovering potential implications from plastic usage in food and beverage packaging, glass packaging has experienced a resurgence in popularity, especially in the baby products segments. According to Cattaneo, glass bottles and glass baby-food jars have alleviated some fears about plastic.

“Glass can’t leach at all,” he emphasizes.

But for the sake of convenience and lighter-weight packaging, many glass food containers have gone the way of plastic. Still, Cattaneo says opportunities exist for bringing glass back, in particular for high-end products. For brand marketers and retailers exploring private label options, Cattaneo says glass packaging has clear benefits, thanks to its purity, as well as its self-marketing abilities.

“It’s a differentiator,” he says. “You can see the product; you can label it the way you’d like to, and it’s similar in cost to plastic, metal or aseptic packaging. And it can help with margin because [products packaged in glass] can sell at a slightly higher price.”

Invest in Innovation

As consumer trends continue to evolve and competition at retail grows, players in both the glass and metal packaging industries still have room to innovate.

“We’re looking at designed containers, especially in liquor, wine and, to some degree, beer,” Cattaneo says.

Designed containers use molds to shape the glass rather than relying on labels to deliver the graphic message independently.

In the soft drink segment, nostalgia recently made a notable impact as brand marketers brought back retro labels and tapped further into emotional branding. Glass packaging, Cattaneo says, can and should be playing more of a role because “glass was the benchmark for packaging a lot of beverages, condiments and beer.”

Similarly, Dunleavy says the metal packaging industry has seen advances in shaping, printing and decorating techniques that can help brands stand out on the shelf.

“Brands can take on a premium look and feel,” he says, “and also enhance ergonomics and consumer interaction.” Overall, both glass and metal packaging can help retailers meet the demands of today’s consumers - consumers who are educated in sustainable practices and looking for convenience and innovation in one neat package. PLB

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