The beverage can: popular and unbreakable – part 1

The beverage can boasts overproportional growth rates worldwide, with the European market a shining example. And even in Germany where a deposit on cans was introduced more than ten years ago, they are enjoying an unexpected renaissance.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-07-07 um 10.04.37More than 300 billion beverage cans were filled worldwide in 2012. If we assume an average filling volume of only 330 millilitres, this corresponds to almost a billion hectolitres of beverage. Within 15 years, global demand for beverage cans rose by over 50 per cent, and in Europe by a spectacular 80 per cent, to reach around 60 billion cans in 2012.

Can deposit: a sudden upheaval

The special situation in Germany demands a somewhat closer examination. In 2002, the world of the can manufacturers and beverage canners was a comfortingly rosy one: more than six billion cans of beverages were still being consumed back then. At the beginning of 2003, the German federal government enacted a law imposing a deposit on non-returnable packages of drinks. For each can and non-returnable bottle, consumers now had to pay 25 cents extra. This deposit was recorded on a voucher and paid out again when the empty can had been duly returned. A system that was not without its difficulties, since back then a nationwide take-back scheme was not yet in place. The retailers reacted by simply taking the cans off the shelves, whereupon the beverage can market in Germany just collapsed.

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“I can still remember it vividly”, explains Clemens Paulus, Plant Manager at Ball Packaging Europe in Hassloch. “It was the 24th of January 2003. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon we had to shut down the machines, because we no longer had any orders”. A sudden and merciless upheaval: from six billion to more or less zero. In that year the company was asked to supply a mere 300,000 cans for the German market. It was in the same year, too, that the former Schmalbach-Lubeca Group was taken over by the Ball Corporation. So Schmalbach’s Beverage Can Division became “Ball Packaging Europe”. In the subsequent years, the German facilities exported most of their production output, up to 98 per cent of it: it was only from 2006 onwards following the introduction of a nationwide take-back system for non-returnable beverage packages, that more and more retail chains restored the cans to their shelves, and can sales in Germany began to rise perceptibly. In 2011, demand exceeded the one-billion limit once again, increasing to 1.4 billion in 2012, with 1.8 billion cans predicted for 2014 in the German market. The can’s share of the packaging mix in Germany is thus still quite low (about three per cent of the beer market and around two per cent of the soft-drinks market in 2012), but it is trending steadily upwards. Mea­sured by the number of fills (i.e. including exports), the can is looking a whole lot better in Germany anyway: the total in 2012 was 3.4 billion cans, of which about 1.2 billion were for soft drinks, and 2.2 billion for the beer market.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-07-07 um 10.04.5460 billion cans a year in Europe

On a European comparison, however, these figures are pretty low: according to Beverage Can Makers Europe (BCME), just under 60 billion cans are filled in Europe each year.

The proportion of cans increased by 3.7 per cent in 2012 compared to the preceding year, and this despite falling beer consumption levels. In the beer market, particularly, the can is taking market shares from the returnable bottle all over Europe, but this also reflects the general decrease in out-of-home consumption at bars and restaurants, together with consumers’ rising sensitivity to pricing. In some markets, the can is already quite obviously dominant, in the UK’s beer market, for instance, with a share of 71 per cent, or in the Spanish beer market, with 40 per cent.

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A total of 46 factories are producing beverage cans in Europe, plus another ten plants for can lids. They are owned by five internationally operating corporations: Rexam, the market leader in Europe, Ball, the Number One worldwide and Europe’s second-largest producer, Crown Bevcan, Can-Pack and Bagpack (with just one facility in Poland). Ball Packaging Europe is a subsidiary of the USA’s Ball Corporation, which in 2013 earned 6.5 billion dollars alone of its total 8.5-billion-dollar turnover worldwide with beverage packaging. The European subsidiary has recently moved its registered office to Zürich, operates ten beverage can plants, and two lid production facilities in six of Europe’s nations, and with a workforce of 2,800 people achieves an annual turnover of 1.5 billion euros. Cans are being made from tinplate now in only three of these ten plants; the general trend is moving definitely towards aluminium cans

To be continued…