Cans or Cartons?


Is the traditional center store poised for a renaissance or reinvention? Packaging manufacturers are making a substantive case for both scenarios.

According to research from The Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), food cans are preferred by consumers when compared with other packaging formats. The findings, shared with PG by Crown Food Packaging North America, show that cans help families enjoy nutritious meals and significantly impact retail profits, connecting retailers, brands and consumers to the foods they enjoy.

The new research indicates that, when asked which package is best for sealing in nutrients, existing purchasers of canned food chose the can nearly twice as often as frozen boxes/bags or glass jars. Backing this up is data showing that cans outsell alternative food packaging two to one in sales per unit.

Among the key demographic groups, Millennials and Gen-Xers with children select canned food more often than consumers without kids. Canned goods are stocked in 98 percent of Americans’ kitchens, and eight in 10 Americans do not go one week without cooking with them. CMI also points to the infinite recyclability of steel food cans.

Metal or Paper

So is the tried-and-true can the key to a rebirth of traditional center store?

Makers of paper-based aseptic carton packaging say otherwise, arguing that can packaging has created a center store perceived as undifferentiated and commoditized.

In a recent study, SIG Combibloc makes the case for using aseptic carton technology to revitalize center store, using the example of the shelf-stable tomato segment. The U.S. canned tomato industry has reliably delivered high quality, shelf-stable tomato products to consumers for decades. But, SIG contends, the market for canned tomato products has faced a number of significant challenges, resulting in declining sales volume and value; heavy price promotions; and increasing shares of store brands that have propelled commoditization of the segment.

SIG also waves the Millennials’ flag in buttressing its case, noting that consumers are becoming more aware of sustainability and health attributes, and in particular, Millennials have been driving demand for brands and food products that support their increasingly conscious lifestyle. “This trend will fundamentally change how consumers evaluate product and packaging choices,” the study says, citing as support a boost in sales of tomatoes in Europe since the market adopted carton packaging.

“Aseptic carton packaging technology offers vast opportunities to play an essential role in supporting U.S. tomato brands and manufacturers in innovating and adapting product and packaging offerings,” SIG contends. “By utilizing the full potential of aseptic carton packaging technology, the tomato industry can offer consumers innovation required to revitalize and create sustainable value in the shelf-stable tomato segment.”

As further support, the study cites expanded usage of ready-to-serve broth since cans were joined on the shelf by cartons, which is now the dominant packaging format in the category. It points to the sustainability of paperboard cartons as well.


What does this all mean for grocers?

Retailers will get behind whatever format spends the least time on the shelf and generates the greatest basket ring. It’s up to the makers of each packaging type, working in concert with CPG companies, to make their case. The proof will be found at the register.

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