Market Drives New Steel Can Features

Market dynamics drive new can features, ranging from ease of opening to microwaveability.

By Kate Bertrand

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Can shaping technology from Crown Holdings creates an evocative “home-cooked” kettle package for Stockmeyer.

Shapely cans

The emerging popularity of shaped cans in the U.S. illustrates food companies’ growing interest in differentiating their canned products via the package. As with many can innovations, shaped cans first found a foothold in Europe.

Stockmeyer AG of Germany uses a kettle-shaped can for a line of heat-and-serve soups sold in the United Kingdom. Crown Holdings (, Philadelphia, supplies the shaped, easy-open can to Stockmeyer and also to Trader Joe’s for a line of private-label soups marketed in the U.S.

The shaped can doubles as packaging and point-of-sale advertising. “The kettle shape reinforces all sorts of subtle images or impressions about home cooking and the taste of home-cooked soups,” says Dan Abramowicz, executive vice president of technology and regulatory affairs at Crown Holdings.

“They’re using the shape to do more than differentiate the product and have it stand out on the shelf. It’s to support the product’s brand image,” he says.

Shaped cans convey premium brand quality, as well. Comfort Foods Inc., North Andover, Mass., shapes its own cans for roasted, ground arabica coffee. Communicating premium quality is the rationale.

Comfort Foods shapes 6- to 32-oz. steel cans into canister and barrel shapes; both shapes are trademarked. The three-piece cans are shaped, filled and closed inline.

“Consumers have had the perception that coffee in a can is a commodity product, and if you really want good coffee you have to get it in the bag or whole bean,” says Stephen Liff, Comfort Foods’ vice president of marketing. “But in reality, the package has nothing to do with the product’s quality.” The shaped cans create “a special presence on the shelf to tell the consumer this is not your ordinary coffee in a can.”

Similarly, convenience features such as easy-opening, self-heating and microwaveability are bringing cachet to canned products. The humble can is poised to become a premium package, something Napoleon never would have predicted.


There is an art to creating a pop-top can end that is easy to open yet strong enough to stay closed from filling plant through distribution to point of use. Depending on the easy-open end you use, it may be necessary to re-engineer how you handle and pack filled cans.

The goal is to make sure nothing catches or presses on the easy-open end either during processing or when stacked in shippers. A failure could result in cans breaking open or being compromised.

Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., addressed the distribution aspect by designing an egg carton-style case for easy-open aluminum Spam cans. The rectangular two-piece cans nest in the case, with easy-open ends separated. “The cans fit in there so they don’t knock against each other in shipping. The cans don’t hit each other, so you don’t have the scores breaking,” says Larry Vorpahl, vice president and general manager of Hormel’s Grocery Products Business Unit.


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