By Dan Abramowicz, Executive Vice President, Technology and Regulatory Affairs, Crown Holdings, Inc.
Just as a check engine light flags a potential vehicle issue or a meat thermometer indicates when a steak is at the perfect internal temperature, the distinct sound of a beverage can popping open provides valuable information to a consumer—in this case, confirming that the product is still as fizzy, fresh and flavorful as ever—perfect for drinking. As the physical barrier between the actual product and the consumer, ends and closures play a critical role in protecting product safety and quality.
Yet, the role of these critical packaging components runs far deeper than acting as a gatekeeper by offering brands a valuable chance to enhance the way consumers interact with their products. Thanks to numerous technology advancements, brands can utilize ends and closures to elevate the entire consumer experience, meeting the needs of changing lifestyles and the packaging formats that support them.
At their core, ends and closures have a critical mission of protecting products from the moment they are packaged to the moment the consumer takes the first sip, bite or spoonful. Long after items have left the manufacturing plant, ends and closures serve as the last line of defense between a product and outside elements like air, moisture, light, dirt and dust.
For the consumer, ends and closures provide quick visual and audio proof that a beverage or food is safe to consume, and they depend on brands to mitigate these risks on their behalf. A faulty seal can damage the relationship between brand and consumer, making it imperative for manufacturers to invest in high quality, effective end and closure designs that prove to be trustworthy.
Going the Extra Mile
While providing the green light for consumption may be a key function of ends and closures, these packaging components can also provide substantial benefits in terms of prolonging the lifespan of a product. That strong seal that blocks outside threats also helps to maintain the conditions within the package, regulating air and moisture levels to keep food fresh, tasty and nutritionally dense over expanded periods of time.
By extending product shelf life, ends and closures can deliver significant cost-savings for consumers, as products last longer and require replacement less frequently. In the same vein, ends and closures can help to reduce food waste, as products are less likely to wind up in the trash prematurely.
Adapting to Trends
In today’s market, consumers are more mobile than ever before, living fast-paced lifestyles and demanding products to match. As a result, the packaging industry has witnessed a surge in formats optimized for on-the-go consumption, and ends and closures have advanced right along with them, enabling these packaging formats to operate as intended.
Easy-open ends that do not require can openers, for example, make consumption during travel or commutes more convenient, eliminating the need for extra tools. Metal vacuum closures on jars can be difficult for some consumers to open. Innovations in closure design now allow consumers to easily remove lids without hassle, no matter their age or dexterity. In addition, advancements in peelable aluminum lids allow for consumers to transform their primary packaging into a dish and eat directly out of the container, making the use of an additional bowl or plate unnecessary. These lids separate cleanly from the container, leaving a smooth edge that is safe to touch and eat from—especially useful for feeding pets wet food on the go. Lastly, metal closures that latch onto bottles and jars firmly offer a tight, trustworthy seal that prevents leaks and messes when consumers are en route and products are subject to bouncing, shifting and shaking.
Ranking just as high on the list of consumer concerns is sustainability, a constant driver for packaging innovation. Metal closures themselves are constructed from an infinitely recyclable material, but their application flexibility can potentially send fewer products to landfill and contribute to larger eco-friendly movements.
Continued advancements in material lightweighting have yielded aluminum closures that offer the same durability consumers expect with metal packaging but in thinner versions that use fewer materials per unit, while new innovations for PVC-free closures also help manufacturers to meet green initiatives.
While any advancement that can make the user experience more helpful or personal will foster greater connections with consumers, brands can also use ends and closures to highlight their own stories, personalities and missions.
Though they may not be the largest element on the package, ends and closures may be touched most often and are the door to the product. With this in mind, brands can utilize these components as another unexpected marketing platform—placing eye-catching designs, logos or colors on beverage and food can pull tabs or stamping brand facts or slogans on the skirt or underside of closures.
Unique matte, metallic and glossy finishes can provide a high-end feel for closures, while innovations in printing also allow metal closures to feature QR codes and other digital technologies that can drive consumers to corporate websites, where they can learn more information or interact directly with brands.
As a whole, as metal packaging continues to advance, brands can use ends and closures to create products that utilize every inch of real estate and feature a cohesive, modern design with heightened shelf appeal. Whether for form or function, taking advantage of these opportunities for head-to-toe detail helps demonstrate a contemporary brand vision that recognizes the evolving lifestyles, preferences and tastes of its customers.