Craft Beer in Cans: The Future May Be Aluminum

A Q&A with Megan Easterling, Marketing Manager for Ball’s Beverage Packaging North & Central America Business.

By: Elisabeth Cuneo, Editor

Cans offer intrinsic value such as the highest recycling rate of all beverage packages, portability and durability, they also offer 360-degree graphics.

Craft beer is everywhere, with fun names, package designs and interesting flavor options sure to entice craft consumers. We reached out to Ball Corp. to see what’s new in craft beer, from a packaging standpoint, and to ask if the future of the segment really is aluminum.

Packaging Technology Today: With so many more beer brands and varieties launching every year, how important is the product’s packaging to stand out on the busy shelf?

Megan Easterling: We are experiencing a golden age of craft beer, and the number of great craft beers available to consumers is incredible. Even within specific beer types there are many, many choices, but the abundance of choice can lead to some issues for brands on shelf. So many choices can lead to confusion, or even consumers being overwhelmed. This is where packaging plays a vital role in getting the attention of consumers, helping them make a choice. Cans offer intrinsic value such as the highest recycling rate of all beverage packages, portability and durability, they also offer 360-degree graphics, giving craft brewers even more space to express their brand identity. People collect beer cans for a reason – our customers are constantly creating cans that we consider true artwork they are so beautiful. Additional Ball features such as tactile inks, or matte finishes, add to the package’s appeal. Our cans grab the attention of consumers looking at full shelves in ways that labels slapped on other containers can’t touch.

PTT: How does the package further enhance the beer’s brand?

Easterling: Some brands are directly aligned with the sustainability advantages of the can. Many craft beer brands are built around active or on-the-go lifestyles that directly tie to the outdoors, where portability and the 100 percent infinitely recyclable benefits of the can support the brand image. Other brands leverage the high-resolution graphics of the can, using color, images or special features like tactile ink to bring their brand to life. Consumers equate a high-end package with a high-end beverage. A plain package stamped with “drinking water” leads a consumer to associate the contents of the package a certain way (plain jane water), while a deep purple can with intricate, silver tactile ink, or a high-end matte finish elevates the package and the brand in the mind of the consumer, leading to a premium perception without even knowing exactly what is inside the can.

Many craft beer brands leverage the high-resolution graphics of the can, using
color, images or special features like tactile ink to bring their brand to life.

PTT: Why is the use of cans growing in the craft beer space?

Easterling: Two main reasons: Craft brewers know cans are better for beer, and cans create more occasions that help our customers grow. Cans block light and oxygen from getting to beer better than other substrates. And we talked about the sustainability and visual appeal of cans, and their pack in, pack out convenience. Cans also can go where glass cannot, like pools, parks, beaches, etc. They are easy to throw into a backpack and hit the trail, and Ball offers cans in more than 20 sizes to fit a wide variety of needs and occasions.

PTT: How important is sustainability when talking about these products?

Easterling: Sustainability is important to most everyone Ball works with these days. And of course Ball’s industry-leading sustainability performance is clear in our rankings in well-regarded indexes like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and others. Sustainability is part of the conversation with our customers every single day, and for brands who align with enjoying the outdoors responsibly, it’s even more important. Metal drives the packaging recycling stream, metal is where the vast majority of the value is. Plastic and glass have lower recycling rates and plastic has a host of environmental issues. Our customers know that and it’s important to them.

PTT: How popular is the reclosable aluminum bottle? Do you see this format growing?

Easterling: Ball introduced our Alumi-Tek® bottle 10 years ago, and it’s been hugely successful. It brought reclosability to all of the other advantages of the can. As consumers continue to choose cans over other packaging types we believe requests for reclosable containers will continue to grow. Our Alumi-Tek® bottle is the perfect package to meet that need.

PTT: Where do you see beer packaging heading over the next 5 years?

Easterling: Ball will continue to deliver can innovations to help our customers grow. Last year we brought our Widget Inside, a nitrogen widget, to North America. Craft beer is on an amazing growth streak, and the bigger brands are introducing new beers as well to capture some of that growth. The package plays a pivotal role in creating occasions and growing brands. We are constantly creating and evaluating new and exciting innovations for cans and look forward to bringing more of these ideas to life in the market in the future.

Ball Corporation supplies innovative, sustainable packaging solutions for beverage, food and household products customers, as well as aerospace and other technologies and services primarily for the U.S. government. Ball Corporation and its subsidiaries employ 18,450 people worldwide and 2016 net sales were $9.1 billion. For more information, visit ball.com, or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.