Food fight! While conjuring up
images of battles with mashed potato, the words are about to
take on a new meaning as a mini-revolution is geared to heat up
in the kitchen.
The catalyst is the arrival of microwaveable
steel and aluminum food packaging-certain to light a fire under
metal packagers and their plastic-producing counterparts in
their rivalry to gain market share.
The booming U.S. flexible packaging industry
currently accounts for just 18 percent (about $23.5 billion) of
the overall $130-billion packaging market, second only to
corrugated paper at 24 percent. And with the flexible packaging
market growing at an estimated 4.4 percent annually, players
are keen to develop ways to differentiate their products. The
largest market for flexible packaging is food, both retail and
institutional, accounting for more than 57 percent of
The notion that metal containers can't be
microwaved is being turned on its head, according to Joe
Pryweller, managing editor of newsletter Packaging Strategies
and executive director of the Can Food Alliance, which promotes
the benefits of canned food.
According to the results of a German study
done for the Brussels-based Association of European Producers
of Steel for Packaging (Apeal), shallow and open steel and
aluminum containers are indeed micro-waveable. And while
heating times for food in steel and aluminum containers are
longer than plastic containers, the food is more uniformly
heated than in the rival plastic product.
The microwaveability of metal containers
opens up new opportunities for both consumers and food
processors alike, according to the study. For consumers, it
offers the added convenience of either heating by conventional
oven or by microwave; for processors, it provides new
opportunities to segment their product range further by
developing suitable food products such as ready meals and soups
that are microwaveable.
In Europe, concept packages for the growing
market of ready-made meals have been developed by France's
Impress Metal Packaging SA and ArcelorMittal SA, Luxembourg,
using ArcelorMittal's patented Creasteel technology, a new
packaging steel that enables packagers to differentiate their
microwaveable product via complex and original shapes.
Inspired by the Japanese market, where
microwaveable steel food containers have been available for
years, ArcelorMittal Packaging International has teamed with
European packaging manufacturers to develop microwaveable
Creasteel packaging for the retail market.
"The microwave ready-meal market is growing
globally by 6 to 10 percent annually and is dominated by
plastic containers and trays. That segment presents a major
growth opportunity for metal packaging," said Doreen Decker,
strategic development marketing manager of Impress Metal
Packaging, one of the companies that funded the study.
Ball Metal Food Packaging, Broomfield, Colo.,
has developed a patented microwavable can called Fusion-Tek, a
single-serve package that isn't yet on store shelves. "Our
pilot production line has been running for many months and
we've run several successful line trials. At this time, we are
focused solely on launching the product in North America," said
Jennifer Hoover, the company's manager of marketing
The industry continues to reinvent itself.
One example is Buitoni pasta and sauce pouches made by CLP
Industries Ltd.'s CLP Packaging Solutions division in
Fairfield, N.J. In switching from jars to stand-up pouches,
Buitoni used shaped-pouch technology to maintain its sauces'
distinctive profile on supermarket shelves. The product-stored
at room temperature-has reduced handling and logistical