Page 4: Product development
Currently the ends of all drinks cans are made from aluminium ring pull ends. Competitively, British Steel saw an opportunity to penetrate this market. To grasp the new opportunity, British Steel Tinplate joined with other European steelmakers to find a solution. The net result has been the development of a new can end called Ecotop. This steel beverage end is opened via a push button mechanism, offering the customer an attractive alternative to the ring pull end. The small button is pushed open first to release the pressure in the can and then the larger button is pushed open to create the drinking aperture.
During the development of Ecotop many issues were addressed including, ease of opening, pressure resistance, environmental profile and consumer preference. Extensive market research revealed an impressive 83% preference for Ecotop against the aluminium ring pull end.
Can design and shelf appeal are crucial for product image. The appearance of aluminium cans have traditionally been perceived to be superior to steel cans in terms of shelf impact. The development of shrink sleeving and wraparound labels have been employed as one innovative method of enhancing the appearance of steel beverage cans. The decoration is applied to the can through the application of a plastic film which contains the appropriate branding. These processes have helped to:
- improve flexibility due to the ease with which design changes can be made to labels
- allow labels to be applied to existing stocks to ‘rejuvenate’ slow moving items
- create striking effects because of the ability to use more colours and through three dimensional effects and colour contrasts
- enable different labels to be applied to the same product – facilitating market testing of new designs;
- create new decoration possibilities, which were not possible with the interaction of metal, basecoats and inks.
Importantly, the quality of conventionally decorated steel cans has also been enhanced, aiding the switch by brands such as Coca Cola & Carling Black Label back to steel.
Appreciating the environmental benefits
At the beginning of the 1990’s, the environmental benefits of steel were not fully appreciated by consumers. Steel drinks cans have walls 30% thinner than those of other drinks cans. Aluminium manufacturing uses six times more energy than steel on a weight for weight basis and the most effective of any packaging recovery systems is magnetic extraction. It recovers over 80% of steel cans from domestic waste.
More than five million steel cans are recycled every day of the year. Electromagnets installed at local authorities’ waste treatment plants pay for themselves in a short period of time, through the value of the steel collected and the saving on the cost of landfill. British Steel initiated the Steel Can Recycling
Information Bureau to provide information, a helpline and resource packs. Save-a-Can was acquired by British Steel Tinplate in 1990, since when, it has expanded over eight-fold to create over 1,700 banks operated in partnership with more than 200 councils. The tin and aluminium are separated from steel cans and recycled and the steel is returned to the steel industry for use in new steel production.