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Rigid Packaging:
The Can is No Dinosaur

by Shea Sturdivant Terracin

A favorite childhood memory of mine is the aroma wafting up from a newly opened can of coffee; to this day, I can think of few things that smell as good. To a modern generation of coffee drinkers, this memory must seem archaic, but to me, it is as fresh and fragrant as yesterday.

The can held the coffee until the last scoop was used, and then there was a race to see who got the empty container. Whether it was used in the workshop to hold screws and nails, used as a toy drum, or used to bake bread - in our household, coffee tins were never thrown away, they were always recycled, and this was before the term recycling was a modern buzzword.

Rigid packaging, familiarly known as cans or tins, is still around in many different shapes and sizes and has adapted to a greatly changing commercial world. Both coffee and tea comes packaged in tins, but now the packaging is as beautiful as it is practical. As to recyclable, you might be surprised to find cans are kinder to the environment than many other types of packaging. So who are some providers of rigid packaging materials today? There are several companies still kicking around and worthy of an informative stop. One such business is Independent Can Company, a family-owned and -operated manufacturer established in 1929. Frank Shriver is vice president of sales based in the headquarters in Belcamp, Maryland. It also has a manufacturing plant in Ft. Madison, Iowa and a sales office in Ontario, California. The Belcamp facility is over 350,000 sq. ft. and houses a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, an in-house art department and a lithography plant.

This company manufactures a large number of types of tins including shaped and round slip cover tins, hermetically sealed cans that can hold a vacuum with easy open ends, plug foil ends and solid end that would need a can opener. For the coffee and tea area, they normally make either decorative tins or vacuum cans.

Ray Shearn is vice president of sales and marketing of Can Corporation, a privately held sanitary can manufacturer started in 1978, with two facilities located in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The company manufactures nine different diameter cans, ranging from a diameter of 2 2/16” up to a 6 3/16” diameter, with many different heights available for each diameter. Most of their cans use sanitary ends, which means they could be opened with a can opener, however they also offer a complete line of easy open ends.

Have you heard of was Sleepless in Seattle Coffee? It was of GourmetLuxe Corporation’s - founded in May of 1996 - first product, packaged in a standard black coffee bag. Early in 1998, they completed the design and development of six of America’s Own Gourmet coffee. They package Sleepless in Seattle Coffee in keepsake tins and continue to offer this product in coffee bags.

Barbara Ferguson, president, explained that, because their market focus is on retail, destination, gift and gourmet stores, they decided to sell 2-oz. and 8-oz. tins. The lid is a mechanical fit and they place a gold logo seal over the top of the lid and a safety seal over the lip edge to prevent tampering. The coffee inside the tin is in a sealed bag. The tins open by removing the outer lip seal and pulling gently on the lid. All of the paint and tin plating conform to food grade quality requirements.

Michael Roth is vice president of marketing and operations of The Tin Box Company, founded in 1952. The company headquarters of this company is in Farmingdale, New York and the “other half” is located in partly in Hong Kong and partly China where all of their manufacturing is done. The Tin Box Company specializes in unique, fancy-shaped tins and deeply embossed tins for packaging and their tooling department in China specialized on “specialty” shaped.

In addition to the specialty shapes, this company also produces the typical round, square and rectangle tins common in the industry and overall, produce 15-20 million tins per year. Because of their unique capabilities, several can companies in the United States use The Tin Box Company for unique shaped tins and smaller orders they do not wish to tool. Their customer list reads like the Who’s Who in Retail and includes Mars, Nabisco, Lipton, Maxwell House, Estee Lauder, Hallmark, and many others.

Although J.L. Clark doesn’t produce a “standard” coffee can, it does produce a wide variety of different packages in metal for the tea and coffee industries. It is a custom packaging company specializing in metal and plastic packages. J.L. Clark has been in existence since 1904, shares Jill Porter, marketing coordinator. It has locations in Rockford Illinois; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and one plant in San Leandro, California, dedicated solely to producing coffee tins for General Foods’ International Coffees. . Jill Porter is marketing coordinator for J.L. Clark,

J.L. Clark does not produce a standard one- or two-pound vacuum sealed coffee can. All of their metal packages are highly decorated and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The International Coffee-style tins are produced not only for General Foods but other companies such as Kroger, and A&P. They also have produced a variety of metal boxes for tea companies such as Celestial Seasonings, and Wagner, and have manufactured unique coffee tins for coffee companies such as Hills Bros., Maxwell House and Starbucks. The round one-pound slip-cover tins all over Disney World shops are decorated and produced by J.L. Clark.

Advancements in Graphic Designs

With Barbara Ferguson’s company’s focus on retail venues, distinctive graphics are a very important part of their “look.” Ferguson explains, “I believe that talent combined with the use of the present computer program and printing technology provides unlimited opportunities to produce award-winning, stunning graphic designs. I believe that if you want a stunning product that it has to start here.” She credits the talent of creatives she staffs and their understanding of the capabilities of the graphic programs with her company’s unique designs. “The new technology really centers around, and is driven by, the capabilities and the talent that are required in each step of the design and production process.”

Frank Shriver ‘s products are decorated in-house by metal lithography and he considers “this is just like paper printing and good or better graphics can be attained.” He also points out because tinplate is reflective and can be embossed, “Some very impressive effects can be generated.” Shriver continues “we are constantly adding new sizes and shapes to our program that allows different structures for the graphics to be used on. Many of our shapes are customer-driven, so if a particular shape is needed we can tool it.”

Michael Roth considers graphics so important to what they do that he provides additional services he doesn’t see being offered by the market. “We have a full in-house art staff to work with customers in the designing the right product to fit their packaging needs. We have four artists in the New York office and two in the Hong Kong office. This limits the [creative] development time customers would experience working with outside design agencies for packaging design. Remember, we specialize in tin boxes.”

Jill Porter thinks many advancements have been made in “producing graphics that jump off the shelf. Computer-aided artwork is accurate to 1/3000 of an inch, and place registration up to 1/10,000 of an inch. We use the internet to forward artwork and proofs through the “Clark Art Newwork,” or CAN, section of our web site, speeding up the approval process of artwork and decreasing production time. The art of decorating metal still requires a highly skilled lithographer, but improvements in presses can guarantee very high quality registration and less waste.”

Ray Shearn sums up the new technology very succinctly: “Advancements in graphics applied to can have revolved around larger presses, and being able to lay down more colors at one time. Also, computer controls have improved the consistency and quality of the graphics.”

Environmental Impact of Rigid vs. Flexible Packaging

“One of the big advantages of tinplate containers over flexible packaging is the environment issue,” states Frank Shriver. “Steel is the number one recycled material, and a percentage of every can is recycled materials. The cans are 100% recyclable after they are emptied.” He also points out that if the tin is decorative, it is rarely thrown out when empty but kept as either a collectable or reused.”

As to the advantage of flexible packaging versus rigid packaging, Shriver says, “flexible packaging is thrown away, causing two problems; first, it fills the landfills, but secondly, the message is thrown away. A tin is kept around and reused, and then serves as a constant reminder of the quality product.”

Ray Shearn agrees, “steel is the most recycled material in the country, and if not reclaimed, it is also 100% biodegradable. It goes completely back to nature in a relatively short period of time. It can take centuries for some flexible multi-layered packaging to fully degrade. Also, multi-layered plastics are not easily recycled because of the different substrates.” He adds that other benefits of cans are longer shelf-life, and greater protection from external abuse during shipping and handling.

Barbara Ferguson is straight and to the point, “I do not believe that a standard foil-lined coffee bag is easy on the environment. In fact, it is not biodegradable. The tin, on the other hand, can be reused in most households. Our research indicates that consumers keep these tins because they are beautiful and most people report that they keep them because they remind them of the special city they lived in or vacationed in. We have found that consumers also reuse them for other food products like candy and many household items. Our tins can also be recycled in the metal recycle bin.”

Jill Porter considers tins recyclable in “if a customer wants a re-usable, refillable or collectible container, tins are a fantastic choice.” Michael Roth adds, “a decorative tin box has an after-use and consumers want a product with added value.”

Rigid vs. Flexible Packaging - Which is Better?
As to which type of packaging is better, Ferguson thinks, “marketing drives this answer. Our marketing centered on developing an original and unique gift product; we did not copy anyone. We realized that rigid packaging was more expensive and, while it probably does not fit in a price-sensitive market such a grocery store, it is an excellent fit in a high-end gift or gourmet market,” where the company has its focus. Ferguson also thinks rigid packaging helps promote a higher perceived value and stresses, “packaging has to be developed with your intended market clearly in mind.”

Shriver adds another perspective: “Depending on the reason for the packaging, rigid may or may not be better. Flexible packaging is usually cheaper and [used for] everyday packaging. If the customer is interested in brand building and eye-catching shelf presence, tins are better. The tin is reused and becomes a billboard for the brand in the home. It is hard to fill a branded tin with some other brand of coffee or tea. Tins are also collected and are 100% recyclable.

Shearn concludes, “For many applications, rigid packaging is better than flexible packaging. It is stronger, gives longer shelf life, takes more abuse and is completely recyclable.” Jill Porter thinks, “rigid packaging will always have its place in the coffee and tea industry. Consumers still like the feel of a tin or canister for tea and coffee products and the decorative qualities of a promotional tin. Metal can be decorated in vibrant colors and embossed or formed into interesting shapes to make products stand out. Tins used as gifts are highly popular, especially during holiday seasons. We have been told by many consumers that they purchase products in flexible packages, but store them in reusable tins.” One of the most compelling comments in the “rigid vs. flexible” packaging debate was made by Michael Roth. Rigid packaging provides “permanent advertising, our customer has their name on a product, a ‘tin box’ that remains in the consumers home forever.”

Although rigid packaging is not new, it is definitely not a dinosaur. It has changed and adapted with the evolving marketing environment. Better graphics along with more flexibility in sizes has made this reliable old package a hot “new” product. Of course, if the basic integrity of the product was not sound it would not have lasted. It’s good to see this package on the list of things that get better with age.

Shea Sturdivant Terracin is a past officer of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, on the Business Administration faculty of Bauder College in Atlanta, Georgia, and a partner in The Coffee Associates, an international consulting firm bringing coffee education and solutions to the marketplace. You can contact her via e-mail (coffeelady@mindspring.com).

For more information about these companies, their products, and services, please contact them directly:

Can Corporation of America, P. O. Box 170, Blandon, Pennsylvania 19510 USA. Tel: (610) 926-3044, Fax: (610)926-5041

GourmetLuxe Corporation, 825 NW 49th St., Seattle, Washington 98107. Tel.: (206) 789-6543, Fax: (206) 789-6580

Independent Can Corporation, 1300 Brass Mill Road, P.O. Box 370, Belcamp, Maryland 21017-0370. Tel: (410) 272-0090, Fax: (410) 273-7500

J.L. Clark, 2323 Sixth Street, P. O. Box 7000, Rockford, Illinois 61125. Tel.: (815) 962-8861, Fax: (815)962-9618.

The Tin Box, 216 Sherwood Avenue, Farmingdale, New York 11735. Tel.: (631) 845-1600, Fax: (631) 845-1610

Tea & Coffee - August/September 2000
Theta Ridge Coffee


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