‘Self-cooling beverage cans? Perhaps they’re a niche product’: Consultant

‘Self-cooling beverage cans? Perhaps they’re a niche product’: Analyst

Sainsbury’s former environmental affairs manager Alison Austin says she is skeptical about a mainstream future for self-cooling beverage cans with mainstream brands such as Coke.

But Austin, who formerly worked for the UK retail chain, but is now an independent consultant for businesses on sustainability and co-founder of the Robertsbridge Group, insists such products – Joseph Company International self-cooling can, which debuted in 2012 with its West Coast Chill energy drinks brand, is one example – do hold sizable niche appeal.

“I think as an innovation, an attribute, to self-heat or self-cool, will have its uses in a particular niche, but whether it becomes mainstream. Would Coke do that, for high volume, and absorb the cost increase?” Austin told BeverageDaily.com, following our question at an industry discussion at Interpack 2014 on the mass appeal of such a product.

“Does that attribute impact upon its next use? And does it have an impact on recovery and recycling, if it adds impurities, problems to the recycling element?” she added.

A change from 15 years ago, when only innovation mattered?

“Then I think people would question it, because packaging managers have to think about the end consumer and the product’s use, but have responsibilities to think about recycling, recovery, next use.

“It’s about specifying the sourcing, functionality, specifying when the first use has finished. I think that’s a change from perhaps 15 years, when people were perhaps looking at wonderful, innovative ways of presenting products,” Austin said.

“But if you’re on an expedition, or in the army, and you want a can that self-cools or self-heats, well, it’s a good option,” she added.

We questioned whether the technology was quite there, given that Nestle withdrew its Nescafe Hot When You Want self-heating can from the UK market in 2002 – consumers complained that the product was insufficiently hot and that the heating mechanism obtruded too much into the can, leaving less space for the liquid.

“For niche markets it can work, yes, that’s part of the diversity of metal packaging. But for high volume, carbonated beverage cans, you’ve got to say, perhaps not. But who knows!” Austin replied.

The discussion arose out of Austin’s address at Interpack 2014 on why metal packaging ‘can be a winner’ for both retailers and consumers, where she highlighted the cost of refrigeration, something that metal food packaging does not attract, which led us to question her on whether self-cooling cans could cut costs.

A 2011 Carbon Trust report states that refrigeration accounted for 50% of energy costs in UK grocery stores; it adds that refrigerated display cabinets use around 5,800 GWh/year, over one third of all electricity used for refrigeration in the food chain, at a cost of £500m/year.

Retailers ‘hell bent’ on cutting refrigeration costs

Austin did not use these statistics in her presentation, but flagged up the cost of refrigeration for chilled and frozen food, from a monetary and environmental standpoint, and said this could benefit canned foods in future.

“Retailers are all hell bent on investing in better maintenance, more efficient equipment, better designed equipment to use less energy,” Austin said.

“Do we need so many refrigerated or frozen products – is this sustainable in 5-10 years. People are saying that business as usual and continuous improvement is not enough to get where we want to be to live on one planet with its resources?” she added.

“Metal packaging, which is a closed-loop economy not necessitating that level of expense, it’s a real story to investigate with retailers,” Austin said.

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