Nitro cans: formula for cold brews and foamy coffee13 February 2018
Oliver Graham, CEO of the metal beverage division at Ardagh Group, speaks about the company’s recent innovations and the key trends it has come across in metal and glass packaging, such as the high demand for cold-brewed nitro coffee and recyclability.
What beverage markets does Ardagh have a presence in?
Oliver Graham: Ardagh Group has a truly global footprint. We operate 109 glass and metal-manufacturing facilities across 22 countries, employing approximately 23,500 people, with global sales that total approximately €7.7 billion. It is estimated that in an average household globally, you will find at least six products in packaging produced by Ardagh Group. Our glass and metal divisions cover all beverage markets, including carbonated soft drinks (CSD), beer, wine, spirits, juices, energy drinks, and milk and flavoured milk.
What materials are used by the company and why?
Glass and metal are permanent materials that form part of what is referred to as a ‘circular economy’, where materials can be infinitely recycled in a closed loop without any losses to quality. As a result, metal and glass are regarded as being permanently available. The materials are not lost as long as they are recycled into another metal or glass product.
Glass packaging protects its contents and enhances a brand’s appeal. By being infinitely recyclable, a glass bottle or jar can be made into a new one repeatedly, without reducing quality or purity. The making of new glass bottles and jars from recycled glass reduces the amount of energy needed for the production process and lowers emissions into the atmosphere.
Metal packaging, meanwhile, is universally recognised for its protective qualities, versatility and environmental credentials. It also has the best recycling rates of all packaging materials in Europe and is a strong contributor to the ‘circular economy’.
Can you take us through the company’s most recent innovations?
Innovation is a top priority for Ardagh. We work with customers to create a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, and textures for stock designs and specific products in growth categories within the beverage sector, including premium spirits and CSD.
Our Nitro Can was developed in response to the nitro coffee revolution and was designed to cater to consumer needs, such as indulgence, premiumisation and convenience. The dynamic coffee market is experiencing steady growth, thanks to the interest in new twists on classic coffee beverages. Product producers have been experimenting with different flavour profiles for iced coffee and alcohol-infused coffee mixes. For premium drinks, cans play a vital role in opening the door to younger target groups who typically buy the containers for their ease of use and convenience.
Of particular note, however, is the fanfare over cold-brewed nitro coffee that is being driven by interest in the US. Poured via a traditional beer stout, this nitrogen-infused beverage delivers a creamy texture and tops off in a glass with a foamy head. Cafes had been keen to adopt nitro coffee into their product mix, and here at Ardagh Group, we were equally as passionate about offering our customers a solution that allowed them to keep up with this exciting trend. We therefore developed the Nitro Can for cold-brew coffee.
From our point of view, the most profound learning experience came from understanding how to deal with the coffee’s microbiology within the can. Through careful treatment, Ardagh was able to create an ‘in-can’ environment that upheld the full-bodied taste of the product, and created safe storage outside of the cold chain for an extended period of time. Furthermore, we invested significant time in working through each step of the filling and overall processing of the can, in order to replicate the on-tap and cold-brew experience, while ensuring that we had the capacity to support can fillers when implementing the technology.
Further innovations include Reveal Impact, a new two-stage thermochromic solution that features combined temperature-sensitive inks with a twist. The new solution for aluminium cans uses two different thermochromic inks, which turn the same colour when cooled down. However, once the can gets warmer again, one colour disappears quicker than the other, revealing a hidden message to the consumer. This message surprises the consumer and supports highly targeted marketing activities. From 2018, the Matte & Mirror Impact will bring matte and shiny contrasts to aluminium cans commercially for the first time.
As part of our focus on innovation, the company has been exploring the application of best-practice technologies and techniques from other industries:
- Sculptured embossing is one such ‘crossover innovation’ from the chocolate industry, which has been applied to glass container designs within Ardagh Group, following a phased development process over the past ten years. Unlike regular, two-dimensional glass embossing, the new process allows glass sculpting to be achieved over multiple levels, creating intricate, lifelike detail, depth and dimension with incredible accuracy for glass design. It has been used to replicate different texture effects in glass – including wooden planking and citrus peel – and to enhance the definition of scripted text and other branding icons.
- A second example of a ‘crossover innovation’ is our powder coating process, which is unique to the glass industry, having taken six years to develop. We took a technique that had been developed in our metal division and applied it to glass packaging. The use of a powder instead of paint allows a much wider range of decorative effects to be explored, including tactile finishes, such as terracotta, hammerite, sparkle and snowflake effects. In the case of the latter, the resulting pattern is random, meaning that it is different on every bottle.
What were 2017’s leading trends in beverage packaging?
Health, convenience, indulgence and continued premiumisation, which also included craft and consumer interaction. In some regions, we saw the health trend influence packaging format and size. In the beverage can business, soft drink brands favoured speciality can formats that were sleek and slim for more consumer appeal, but these often had a smaller portion size. There was also a requirement for reflective inks, different finishes and a range of textures that can feature on brand labels, as well as on coloured ends and laser-etched tabs. These options were being used primarily by newer brands in growth categories, including energy drinks, craft beers, spirits and teas.
In glass, we saw a focus on differentiation through high-definition embossing and the use of limited edition decoration techniques, as well as a desire to convey authenticity by creating experiences for our customers on behalf of their consumers. In terms of sustainability, there was an increased focus on recycling rates, the percentage of recycled content and reducing the weighting of primary packaging. Ardagh Group continues to remain at the forefront of these trends.
What does the future hold for Ardagh – is there a growing geographic area, material for packaging or beverage sector that holds interest for you?
Single-serve coffee, wine and water – which is often flavoured – are offering long-needed alternatives to consumers. Consumers from Western Europe are choosing metal cans more, particularly in smaller sizes, to meet their convenience and portioning needs. In addition to this, we are seeing increasing beverage ‘fusion’ – the blurring of classical beverage categories, from low-alcoholic beer with new flavours to soft drinks that claim to have new functional and health benefits. We have also come across further growth in craft beer – as we add numerous customers globally every year – and continue to see an increase in energy drinks and teas that come in a number of different sizes. Premiumisation and luxury are focuses for the beverage sector across all categories, from soft drinks through to spirits, and craft beverages are a major driver for the beer and cider sectors.
The food sector is seeing a combination of drivers that are centred on authenticity and premiumisation; some striking examples were recently launched by our clients in Europe, including Duerr’s citrus jar and the Friedrich Göbber Company’s GLÜCK premium-preserve jar. The craft beverage industry remains an area of growth and focus for Ardagh Group. Through our ongoing focus on flexibility, we are able to expand and improve our service to these markets, providing standard solutions and options for limited edition products.
What lies in store for metal and glass packaging, in terms of innovations that you think will enter the market?
For metal and glass, it will still be about attracting attention on retail shelves in a package that brands will be proud to offer – a package that ultimately addresses the consumer’s need for image, taste, quality and sustainability. For metal packaging, we’ll see more options being provided to customers through added shapes, sizes and functionality, including resealability. There will be an increased use of eye-catching graphics across the entire surface of the can, covering everything from the end to the tab. These options will be made available to customers faster to meet the need of speed to market. We will continue to drive innovation across all functions of the business, providing value and brand differentiation to our customers.