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#27.05.2020 Pandemic confirms continued relevance of Steel for Packaging

Anyone who has visited a supermarket in the last few weeks has probably noticed that sales of canned food have rocketed under the impact of COVID-19, to the extent that some suppliers have been forced to ration stocks to supermarkets.

Thankfully the supply chain is now said to have stabilised in most regions. However, the shift in purchasing and consumption habits might well be longer lasting as the economic impact of COVID-19, in addition to the closure of schools and the hospitality sector in some countries, means that consumers are faced with cooking an increasing number of meals at home.

The convenience and shelf-life of canned foods can be a welcome bonus for consumers faced with bigger weekly shops and batch-cooking. Fortunately, this does not come at the expense of the environment or the nutritional value of the meals being prepared.

Speaking recently to the journal, Tomato News, Diego Pariotti, head of export at Conserve Italia which owns the Cirio tinned tomato brand, said UK shoppers had bought 30% more tinned tomatoes during the crisis than usual. Across Europe he noted that sales were also 15% up on average. A reflection of the trust that waste-conscious consumers continue to place in steel packaging and the knowledge that products packed in steel stay fresh for longer even at ambient or high temperatures.

And it remains true that today’s consumers are more environmentally aware than ever. The COVID-19 crisis comes immediately after unprecedented levels of media attention given to waste packaging leaking into the environment. Consumers buying products packaged in steel can be confident that the packaging can be easily recycled, and that they are making a positive choice for the environment as well as a healthy one.

In her article, Living and eating well with canned products, Elisabeth Payeux, deputy managing director, CTCPA French Technical centre for the food canning industry noted many of the advantages of canning foodstuffs. “…sterilisation by heat does not modify the macronutrients – proteins, lipids and carbohydrates – of the canned food…” and as a rule, “…vitamins are preserved at the rate of about 70% in canned products which is close to the content in fresh foods that have been stored for several days before eating.”

Looking ahead, steel packaging continues to have an important if not vital role to play. Offering healthy, nutritious and affordable food products, in a safe and hygienic package, underpinned by robust environmental credentials, steel is set to appeal to consumers of every demographic.

And while the immediate focus for most will remain centred on the pandemic, the importance of effectively preserving food will only become more important in the years that follow. Food waste in the home may well reduce as the economic impact of COVID-19 takes hold, and yet the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population remains critical.

Sara Menker, founder and chief executive of agricultural data technology company Gro Intelligence recently estimated that by 2027 the world could be facing a 214 trillion calorie deficit. Put simply, in less than a decade it is possible that there will not be enough food to feed the planet. 

According to Menker, the problem with most assessments of food insecurity, is that they use mass and weight, not nutritional value, and based on this, global food security is already more tenuous than we think. 

Preserving the nutrients in our food safely and effectively is therefore more important than ever. Harvested at their peak of ripeness and canned in as little as four hours, packaging food in steel minimises product loss at every stage in the supply chain and locks nutrients in.

At the same time, steel’s unique strength and 100% barrier against light, water and air protects food, further reducing product loss, while portion sized packaging allows consumers to buy the precise quantity needed, minimising waste at household level.  

There will be few winners when it comes to COVID-19, but the advantages that steel packaging continues to provide are set to help brands, retailers, and consumers in what will undoubtedly be challenging years to come.