Demand for decorative

Image: An important gift-giving holiday period in Asia is the Mid-Autumn Festival or Chinese Mooncake Festival

David Hayes visits Thongchai Oranrigsupak, managing director of Benjamit Packaging Co, one of Thailand’s leading decorative can manufacturers


Images courtesy of David Hayes


Asia’s speciality can manufacturers have endured fluctuating fortunes during the past few years. First, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted normal demand and then, just as consumer demand started to recover, can buyers began to review prices and supply arrangements – in some cases deciding to change country of origin when switching can supplier.

China is Asia’s largest decorative can exporter, however, competition for export orders from other countries is expected to grow. Can makers looking to take market share from China as production costs rise there, include suppliers in India and Indonesia.

Thailand’s decorative can makers are currently focusing on the domestic market, while chasing high end can exports that involve more labour- intensive production processes.

Customers buying decorative cans generally look for new can designs each year, according to Thongchai Oranrigsupak, managing director of Benjamit Packaging Co, one of Thailand’s leading decorative can manufacturers. Benjamit offers customers a collection of standard can shapes and sizes for decorating with their own printed design or inhouse designs. Orders also are accepted for buyers’ own design specifications.

“This year we have changed the shape of some of our cans, while for embossing we are doing standard designs,” Thongchai commented. “We are doing two or three new can shapes this year, involving small changes such as square boxes but with two square and two rounded corners.

“Many of the decorative cans we are selling have embossed lettering, including some cookie cans. Embossing looks more premium and high class,” he said.

Speciality cans decorated with embossed lettering or patterns are made using different grade tinplate compared to decorative cans with regular printed designs.

Low temper 0.25 to 0.30 thick tinplate is used for decorative cans with embossed surface patterns or lettering, while high temper 0.22 to 0.25 tinplate is used for regular printed can designs.

“Embossing  requires  low  temper  tinplate,” Thongchai explained. “You cannot use any kind of tinplate for embossing. If you use high temper tinplate, for example, then the embossing may be sharp to touch or show scratches on the can surface.”

Embossing increases production costs due to the extra work involved, but creates a more premium quality appearance.

“We specialise in producing high quality cans as there is a higher margin,” Thongchani said. “The tooling is more difficult and time consuming to set up for highly embossed and high-quality cans. “With embossing, you need to adjust the curve of the moulds used to shape the cans. This requires more operator skill for the tool setting.”

Thongchai Oranrigsupak with examples of some of the company’s containers

Located in Nakorn Pathom in the western outskirts of Greater Bangkok, Benjamit Industries employs 500 workers. Of the total staff count, some 300 are engaged in producing decorative  cans. The remaining 200 workers produce plastic packaging, including disposable beverage cups, for fast food restaurant and coffee shop chains and other customers.

Commenting on the size of Benjamit’s decorative can workforce, Thongchai explained, “Automated production is not suitable for decorative cans, as customers change their speciality can designs. This involves labour intensive production. Mold setting needs more training than other types of cans.”

Benjamit’s printing facilities include a two- colour Crabrtree printer and one-colour KBA Milaner. “Our customers want about eight colours on average now as they use a lot of special colours,” Thongchai commented.

Decorative can sales in general have fluctuated over the past four years due to the impact of Covid- 19 on Thailand’s domestic market.

In addition, Thongchai noted that several international confectionery brands have reviewed their product procurement and packaging arrangements in Southeast Asia since the pandemic ended. In at least one case, the customer has switched confectionery sourcing from Thailand to Indonesia to reduce costs and has begun purchasing decorative cans from can producers located near to the new confectionery supplier.

“In 2022, our total sales were down 22 per cent compared to 2019, which was a peak year for us,” Thongchai said. “Our decorative can sales are still reduced compared to pre-Covid, but compared to last year, our 2023 decorative can sales are up.

“During the pandemic, our customers continued to buy decorative cans but their volumes dropped by ten per cent to 20 per cent.

“One of our customers moved to buy their candies for export from Thailand to Indonesia and we lost them. M&M also used to buy in Thailand but now they have stopped.”

Benjamit succeeded in attracting several new overseas customers during the Covid-19 period, as factory lockdowns in some countries caused can supply problems that overseas buyers sought to overcome by switching to new suppliers.

One new product the company has started making recently are cans designed to hold the ashes of cremated pet dogs. The storage cans are popular in the United States, where Benjamit supplies four square can sizes that are suitable to hold the ashes of all pet dog sizes.

Supplied in a dark-brown colour, the cans are decorated with a gold-coloured leaf and branch pattern around the top and base of the can body, with two gold colour paw prints on each side panel. On the lid, printed in gold lettering are the words ‘Until we meet again at the rainbow bridge.’ Meanwhile, foreign tourist numbers have begun to grow again in Thailand this year, which has helped lift demand for decorative cans filled with confectionery and other souvenir items.

“More tourists are coming so packing companies need more decorative metal boxes to fill with cookies, Thai teas and Thai desserts,” Thongchai said.

“Most of these products are packed in paper boxes but if the seller wants to use premium packaging they will put their product in a printed metal box.

“Some customers stopped buying in the first year of Covid while others did not request any new designs and instead repeat ordered their previous year’s designs.”

Confectionery items packed in decorative cans now include doughnuts. “Krispy Kreme doughnuts are  popular  with  Thai  tourists  at  Bangkok International Airport. The branded rectangular can they use holds ten to 12 doughnuts,” Thongchai said.

Benjamit also supplies decorative packaging to the alcoholic beverages industry. Whiskey companies are among  customers ordering decorative cans as premium packaging for special promotions.

Beer companies also use Benjamit’s large can sizes for special multi-pack promotions. “For Leo Brewery, we supplied an oval mouth shape beer bucket with matching lid that can hold 12 cans of beer,” Thongchai said.

“People posted pictures of this on the Facebook website. It was a small order to create demand for their beer brand.

“Singha Brewery also did a large can promotional bucket that holds ten beer cans.”

Thailand’s New Year holiday period is the peak season for speciality can sales as decorative cans are a highly popular packaging choice for traditional gift items. “Cookie cans are our main products for the New Year holiday period. Our main market is Thailand,” Thongchai said.

“Some food products are imported in bulk and then packed in fancy can containers for local sale, such as some famous cookie brands.”

Decorative cookie jars are often used in corporate gift sets presented in a basket which usually includes fruit juices, chocolates, jam, cookies and other treats.

Benjamit has began producing decorative cans that are used by consumers to keep pet ashes in

Another important gift-giving holiday period in Asia is the Mid-Autumn Festival or Chinese Mooncake Festival, celebrated sometime between mid-September to early October each year. Benjamit produces high quality printed and embossed mooncake boxes for various clients, including international luxury hotel chains.

“Before, there were only a few mooncake brands, but now there are many players,” Thongchai said.

“International hotel chains want their own mooncake boxes; even international coffee shop chains are buying mooncake boxes from us for the Thai market.

“The total size of the mooncake decorative box market has grown in Asia but the size of orders from the new players is low to start.”

Most mooncake boxes are designed to hold two or four cakes. Among international brands displaying mooncakes in Thailand are Starbucks and Shangri La Hotels. “Many hotels do special paper or decorative can boxes for mooncake,” Thongchai said. “There are various decorative box shapes and designs, including embossed lettering or figures. These included a rabbit in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit.”

Meanwhile, looking ahead to future business growth opportunities, Thongchai noted that the labour-intensive production processes involved in making high quality speciality cans allow Benjamit to accept smaller orders than high volume automated can manufacturers are able to accept.

In the Q1 to Q2 yearly low season, Benjamit’s minimum order for high priced speciality cans is 1,000 pieces, while in the Q3-Q4 peak season, the minimum order accepted is 30,000 medium-size cans.

“We will wait and see what happens with metal cans as Chinese can makers do not want small orders, so customers go to Thailand for these orders,” Thongchai concluded.

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