The Triumph of Slim

Slim Cans are gaining ground in the beverage can market. The Ball Corporation tells us more about this important size variation.

Slim appears to be “in” – or at least that is what the market indicates, as more brands choose to add this premium packaging option to their drinks portfolio. After emerging several years ago as “the can size of choice” for energy drinks, slim cans are now finding favour with brands looking to tackle new markets, create a meaningful brand differentiator and/or expand opportunities for consumers to enjoy their beverage outside of traditional settings. Whether fine wine, wellness drinks or water, slim cans are becoming an increasingly popular addition to retail shelves across the globe. A big hit with consumers thanks to their shape, reduced weight and overall visual appeal, the market is seeing a niche packaging option expand into territories once thought uncommon for the can.

Slim cans were first introduced in the early 80s and seen as the new, standout beverage solution for energy drinks in the United States, as well as in many regions across Europe. Slim cans closely mirror the height of their standard can cousin, but have a smaller diameter creating a more slender shape. Ball Corporation, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of metal packaging, produces more than 20 different can sizes in North America alone. The company’s slim can lineup includes 6.8, 7.5, 8.4 and 12 ounce sizes – all part of Ball’s speciality packaging portfolio, which makes up more than one quarter of its global beverage packaging sales.
As it relates to the overall can market in Europe, slim cans currently account for about 15 per cent of all available can formats. Energy drinks account for the largest share at around 70 per cent, with key markets including, but not limited to, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. Ball has capitalised on this trend in slim by manufacturing in 150, 200 and 250ml size formats in Ball plants throughout Europe.
“Although slim cans have been around for several years now, they are still viewed as a fresh and modern alternative to the standard can,” said Thomas Haensch, VP sales, marketing and innovations at Ball Packaging Europe. “While the energy drink sector has “owned” this format from the start, we are seeing more and more that other beverage categories such as tea, beer, wine and coffee are finding favour with the slim can. The allure of capturing new target groups with the trading-up proposition this fashionable alternative to the standard can offers customers allows brands new means to address eroding margins at retail.

Reaching new target groups

A study commissioned by the London Wine Fair (2014) found that Millennials, or the Generation Y sector, “have an overall lack of engagement with wine” – a clear signal that new solutions are needed in order to target this important market. Challenging the long-held belief that premium wines can only exist within the confines of a bottle and cork, trailblazing brands are steadily experimenting with cans for their product – specifically the slim. In North America, a selection of wineries have realised promising success with slim cans as early as 2004, when Niebaum Coppola Winery (owned by director Francis Ford Coppola) introduced the Sofia mini wine in a bold, pink can partnered with a drinks straw attached to its exterior. In 2013, Infinite Monkey Theorem also found favour with the slim can, debuting its signature wine with a black, laser-incised end. Flipflop wines also came to the canned market in 2014 with their own signature wine offering.

The European wine sector, in turn, saw some of the first canned wine when Ball introduced its speciality slim can back in March 2012, in partnership with such wine makers as Fabulous Brands (maker of Winestar) and Peter Mertes KG winery. With forecasts leading up to 2017 now predicting a growth of up to 15 per cent in the European canned wine category (source Canadean and Euromonitor), Ball has made a steady move to capitalise on this burgeoning market. To ensure customer peace of mind, Ball Europe introduced the “Protected Quality” seal, a specially developed standard for canned wine, which ensures the integrity of the product for up to 12 months. The special inner coating and reinforced metal gauge, coupled with compatibility testing of the product, provides wine the same quality integrity demonstrated by the glass bottle. Quality certifications such as this have been implemented throughout all regions where Ball services wine customers. “Because wine is especially sensitive to contact with oxygen and light, our speciality slim cans are a perfect match for the packaging of premium wines,” said Maril Kamp, specialist new can applications (CTS), Ball Packaging Europe. “Lightproof and airtight, our wine cans take a significant step outside of the traditional boundaries, ensuring that even sensitive beverages like wine keep their taste and quality.”

The North American beer sector has experimented on a smaller scale with the slim can, especially with those beverages of a higher alcohol level; such is often the case in craft beer. A particular example is 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, which released a barley wine with 11.5 per cent alcohol in an 8.4oz slim can. Heineken US, on the other hand, is seen as a forerunner in the larger beer brand segment, in looking at the slim as a viable mix in their product portfolio. The probability of a deeper dive into slim by the beer sector however is likely to be dependent on the country and the overall drinking culture which exists there. The larger beer countries, such as the UK, Poland, Germany, Spain and Eastern Europe, lean toward the larger 33cl and are also seeing an assortment of 50cl and even 75cl and 100cl in Russia.

Easy to portion, never too much

The appeal of the slim can has further rocketed due in part to the ongoing emphasis by consumers in managing their portion intake. The fact that the slim can offers up a ‘single-serve’ option allows for controlled consumption and a lack of product waste. The tea sector in particular has quickly adopted the slim can, fuelled by a primarily female consumer who expects more from a beverage than just refreshment. Speciality ingredients often found in today’s tea mixes include ingredients whose sensitive nature have found a perfect home in the light-proof, hermetically-sealed can. In addition, the smaller portions offered by way of the slim can makes it the perfect companion for all types of functional drinks.

“Beverage cans are an attractive packaging option and suitable for a host of different occasions – including those in which convenience is key,” said Jay Billings, VP innovation, global metal beverage & North American marketing. “The slim can further advances this value proposition with its slender shape and lower weight, taking mobility to a new level. Whether hitting the city or hanging out in the park, consumers expect the products they buy to be as mobile as they are. Robust, fast-cooling and easy to take anywhere: cans in general – and premium slim in particular – are perfect for a wide variety of occasions.”

Water is an additional drinks category with much potential in slim. The energy water Hi-Ball Energy, sold since 2014 in an 8.4oz slim can from Ball, is a forerunner in this segment. A sparkling water infused with organic ingredients, the brand opted to move into the slim can format for a lighter weight option, general market demand for on-the-go consumption and more flexibility in the single-serve category. The value-added integration of Ball’s “cold activation” technology further enhanced the overall consumer experience around the can. Such value-added incentives will be further realised on the European front with the launch in 2015 of Magic Straw. This new offering combines the allure of the slim can with smart engineering. Featuring a self-activated straw once opened, this fun new gadget provides a ‘surprise element’ designed to further attract that modern new consumer that already gravitates so readily to this can format.

With the slim can gaining more and more ground in the beverage can market, the question arises – “will slim cans continue to be a niche product or will they define a whole new category of cans?” The odds are still too early to predict, but outcomes like the emergence of the slim can as the packaging of choice in the energy drinks sector proves history could repeat itself. The slim can for now, however, remains a premium packaging option and the smart choice for brands that seek a new consumer experience around their product.

“We expect demand for slim cans to grow in the years to come, and we’re enthusiastic about this development,” continued Billings. “We see the slim can as a format that offers lots of opportunity for brands and believe that as more beverage categories seek out new markets, the slim can can be that go-to differentiator.”

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