Consumer demand is making aluminum cans more relevant than ever, according to a report from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.
More than 92 billion aluminum beverage cans were sold in the U.S. in 2011 reflecting a decline in annual sales -- particularly among standard 12-ounce cans -- since the industry’s peak five years prior.
But a number of Colorado companies, including Ball Corp., are well positioned to tap new markets in the evolving industry. Ball employs more than 3,000 workers statewide, and packaging accounts for 90 percent of the company’s sales.
“Beverage industry employment is growing faster than manufacturing employment and total employment in the state and is outperforming beverage manufacturing employment nationally,” said Richard Wobbekind, editor of the quarterly Colorado Business Review.
According to the latest edition of the review, published by the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business, the U.S. beverage can market remains quite healthy with a unit share of just over 40 percent.
Experts attribute the sales decline of 12-ounce cans to weak economic growth, which has consumers “trading down” to less expensive products, among other factors.
By contrast, demand for specialty can sizes grew at a robust rate of approximately 15 percent last year. From the 5.5-ounce mini-can to the 32-ounce jumbo can, brand owners are leveraging the unique sizes and shapes of the beverage cans to drive differentiation in the market.
One well-known specialty package from Ball is the Alumi-Tek bottle, or aluminum pint. Brewers have enjoyed great success with the bottles, which offer re-closable caps. Craft beers and wines have increasingly found their way into aluminum cans. Even water sold in cans has grown more than 30 percent since 2008.
“The current decrease in the U.S. beverage can market is more a sign of progress than one of decline as the industry shifts away from reliance on just the 12-ounce can,” says Jim Peterson, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs for Ball Corp. “Ball is expanding into new products and capabilities to meet demand.”
Peterson cites more than $175 million in investment across the U.S., including $60 million in Colorado for a new specialty can line in the company’s Golden facility and a nearly $5 million expansion of its package research and development operations in Westminster.
Colorado beverage makers also benefit from state laws that support self-distribution, allowing young brands and small producers to go to market. New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, America’s third-largest craft brewery, started selling beer out of the back of a station wagon.