Metal packaging in Eastern Europe: caught between premium and economy perceptions

Metal is perceived as a traditional packaging format in many product categories, including packaged food, pet food, home care, beauty and personal care and tobacco, as well as different beverages. However, the usage and consumption of metal packaging is different across Eastern Europe despite the relative uniformity of the region.

New patterns of usage and application are appearing. Metal packaging is being used to position products in different price segments and target various consumer groups.

Convenience

In many instances, metal packaging is perceived as convenient. Manufacturers and consumers are choosing this packaging type as it offers durability and is heat resistant. Few storage requirements make metal food cans convenient for travelling and transportation.

The metal food can is still the most popular packaging format within canned/preserved food. Metal packaging also offers convenient storage compared to other packaging types, such as glass.

Eastern Europe, Canned/preserved food packaging, million units, % split, 2010

In some countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, aluminium trays are gaining in popularity within canned/preserved food. This is due to busy consumer lifestyles as well as small or smaller households requiring smaller food portions.

EE, Aluminium trays in canned/preserved food, million units, 2005-2010

In Poland, the use of aluminium trays, as well as metal food cans, has increased in wet pet food (respectively by 8% and 3% in 2010). The rising application of aluminium trays is due to greater consumer awareness of the nutritional needs of pets.

Moreover, in Poland, the number of domestically owned cats and small dogs has been increasing and according to Euromonitor data, the number of dogs and cats reached almost 13 million in 2010. Their owners are purchasing pet food in aluminium trays because they contain the right amount of food needed for one serving.

The Czech Republic has seen an increase in the usage of metal beverage cans within beer due to the convenience factor. Metal beverage cans can be conveniently offered in multipacks, and are also better suited for travelling and parties. Moreover, in the case of beverage cans, consumers do not have to pay a deposit, as is the case with glass bottles.

Economy segment and metal packaging

Despite the fact that in some Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic, beer in metal beverage cans is perceived as a convenient option, in Hungary, for example, beer in metal beverage cans is positioned at the lower end of the market.

An important factor which influences the use of metal beverage cans is increasing demand for inexpensive, particularly private label, beer, which is being offered in such packaging.

As mentioned above, the growing popularity of aluminium trays within wet pet food in Poland is due to the convenience offered by the format in terms of providing a single serving of food for a cat or dog. At the same time, the low unit price of products in aluminium trays is also encouraging pet owners to purchase such products.

Premiumisation within metal packaging

Unlike in Poland, where wet pet food in aluminium trays is very attractively priced and thus popular among pet owners, in the Czech Republic only premium pet food brands are packaged in aluminium trays.

Wet dog and wet cat food have been traditionally available in metal food cans. Despite modern closures, currently most consumers associate metal food cans with more traditional products.

Thus, in order to attract new consumers, brand owners are using alternative packaging formats, such as aluminium trays, in order to enhance the appeal of their products. However, in the Czech Republic, such products generally have a premium positioning.

The general trend towards premiumisation has also been significant in the tobacco market in the Czech Republic. An increasing number of Czech consumers have shown themselves to be willing to pay more for smoking tobacco and cigars in premium quality packaging. This trend has boosted metal tin usage within smoking tobacco and cigars. Such products have become very suitable for gifts due to their premium image.

In many Eastern European countries, other metal packaging and metal tins as a secondary packaging format have been used for certain high-end spirits, such as whisky. Such products are popular as gifts, with sales tending to be seasonal in nature due to their high price and premium image.

Despite the economic downturn, some spirits manufacturers have launched products in other metal packaging. However, the application of aluminium bottles remains insignificant because of the high prices of products using this packaging format. Producers use such packaging to diversify their offerings rather than lead their portfolios.

Future of premium metal packaging

Recovery of the economies should bring better opportunities for the brand owners to use metal packaging as good marketing tool for their products. Metal packaging already provides premium character for the products and allows easier diversification on the outlet shelf.

However, as long as consumers will be able to spend more, premium products in metal packaging are expected to become more affordable and more recognizable. On the other hand this suggests, that metal packaging might lose its exceptional character. But for the consumers it might mean even more interesting packaging launches on the market.