The report from AMI Consulting, 'Retortable Packaging in Europe', found that metal and glass currently account for 62bn retort containers across the EU27, compared with some 26bn for plastics. But the balance was already shifting, according to author and packaging consultant Martyna Zimakiewicz.
"Glass and metal are already established in retortable packaging, but they're staying at a certain level," she said. "Most of the line extensions and newcomers to the market are likely to be using plastics."
Zimakiewicz agreed that, in many cases, metal and glass retained a price advantage, but argued that canned foods in particular could be perceived as being of lower quality and less fresh. "If you look at big-brand soups and more complex foods, if they have a new flavour or recipe, they tend to introduce them with a bit of a bang," she said. More often than not, that meant in plastics.
Although use of pouches was growing, particularly in petfood, rigid plastics offered many novel options in barrier, she added.
"While co-extrusion is well-established, you have co-injection coming up, barrier in-mould labelling and combined blow moulding and co-extrusion. It's a question of scale, and a willingness to invest in new technology."
Packing increasing numbers of food commodities in plastics is more of a challenge, said Zimakiewicz, especially when they are packed at source.
Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association chief executive Nick Mullen commented: "All of the bigger producers are extending their brands and looking for new niches wherever they can find them, but they still have their baseline business, which accounts for billions of cans a year."