Trend Toward Paperboard Can Handles Leaps From Craft Brew to Major Food/Bev Multipacks

What started as a craft brew trend toward paperboard replacing its plastic can handle multipacks is now being seen in brands like Coca-Cola and Heinz UK. Watch this "Take Five with Packaging World" video to learn more.


Quick hits:

  • One craft brew trend of recent vintage is to replace plastic can handles with a paperboard alternative.
  • These packs have gotten larger than the dimension of the can handles they’re replacing, with more billboard space on printed paperboard 6-packs.
  • Large beverage companies like a regional Coca-Cola producer have jumped on the trend, at least for a specialty campaigns around the holidays.
  • The trend seems to have jumped the beverage rails to durable canned goods, with Heinz UK now replacing LDPE shrink wrap with paperboard for multipacks of canned soup. 

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   Read the transcript below:

Hello, I'm Matt Reynolds, editor of Packaging World Magazine, here to talk about a trend that we've been following for a few years now, but it really seems to be getting its legs right now.

This is a trend around the move from traditional can handles—like a six pack of craft beer, say, either an HDPE or LDPE can handle that we've traditionally seen on there for many years and more recently, we've seen some leaps forward in HDPE can handles with some branding and so on—but now we've seen a shift within the last couple of years towards paperboard being used as a replacement for HDPE, partially due to consumer perceptions around single use plastics. The first evidence of this I saw was at Pack Expo, and I don't know whether it was Chicago or Vegas, it was a few years back, but that was at Graphic Packaging International, and they were doing their keel clip at the time.

It was a new technology, but what's nifty about it is the paperboard itself actually folds in. So between a six pack where you have three cans on each side, you would have a keel—like a boat has a keel—that provides a rigid structure there that keeps things in place. Most recently, actually just a few months back, Coca-Cola jumped on board with a keel clip and they're doing a regional European rollout. I think it was around the Christmas holiday. So we'll be interested to see how that turns out.

More recently, we saw WestRock and their canned collar range. It's actually a range of paperboard style on can collars or can handle holders. That's from the most simple, which is basically a one-to-one replacement of the traditional can handles, to a more complex that even have paperboard billboarding space around the four walls of, again, a traditional six pack of craft beer, that actually cover up the SKU or the barcode so that when it's being run through or being identified by the barcode, not a single one can of beer, rather the multi-pack of a six pack is recognized.

Krones jumped in with its light pack, which, again, is more like a one-to-one replacement of an HDPE style can handle, and that works well with upstream and downstream equipment.

And then, as recently as last week, Smurfit Kappa TopClip—which is an existing standing line of paperboard canned handles—recently rolled out to Czech beer brewery Pivovar Clock, and that's a really small, craft brew situation. So it's not just the biggest/largest companies and beverage producers that can use this technology. It's down to applications for the smaller folks too.

So we've all seen this happening in the craft brew market for a couple of years now, but we just noticed something last week through Kraft Heinz, and actually, Heinz UK is the specific brand. Where this trend has jumped out of its craft brew confines and is now basically visible on supermarket shelves with the biggest bin that there is, and that's in the UK. That's soups, beans, and so on, and other types of legumes that are canned in traditional cans that have popped tops and so on.

So historically, or at least within the last few years, these have been shrink bundled together into multi-packs with LDPE low density, polyethylene packing, but due to some consumer perceptions, and again, perception isn't always reality around single use plastics, Kraft-Heinz has made this shift to paperboard in all of their multi-packs for this particular soup set or range of products. So, again, we're not certain if this is something that's actually more sustainable, but we know that the perception for certain consumers is that it's more sustainable due to the fact that consumers just don't know or don't always understand how to recycle plastics. There's a lot of different alphabet soup when it comes to HDPE, LDPE, and the one through seven numbers that can be pretty confusing for folks, whereas paper or paperboard or anything coming from fiber or wood seems like an obvious slam dunk for them that they should be recycling.

So I think continued consumer education and also continued understanding of what this plastic packaging and shrink bundling can possibly do for consumers in terms of getting a product there safely is all valuable. But, meanwhile, these brands are making a switch to paperboard, and it's not just a simple one-to-one replacement of shrink wrap for paperboard. There's a lot of automation in the background, so it requires a significant capital outlay. That means that those brands that make that switch are going to be doing that for a while. That’s all for today’s Take Five. Thanks for watching.

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