Slimmer Cans Sell Better

Beverage companies are switching to thinner cans to stand out in the crowded cold vault.

July 11, 2022

Customer Drinking from a Slim Aluminum Can

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Taller, thinner aluminum cans, once synonymous with only energy drinks, tend to sell better and help save on freight costs, reports the Wall Street Journal. These slimmer cans are popping up on retailer shelves, and though they still hold the same 12 ounces as their squatter counterparts, they are meant to stand out on the shelf and evoke healthfulness and better quality.

“The shelf is the sea of sameness, and just being different makes a difference,” Dave Fedewa, a partner specializing in consumer products at consulting firm McKinsey & Co., told the Journal. The cans can be cheaper for retailers because they take up less space than traditional barrel-shaped cans, both in a truck or container and on store shelves, he added.

“One of the biggest challenges for retailers and their suppliers is keeping stuff on the shelf, especially in this age of Instacart,” he said. “If you can get 10% or 20% more on display, that could turn into 3% to 5% growth.”

Brands Test Out Thin

Nestlé SA soda brand Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks switched to the thin cans and removed the layer of foil atop its squatter cans meant to keep the top of the can clean. The new skinny cans tell the consumer what is inside, as the drinks have been reformulated to eliminate artificial colors and sweeteners and are healthier than the typical fizzy beverage, according to Thomas Conquet, marketing director of Sanpellegrino in the U.S.

“Consumers feel it’s a bit more elegant, a bit more upscale, a bit more adult when they have this can in their hands,” he told the Journal.

But some Sanpellegrino fans weren’t happy with the switch. One person took to Twitter and tweeted at the Sanpellegrino’s U.K. brand account that the new slim can moves around in their cup holder.

“We have moved to a sleek can and a completely new visual identity, with the aim to delight consumers by offering a more premium and more sustainable drinking experience,” the brand replied on Twitter.

The sleek cans also show up in alcoholic beverages like hard seltzers, and many of their labels highlight their low-carb, low-calorie contents. Launched in January, Anheuser-Busch’s zero-carb beer Bud Light Next is held in a thin can.

Responding to younger consumer demand, the U.S. unit of Heineken tested Heineken beer in slim cans in Florida, and it was a success. Sales increased, and in March, the company began rolling the slim can out to the rest of the U.S.

Some skinny can transitions aren’t always for the best. Diet Pepsi switched to the thin can in 2011, launching during New York Fashion Week, and received major pushback. The accompanying ad campaign was criticized by the National Eating Disorders Association for equating style and beauty with thinness. The company no longer sells Diet Pepsi in thin cans.

Aluminum Over Plastic

Aluminum cans in general are gaining popularity among consumers and brands as aluminum cans can be recycled multiple times without losing integrity, which has led to increased usage. More than 70% of new beverage product introductions are in aluminum cans, and consumers are moving away from plastic bottles and other packaging substrates to cans due to environmental concerns.

“While the soda and beer industry have long adopted the aluminum can as one of their primary packages, the water, wine and emerging beverage companies are adopting aluminum cans because of its superior attributes of sustainability, branding, convenience, performance and taste,” The Can Manufacturers Institute told Beverage Industry. “Take canned wine, for example, which has seen 62% sales growth, according to Nielsen. And recent data on new beverage product introduction, nearly 75% were introduced in aluminum cans.”

CMI says it expects to see a surge in demand and growth for aluminum bottles and cans over the next five to 10 years.

More than half of all convenience store customers (54%) say they’d like to see more recycling at their local c-store, according to NACS data. NACS offers a resource in partnership with the Can Manufacturers Institute on the value of can and bottle recycling, which has tips and suggestions for improving current practices, including how to effectively communicate the goals of the program with staff and customers, and also provides a checklist to help reduce contamination in recycling bins.

Whether in aluminum or plastic, packaged beverages power the cold vault and drive merchandise performance in conveniences stores, with the category experiencing 10 consecutive years of growth. Find out just how well the category did last year in the June issue of NACS Magazine.