How Canned Water Could Impact the Packaging Industry
As waste caused by single-use plastics continues to draw ire from consumers, many brands have had little choice but to react and reassess their packaging choices. And while plastic packaging can provide certain sustainability advantages — particularly in food waste reduction — certain market segments where plastic has become the norm are exploring alternatives.
That was evident last week in Miami, when more than 60,000 fans filled Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIV, and found an unexpected twist on a common in-stadium beverage. At concession stands across the United States, purified water almost always comes in a single-use plastic bottle. For this year’s football finale however, the stadium was stocked with aluminum cans of PepsiCo's Aquafina.
According to a press release from Centerplate, which provides catering and hospitality services at a variety of event venues, the 100,000 cans of water available at the game are a component of Hard Rock Stadium’s goal of removing 99.4% of single-use plastics, along with PepsiCo's goal for a 35% reduction in virgin plastic from its line of beverages by 2025.
While the bottled water transition at football’s biggest game grabbed plenty of headlines, it was hardly the first move Hard Rock Stadium has made in its effort to reduce its plastic waste. The stadium, which serves as home to the Miami Dolphins, University of Miami football team, and college football’s annual Orange Bowl, has also begun to incorporate disposable aluminum cups as a replacement for plastic.
According to a December 2019 article in Popular Mechanics, the aluminum cups offer increased recyclability over their plastic counterparts, and could even become a collectable for fans to take home with their team-themed branding.
The bottled water industry is massive, and has experienced significant growth in recent years — even surpassing carbonated soft drink consumption in 2016, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. So, any alteration as to how brands opt to package this product is going to have significant implications on the industry as a whole.
While the transition from plastic bottles to cans in a single football stadium is just a drop in the bucket, a large-scale switch to aluminum could lead to a major disruption in the label space in particular. For the most part, plastic water bottles are adorned with a printed film label, and switching to aluminum cans — most of which are direct printed with dry offset technology — would remove a large portion of labels from shelves.
Additionally, brands will have to explore various closure options, as the lack of a cap removes a clear advantage plastic bottles have over traditional pop top cans. Since resealability is an essential part of the bottled water experience, brands seeking a shift to aluminum may want to follow in the footsteps of a brand like Pathwater, which packages its product in an aluminum bottle with a screw top, and can be both reused and recycled.
As far as labeling is concerned, even if the bottled water industry does make a hypothetical wholesale switch to aluminum, it’s hardly as if all hope is lost. Taking a cue from the craft beer industry, which has seen a significant influx of can usage in recent years, brands can often benefit from using a printed label on a can, rather than direct print.
In addition to contributing to a craft appearance, a pressure-sensitive label on an aluminum can often provides increased flexibility in packaging design. In fact, as writer Brandi Brock reported in Craft Brewing Business last year, by reducing the minimum order quantity by transitioning to printed labels on cans, breweries can adjust their packaging as needed. Brock writes:
Implementing labels will allow breweries to buy large quantities of generic cans, and then label them appropriately in much smaller batches, helping smaller scale operations gain more control over their supply and demand.
While a complete transition of water into cans is unlikely in the immediate future, it's clear that brands are exploring different options. And as SKU proliferation continues to impact this segment via carbonated and flavored options, it would be wise for printers to explore how digitally printed labels could open the door to reduced cost and design flexibility. There's little argument that brands and consumers are increasingly placing an importance on sustainable packaging. With plastic in the crosshairs, it will be important for packaging providers to understand ways they too can evolve.