Cashing in on the can’s comeback

chazTinned groceries have been a fact of British life for generations, and their fabulous convenience is invaluable. Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Soup, for many years the biggest tinned grocery brands by far, are instantly recognisable on shelf as icons for hunger relief. But for a host of reasons tinned food has gone out of fashion with a sizeable chunk of the population – until now.

The recent recession has been great news for tinned food sales. After being overshadowed for years by the new generation of convenience foods that came in with microwaves, food in cans is making a comeback with cash-conscious consumers.

Traditionally the big tinned food consumers are male students and other single men who, the cliché goes, are lazy and can’t be bothered to cook “properly” for themselves. Instead, they live on baked beans, canned soup, pasta, fruit and so on when not bingeing on junk food and takeaways.

During the recession, things changed. Recent statistics from the Steel Can Recycling Bureau (SCRIB) show a rapid increase in tinned food sales, with an estimated £1.85bn spent on them in the last twelve months in the UK, as consumers fought to keep the cost of living down.

But in the recession it seems canned food has won new popularity with all kinds of consumers because it’s easy to prepare, convenient, nutritious and relatively cheap, with no waste.

Not only that but their legendary longevity means these days they are taking on a new importance for our ageing population, and protecting the elderly from inadvertently giving themselves food poisoning. Fresh or raw food is perishable, and becomes unfit to eat in a relatively short time. Food poisoning is unpleasant to say the least, but in the case of the elderly can even be fatal.

So cans save lives. And they are recycling heroes too. The SCRIB says recycling rates have increased dramatically by over 21% as consumers have turned to tinned products. Food cans are made of steel, which is 100% recyclable, easier to recover, and over 90% of local authorities collect it.

Finally, the food cans themselves have gone through a revolution. Trade body Canned Food UK highlights cans with easy-open-ends either with ring pull or peelable foil that don’t require a can opener and bowl shaped cans which are microwaveable and so on. Today cans weigh over 30% less than 20 years ago and use fewer raw materials, but are stronger and safer than ever.