Can openers are far from obsolete, but they are no longer necessary for a growing number of canned foods that now feature easier-to-open lids.
The packaging trend is making an impression throughout the Center Store, spanning categories from canned soup and pet food, to coffee and tuna.
The lids are making a difference at the point of purchase, catering to consumers who are looking for food that's not only easy to prepare, but also easy to remove from the package, said Maryann Cherry, category buyer, Mars Super Markets, Baltimore.
"Today's consumer is looking for anything that's convenient," Cherry told SN.
Both large and small manufacturers are getting involved in the easy-open trend. Over the summer, Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., revamped its entire 75-flavor condensed soup line with easy-open lids. Campbell's "Chunky" and "Select" lines were repackaged with the lids several years ago. Campbell's said the lids have contributed to the success of its ready-to-serve franchise.
"The lids address an ongoing consumer desire for convenience in packaging," said John Faulkner, director, brand communications, Campbell's.
Easy-open lids come in several forms. Some are made of metal; others, foil. A common element is a pull-back tab on top of the lid. Tuna manufacturers have taken a different approach, featuring selections in a tear-open, foil pouch.
Among the brands that have tapped into the trend: Franco American gravy; Chef Boyardee mini ravioli; Maxwell House and Folgers coffee; Bumble Bee and Starkist tuna; and Friskies and Fancy Feast cat food. Lesser-known brands are making the change as well, including Haddon House Roasted Peppers from Haddon House Food Products, Medford, N.J.
The lids are even showing up in the candy category. Masterfoods USA, Hackettstown, N.J., has put easy-open lids on its new "travel" cups, portable single-serve containers for the M&Ms and Skittles brands.
Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, purchased the travel cups a few weeks ago, according to Tim Tackett, the chain's candy buyer. Tackett said the M&M's travel candies come in a 6.4-ounce size; Skittles, 7.8 ounces. Both will retail at Giant for $1.99.
Tackett voiced optimism about the new containers, saying they're a welcome addition to Giant Eagle's candy aisle.
"It's a neat niche item in a category that hasn't had a lot of innovation in terms of packaging," Tackett said.
Easy-to-open lids are especially important to aging consumers, who may have arthritic hands and other ailments that may make it difficult to use manual or even electric can openers, said Michael Seaboch, corporate buyer, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb. "These lids could make a different to older consumers in terms of what they buy," he said.
"They're also a safety item, as they don't create any sharp edges that can openers create," Seaboch added.
The trend got its start about five years ago in the pet category, and has quickly expanded to other areas, including most recently to canned soup and pasta products, according to Ray McGowan, president, U.S. food packaging, Crown Holdings, Philadelphia, a packaging firm.
"Most people think of metal cans as inconvenient. But if they can reach into the pantry, grab a can and open it easily, it becomes a great convenience item," he said.
McGowan said nearly all of Crown's canned-food manufacturer clients are using easy-open lids in some form. He expects the trend to accelerate even more in 2004. "This is a form of packaging that consumers are increasingly looking for and basing buying decisions on," he said.