Aluminum cans hold a special place in the heart of America: Many of our favorite beverages are found behind the pull tab or screw top. Coors pioneered the use of aluminum cans in 1959. From this start, there has been a steady march through sodas, energy drinks and increasingly, craft brew beers. Aluminum cans are the most sustainable beverage package and infinitely recyclable. They cool down quickly, provide a superior metal canvas to print on and, perhaps most important, protect the flavor and integrity of our favorite beverages.
Aluminum cans provide long-term food quality preservation benefits. Aluminum cans deliver 100 percent protection against oxygen, light, moisture and other contaminants. They do not rust, are resistant to corrosion and provide one of the longest shelf lives of any type of packaging. Aluminum-based food canning has an unparalleled safety record. Tamper-resistant and tamper-evident packaging provides consumers with peace of mind that their products have been safely prepared and delivered. A vast variety of products are packaged using aluminum: aerosol substances, paint and thousands of other items in the consumer products market.
In the past half-century, aluminum beverage can manufacturers have lightened the package by reducing the gauge required to fabricate both the cans and their ends. The first generation of aluminum cans weighed approximately 3 ounces per unit. Today’s cans weigh less than half an ounce. Aluminum cans bring packaging benefits as well. They are easily molded, resist corrosion and will not rust. Cans made from aluminum easily support the carbonation pressure required to package soda and withstand pressures of up to 90 pounds per square inch. Believe it or not, four six packs can support a 2-ton vehicle.
Many new specialty drinks, particularly energy drinks, are delivered in 8.2-ounce cans. This move was propelled by the wildly successful Red Bull brand of energy drink, introduced in the U.S. market in 1997. Since then, the market has swelled with more than 30 new brands following Red Bull’s lead. The microbrew beer canning market is also growing rapidly. Craft beer packaged in aluminum cans maintains a higher quality. The liquid is not affected by light or exposed to oxygen. Cans are also portable and infinitely recyclable—they can go where glass can’t. Brewers are now positioning the aluminum can as a “mini-keg” that delivers draft-quality fresh beer to the glass.
The modern aluminum beverage can traces its origins to 1959, when Coors introduced the first all-aluminum, seamless, two-piece beverage container. Recycling was instituted at the same time (Coors paid 1 cent for each can returned to the brewery). Aluminum cans made inroads into the soft drink market in 1964, when Royal Crown Cola released both its RC Cola and Diet Rite beverages in two-piece, 12-ounce aluminum containers. In their first year on the market, 1 million cases of soda were packaged using aluminum cans. In addition to being lighter in weight than their steel predecessors, aluminum cans provide a superior surface on which to print text and graphics. This capability increased the opportunity to establish and promote brand awareness.
The first aluminum cans required what was known as a “church key” for opening the end of the can prior to consumption. As legend has it, the inventor of the pull tab, Ermal Cleon Fraze, found himself without a church key while on a family picnic He resorted to piercing his beer can on the fender of his car, and in the process lost much of the can’s contents. Fraze, who owned the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, set about devising what would become the pull tab—an aluminum tab attached at the rivet that, when pulled, would come completely off the can. In 1975, Daniel Cudzik of Reynolds Metals invented the “stay tab.”