Supplies to canmakers are critical in keeping canned food on supermarket shelves

Robert Fell is chief executive of the UK's Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association

Canmakers must have secure supplies of the raw materials they need to ensure that canned food remains on supermarket shelves as the UK manages the Covid-19 crisis.

That is the warning from Robert Fell, chief executive of the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA).

Canmakers require tinplate, tin-free steel, lubricants, coatings, inks and sealants to manufacture their products.

It is also crucial that distribution systems for transporting cans and canned food are maintained to ensure that they are delivered to brand owners and fillers and then on to supermarkets, as the UK goes into lockdown and more key workers fall ill, said Fell.

“What will be a challenge in the coming weeks will, I suspect, be maintaining stock levels. Less the brand owners being able to provide goods, but more the logistics of continuous distribution given the likelihood of a reduced workforce,” he said.

“The reassurance from supermarkets is welcomed in this respect, but of course the brand owners will require a continued supply of food cans to fill and it is therefore important that canmakers across the country continue to have access to all the raw materials needed for production.”

Food in cans is providing the tasty, safe and long shelf life assurance of sustenance that people need in these worrying times when the coronavirus pandemic spreads, he added. As populations in more countries follow the lead of China and Italy – such as the UK – in self-isolating, canned foods provide just the sort of staple they need.

“Panic buying on the scale witnessed in recent days is thankfully a rarity, but one supermarket category with product flying off the shelves is canned food. And it’s not hard to understand why,” said Fell. “Canned food keeps. It has a shelf life of a minimum of three years and is stored at ambient temperature. It doesn’t require freezing or refrigeration so is an obvious choice for households facing potential lockdown or isolation.”

There is also recognition of the nutritional value of canned food, he added. Cooked in the can, food retains its nutritional content, even contributing to the recommended Five-a-Day fruit and vegetable allocation – a fact not lost when observing empty fresh fruit and vegetable aisles in the UK this week.

“Our own study of 2,000 adults showed that UK households have on average 16 cans of food in their homes at any one time, and rely on canned food for at least three meals a week – the most popular being canned tomatoes and baked beans, followed by soup, fish such as tuna and salmon, and other vegetables such as sweetcorn. Canned fruit, hot dogs, ravioli and new potatoes are also popular choices,” said Fell.

“Further, in a taste test conducted for MPMA, whereby people were given two meals, one made from fresh ingredients the other from canned, many said they actually preferred the canned food version while others struggled to tell the difference.”