Big brands are working to boost the image of canned foods, with the message that canned is just as good as fresh, says Fiona McLelland

There’s a bit of a buzz around the old tin can at the moment as marketers work hard to make the most of the health drive sweeping the nation.
The message coming from the big brands as they attempt to bring some excitement back to the canned goods aisle is that canned is just as good as fresh.
Although total canned goods’ sales growth of 2.3% was slower than total grocery’s 3.5% in the past year [TNS Superpanel 52 w/e June 19, 2005], some of the biggest sectors and brands have out-performed the market.
Canned soup, for example, is growing in value at 6.2%, faster than total soup sales growth of 5%. Baked beans is another growth sector, up 5.3% in value. Heinz led an NPD charge with Mean Beanz - a four-strong range of flavoured beans in Jalfrezi, Sweet Chilli, Mexican and Tikka. Ben Pearman, marketing manager for Heinz beans and pasta meals, says national TV ad campaigns for Mean Beanz and Heinz Beans helped boost sales, although with the company freezing its £7.8m annual ad spend until next year, sales could suffer.
While canned fish is up 3%, market leader Princes claims that its sales are growing at 12% year-on-year.
Canned Food UK, an organisation committed to promoting the benefits of canned foods, says many companies are cashing in on the nation’s health drive. “Promoting the nutritional benefits of canned food will continue to be the main focus of Canned Food UK’s activities,” says UK chairman Steve Thomas.
“Tackling the consumer misconception that canned foods are unhealthy is a major element of the campaign.
“This is largely untrue and consumers are consequently missing out on a convenient source of nutrition.”
Lucy Giffen, Del Monte senior product manager for prepared fruit, says business is going well.
“This is largely due to the growing awareness that canned fruit can be used towards your five-a-day quota of fruit and veg,” she says.
“Not everyone has a positive view of canned food, but it is just as good for you as fresh. We are educating people about the benefits.”
But, she says, although consumers are beginning to get the message, the canned goods sector has been neglected for some time and a a lot of work must be done to
rejuvenate the category. “It’s been bumbling along for a while but there’s now a real focus on the category. A lot of retailers haven’t touched it for five years and it has been allowed to become stagnant. But now the best innovation is starting to come through and it’s an exciting place to be.”
Pearman says that certain brands have suffered by their association with canned goods.“Some brands have been dragged down by the old-fashioned image but, despite criticism, the can is incredibly practical.”
According to TNS, category losers over the past year have been canned tomatoes and passata, down 5.9% (compared with a 25% rise the year before), canned pasta, down 6.6%, and cold canned meats, down 0.2%.
However, despite the decline in the overall pasta market, Pearman says that sales growth for Heinz canned pasta is healthy. Heinz recently simplified its range to make the fixture easier to shop and reduced the number of licensed characters.
It says its spaghetti brands have achieved double-digit growth in recent weeks. The May launch of healthier multigrain spaghettis, Spaghetti Heads, Funky Fish and Space Shapes, has
helped sales. Heinz has also seen poorer-than-expected sales of soup in the UK but says it is now on the upswing. Nina Holdaway, marketing manager for Heinz soup, says: “Consumers see soup as healthy. We need more innovation to drive it forward and will be looking at more variants and flavours.”
Canned fish, the biggest sector within canned with a 20.5% share, is also focusing on health.
Price increases have driven growth, while Princes says consumers are buying more to increase their intake of oily fish.