These findings are contained within a recent market study commissioned by the Association of European Producers of Steel Packaging (APEAL). The study highlights the current market growth for steel packaging in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, all of whom are preparing to join the EU this year.
There is certainly plenty of growth potential within these four countries. Central Europeans currently use 2kg of steel packaging per capita per year, compared to 10kg in Western Europe, and the consumption of steel cans in the east is projected to grow at a rate of 3.5 per cent a year.
The report claims that steel packaging has become firmly established. In the food segment for example, steel represents 97 per cent of the total metal packaging used, primarily for packaging fish, soups, tomatoes and vegetables.
The closure market has enjoyed growth of 3.6 per cent annually since 1998, mainly in Poland and Hungary. Steel currently represents a 50 per cent share in this sector, and 25 billion units are manufactured a year.
Central Europe still lags behind the West in this respect however; 25 billion units represents just 15 per cent of the total Western European market.
Poland already has a dynamic beer market, with a 38 per cent share of total packaging and ongoing capital investments by the principal multinational brewers such as SAB, Heineken and Carlsberg. The total Central European beer and beverage can market is however relatively small in comparison with respect to the total drinks potential, and has therefore become the focus of expansion by major brewers.
A number of difficulties still need to be overcome before the steel packaging industry becomes truly consolidated in Central Europe. "There is an urgent need to upgrade outdated and obsolete filling equipment which impedes the high potential growth of the industry," said Stanislaw Wasko, director of Polish can manufacturer Can Pack.
Nonetheless, he is confident that there is real potential for the steel packaging industry in Central Europe. "I am very positive about the future of the industry," he said.
"We will see growth in the dry, packed products such as powdered milk for which we will need 'peel off' end technology. Our new range of cans with new diameters and improved closures will contribute to growth in this sector where the security of metal packaging cannot be equalled."