Plastic cans made their food-industry debut more than a decade ago, but the packaging never advanced beyond test-market curiosity.

New barrier materials and a multi-layer injection process may lower packaging costs sufficiently to make the clear plastic can a viable option for beverage manufacturers.

Sky-high material costs were the reason, according to David Andrulonis, director of food & beverage products at Toledo, Ohio-based Owens-Illinois Plastics Group. Process refinements and new barrier materials have helped drive down costs to a point where the price premium is sufficiently low to make PET cans a packaging option, at least for niche products and special promotions, he says.

O-I’s can relies on SurShot, a multilayer injection process with virgin PET on the inner and outer layers and recycled content at the core, sandwiched between two barrier layers.

The barrier material locks in soft drinks’ fizz by reducing carbon dioxide permeation outward and restricting oxygen migration inward 35%-45% better than O-I’s previous formulations, depending on container design. The can weighs about 16 grams, Andrulonis says, heavier than an aluminum can, and it may not be suitable for hot fill. Soft drink and beer manufacturers are evaluating the package, he adds, and an ultra-violet barrier can be added for light-sensitive products.

Standard metal ends are used, and crimping speed remains the biggest production hurdle to commercialization. Andrulonis anticipates an early-2003 beta test for the cans. Helping to offset the packaging’s limitations are its striking look and ability to accommodate multiple shapes.