May 7 When the steel industry goes to
Washington, it usually talks about trade, tariffs and taxes. But
there is also the small matter of fruit cocktail.
After years of declining food can shipments, steelmakers and
packaging producers are in the midst of an ambitious push to
rebrand canned goods as convenient health food. They're even
trying to rename the pantry, to "cantry."
These industry groups have been wooing Americans with
recipes for canned pineapple chicken salad and chocolate cake
with peaches and beets. But they have also been commissioning
nutrition research and lobbying to make canned goods a bigger
part of government programs.
"One of the biggest obstacles has been the belief that
canned food is not nutritious," said Rich Tavoletti, executive
director of the Canned Food Alliance. "We've had to educate
The alliance, a consortium affiliated with the American Iron
and Steel Institute that includes steel producers and can
makers, is getting results: A pilot program tucked into the
five-year farm bill passed by Congress in February will soon let
canned food like fruit salad into the federal government's
school snack program, to the dismay of some health advocates.
Steelmakers have good reason to care about Americans' eating
habits. Most food cans are made of steel, though aluminum has
won much of the beverage can market. About 4 percent of U.S.
steel shipments in 2013 were for the container market, which is
dominated by food cans but also includes some aerosol cans,
according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
U.S. Steel Corp is a major supplier, and last year 8
percent of its shipments went to the container market. Shipments
have edged lower over the last five years.
"A BENEFIT TO THE CANNED FOOD INDUSTRY"
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center
for Science in the Public Interest, said canned fruit and
vegetables can be convenient, affordable and a good option in
addition to fresh produce, even though they often contain extra
sugar or salt.
But she called the farm bill pilot "a benefit to the canned
food industry, not to the benefit of children," noting that the
snack program is meant to be educational, introducing children
to more fresh produce. She said the public-health community had
been working with the fresh produce industry to oppose the
"It's something we've been fighting against for years, and
they were finally able to get it in the farm bill," Wootan said.
The Canned Food Alliance also sees an opportunity to educate
children, about canned food. Tavoletti said broadening the snack
program could make it possible for schools to serve local
produce even when it is out of season, and cut costs.
The group is not stopping with snacks. It is also trying to
stamp out state-level rules that, in some places, restrict
canned bean and produce purchases by the low-income families who
receive Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food benefits. With 53
percent of U.S.-born infants covered, WIC users are a big
FOOD CAN MARKET TURNS SOUR
The latest data from Can Manufacturers shows that food can
shipments in the United States were flat in 2012, and down 14
percent from a decade earlier. Canned food is up against a wide
variety of fresh and frozen options, and steel is facing
increasing competition from other kinds of packaging, like bags
Enter Cans Get You Cooking, a marketing campaign from the
Can Manufacturers Institute, another association of can makers
and their suppliers. The campaign is funded by packaging
suppliers Silgan Holdings Inc, Crown Holdings Inc
and Ball Corp. Can Manufacturers' 30-odd members
also include steelmakers ArcelorMittal USA and U.S.
Earlier this year it sponsored a television special with
Cooking Channel personality Kelsey Nixon. On the campaign's
Facebook group, visitors weigh in on the "Cantry Item of the
Week" ("my favorite carrots") and guess the contents of cans
with blank labels.
Sherrie Rosenblatt, vice president for marketing and
communications at Can Manufacturers, wants to see the word
"cantry," which was crafted by a public-relations firm, enter
the lexicon just like the verb "google."
"I don't even use the word 'pantry' anymore, and I forget
that it's a word that not everybody knows yet," she said. "We
hope it becomes a part of the nomenclature of the American
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Douglas Royalty)