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April 7, 2017

The can can!

The can can!

Regular readers of our blog (are there any other kind?) will be aware that we LOVE cans, not just because we make and supply the best multi-packing solution for them but also because they’re so darned brilliant at what they do.

Cans are airtight, so whatever’s in them doesn’t spoil – for a v-e-r-y long time. They also keep their contents completely in the dark – in a good way – which is also a great preserver and, being made of aluminium, they’re light, making them easier and cheaper to transport.

However, while we tend to focus on beer (listen, everyone has their cross to bear) the ingenious producers out there are putting all manner of stuff in cans, from mountain air (yes, really) to drinkable cream puffs …

A revolution in product preservation

Let’s go back to the late 1700s and a Frenchman named Nicolas Appert. A Parisian confectioner and chef, M Appert was convinced that the presence of air led to spoilage. He was (sort of) right; he just hadn’t twigged that it was actually the presence of the microbes in the air that caused contents to rot. Anyway, armed with his convictions, he entered a food-preserving method competition launched by the ever-optimistic Napoleon, who wanted to keep rations fresh for his army before he set off to conquer Russia, and won 12,000 Francs for his winning entry.

OK, he didn’t use aluminium, but his method of placing food inside glass jars that were corked and sealed with wax, then wrapped in canvas and boiled, did pretty much the same job as modern-day cans. They kept out the light, kept out the air and kept the food good to eat. In fact, he was so proud of his invention that he brought out what might be the first cookbook of its kind on modern food preservation, snappily entitled The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances.

But a Brit turned to tin

Not much later than M Appert’s winning entry (in 1812, to be precise – not a great year for the diminutive French General, ironically, largely because he didn’t have enough food to keep his Grande Armée marching on their stomachs) an Englishman named Brian Donkin substituted tin for the glass and opened the first canning factory.

Now when we say factory, we conjure up visions of production lines, cans rolling off conveyers and, of course, WaveGrip carriers. However, this first stab at canning wasn’t anything like that…

It was very slow and very labour-intensive, as the cans were handmade and took up to six hours to go through the cooking process. Then – and you couldn’t make this up – once they were sealed, it was the devil’s own job to get at their contents, as no one had invented the can opener. In fact, that didn’t come onto the market for another 40 years.

Perfect preservation

Once Mr Donkin had got the ball rolling, however, canning started to get better and better and, boy, did it live up to M Appert’s expectation. Forget sell-by dates (OK, don’t, as they’re there for a reason). Cans preserve their contents for a very, very long time. In 1974, for example, food samples were taken from cans found on a steamboat that had sunk 100 years earlier – and were found to be completely safe to eat! You’d probably have been put off by the look, taste and smell of the samples but they wouldn’t have made you ill. We rest our case, or should that be our can?

Modern-day canning

By the 1860s, the sterilisation method had reduced from the six hours of Appert’s day to less than one. This led to higher production levels and lower prices, as factory output jumped from two thousand cans per day to 20,000. And, people could get into them, as the can opener had (just) been invented, again by a Brit.

However, aluminium was only introduced into metal can making in 1957 and the first all-aluminium, easy open’ beer can (has to be our favourite kind of can) wasn’t produced until 1959. Then though, the industry really took off with the introduction of the ring-pull opener in 1962.

Now, like we said, you can get pretty much anything in a can. And if it comes in a can, we’re more than happy to adorn it with a WaveGrip carrier.

So if we’d like to talk to you about any of this, how do we get in touch?

Well, we’re not exactly shrinking violets. You’ll find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and at pretty much any exhibition that features canned drinks. If we had a sandwich board, we’d use it. We even have premises and staff with phones. For those sorts of details, take a look here.

Please get in touch; we have so much canned love and laughter to share…

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