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Interview with Ralph Hensel of CONVAR FOODS

Published : 07/29/2019 11:05:47



For a long time, canned foods have filled a whole series of supermarket shelves and nearly everyone has them stocked at home. This includes all kinds of foods such as fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and ready meals, but also drinks of various kinds. If you assume that demand determines supply, the trend appears uninterrupted for more than 200 years after the invention of the can, although in many places it has the image of no longer being up-to-date given more modern types of packaging and ostensibly preserving the products better. To this is added considerations with regard to the recyclability of the can – keyword ecobalance. Why it still makes sense to choose foods in tin-plated cans is described by Ralph Hensel, Managing Director of CONVAR FOODS, in an interview with Food Technologie

FT: Mr Hensel, after decades of almost continuous popularity, the can has had to fight against many prejudices in the recent past. How can that be explained?

HENSEL: Actually, for some time there has been the impression that the can as flawless packaging material is actually dead. In times of well-stocked supermarkets providing an unbelievable variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat on every corner, classical preserves are almost already seen as old-fashioned – and a visible sign of the throw-away society, if you think primarily of empty drinks cans that are strewn across parks and thrown into ditches instead of bins. In addition, everyone presumably thinks of the old preserves of yesteryear, which depending on how they were stored attracted small or large rust spots, which damaged the image of canning as the ideal type of preservation. And, last but not least, manufacturers of cheap canned meals for discounters have not done cans any favours.

FT: Is there now some kind of turning point in the image of cans?

HENSEL: You can definitely see that, or the advantages will more clearly come to light again. Let me also mention, in this context, that the often-scolded deposit for drinks cans have also made it clear to consumers that the can is in no way low quality packaging, but a valuable raw material. An increasing number of customers know that modern preserves are made of light, thin tin-plated sheets and are protected against corrosion with a high quality coating, and the contents are also protected from oxygen, light and bacteria. The stability is also unparalleled and the long shelf life has not yet been beaten. No other packaging material does this.

FT: There you mention directly a few actual advantages of canning...

HENSEL: And I have even more for you: when transporting preserves, dealers do not have to observe the cold chain that is often problematic with continuously hot summers, and no cooling is required for storage, which makes canning even more clearly sustainable in the energy balance compared with cooled products – this applies to the same extent in the consumer's home.


With regard to time: cans can opened more easily today than twenty years ago. In most cases, they have a peel-off lid, so you don't need to use a can opener anymore and can even close them again; with the Tindle, a unique tool developed by us in the shape of a plastic handle, safe handling of cans when heating in the water bath, when serving and also holding is possible as well. The greatest plus is certainly the long shelf life already mentioned, which is between two and three years, so that you can even buy larger quantities to stock up.

FT: ...which then remain “fresh” for longer.

HENSEL: Indeed. According to estimates, today almost a third of the food produced worldwide goes into the bin. The main causes for this wastage – which costs every consumer in Germany an average of € 235 per year – are wrong planning for shopping and the wrong estimate of the shelf life, for example, in relation to the best before date. This problem does not exist with cans with a long shelf life, and you can even close them again.


FT: But what happens to the quality then? You have already mentioned, after all, that we can buy fresh food everywhere and can process them fresh. So you cannot find any better nutrition.

HENSEL: That is true, but don't be misled: it is not the majority of consumers who are happy to be served in the supermarket or the weekly market with the abundance of fresh foodstuffs and cook at home. Often, that just doesn't happen for reasons of time and they would rather grab packed and sealed foods and ready meals. In industrial food production, it has still proven to be normal practice to use glutamate and preservatives – both things which are may be dangerous to the health of some people and which cannot help leaving a taste in the originally-processed food. Canning, on the other hand, provides the option of a considerably well-preserving process, as only little or even no preservatives or artificial additives are required and due to the metallic preservation, both of the nutrients and vitamins are retained.

FT: Is that actually the case? Are the decisive investigations on this?

HENSEL: After multiple tests, the research is definitively on the side of canning. In the course of investigations into how canned foodstuffs differ from the same, freshly prepared dishes with respect to their composition of nutrients, in the results for fat, protein and carbohydrates, the main nutrients, there were hardly any differences. The content of magnesium, potassium and vitamin C in fresh food was a bit higher, but in their favour canned meals were ahead on vitamin B6 and folic acid.

FT: So your advice would be to reach for cans more often?

HENSEL: Of course, we would not advise anyone to feed themselves exclusively from cans. However, it is good alternative to cooking with fresh food – and indeed not only because it is faster or suitable for a longer-term storage of stocks but also if you want to enjoy good food with a good conscience. Finally, there is the prerequisite that the consumer is not only geared towards the cheapest possible price, but wants to be informed where the products come from.


FT: A proven weak point – in many cases the decision to buy is still mainly down to price. How do you score here?

HENSEL: I see a complete reversal of trends here, as the number of people shopping with more awareness is growing. More and more consumers know about the difference with respect to the quality of goods such as processing and consciously grab “normal” fresh foods according to seasonal products from the region or also meat from ethical husbandry. That has just as easily been transferred to canned foods and so at Conserva we have started on a selection of our products and made manufacturers aware that there is a preference to raw materials and agreements from the area, in small plants working according to a traditional model and respecting nature. Therefore, not only are we promoting the regional economy but also protecting the environment by corresponding short transport routes and are able to provide regional specialities that actually come from the region. In addition, we set great store on animal-friendly rearing and renouncing genetic engineering – whoever buys from us will find a corresponding mirror for this, for extremely detailed nutritional information and allergy warnings.

FT: As you have brought up the environment, let me ask a final question: How do things actually look with canning in comparison with packaging from frozen foods or films in which the food is sealed, where waste disposal is concerned?

HENSEL: On this point, too, canning can have a favourable effect: tin plate is 100 % recyclable, so the recycling quota for preserve cans is around 94 % percent, which is particularly due to their good handling in waste processing. If you consider that special household waste is around 66 % recycled, canning may be seen as an absolute here..

FT: Thank you very much for the discussion,
Mr Hensel.