The steel industry's fight for American stomachs

Wed May 7, 2014 3:57pm EDT
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By Allison Martell

(Reuters) - 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 consumers."

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 (X.N: Quote) 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.


Cans of soda are displayed in a case at Kwik Stops Liquor in San Diego, California February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Sam Hodgson