Tinned foods, in all their metallic glory, have never really been particularly fashionable with consumers. Quite the opposite, really, with sad little containers of soup and centuries-old fruit seen as things you might find at the back of grandma’s cupboard.
However, over the past five years a number of chefs, companies and organisations have been striving to highlight the different benefits of tinned food, with the latest push coming from Nadiya Hussain, Great British Bake Off’s 2015 winner.
Hussain’s new show, Time to Cook, has highlighted a number of different cans and tins that she uses herself, including potatoes and spaghetti hoops – which, she confidently says, have relevant nutritional and cooking value as well as the obvious convenience aspects.
While there’s a certain snobbery around tinned items in the UK, European countries such as Portugal and Spain do not share that perception, with canned mackerel, sardines, anchovies, smoked oysters and tuna considered part of the accepted norm – and even epicurean.
Indeed, some of the best of these were showcased by the 2014 London popup Tincan, with Maximiliano Arrocet, the co-organiser of the venture, saying at the time: “You can get gourmet food in a tin [in Spain], and it’s not frowned upon.”
So is a can-do attitude about to hit British shores?
Cans vs the world
“Within reason, tinned foods are perfectly fine. There are some really grotesque canned products out there, but there are some lovely items too,” Andy Cheung, sous chef of 108 Garage in West London, tells Food Spark.
“I’ve never had amazing ‘fresh’ baked beans, but Heinz baked beans are a classic canned item for me. Also, I grew up with things like canned lychee, peaches and grass jelly, so they have nostalgic value.”
Echoing food writer Jack Monroe, who released a cook book in May entitled Tin Can Cook, Cheung notes that canned goods can be more cost effective for consumers on a budget.
“And in terms of the environmental aspects, there is the argument of metal over plastics,” he adds.
As well as coming in recyclable containers, canned goods also help to prevent food waste, since the process used to prepare them means they last for years. Hermetically sealed and sterilised by heat, they require little to no use of preservatives – making them attractive to the clean-label crowd.
Last year, The Grocer revealed that sales of tinned food had gone up in the UK for the first time in five years. Though sales in the UK by volume have flattened out in the ensuing 12 months, worldwide category reports predict that canned fish in particular will continue to grow over the next five years.
Tinned goods could also appeal to the time-poor modern shopper who wants quality grub. US-based Freshé is an example of a company exploring a potential opening for high-end canned seafood, boasting buzzwords like 'healthy,' 'protein' and 'all natural.'
Created after the founders were inspired during a trip to the Iberian Peninsula, Freshé has taken the age-old tradition of preserving catch and created a line of modern, single-serve tuna products.
The four-strong line includes a Sicilian Caponata that combines wild tuna, butternut squash, fire-roasted vegetables, shaved almonds and herbs. Thai Sriracha, Provence Nicoise and Aztec Ensalada complete the current range.
In the UK, Princes released two lines of gourmet tinned fish – Infused Tuna Fillets and Mackerel Sizzle – into UK retailers this week.
“These two unique innovations are a result of our response to the changes we are seeing among our consumers, by providing products that meet the needs of modern family life," Mat Lowery, commercial director for fish at Princes Group, said of the NPD.
In a slightly different vein, premium snack purveyors Made for Drink announced at the beginning of the month that they had teamed up with Cornwall-based Sharp’s Brewery to create an upmarket tin of Hungarian Mangalitza salami chips to accompany cans of Offshore Pilsner.
“We were especially excited to trial Made for Drink’s stylish ‘fine snacking’ tins because we believe this style of thoughtful packaging is an industry first in terms of plastic-free/recyclable packaging, reflecting our own determination to reduce our footprint on the wider environment,” said Sharp’s communications manager, Rachel Williams. “You could say it’s a match made in beer and food heaven.”
So is Sparkie ready to dance the cancan?
It’s an interesting idea to think about. The tinned food aisle is one that is fairly stagnant – completely new products are rare. If we did get some new products, I would be expecting the fish focus, maybe more of the higher-end Spanish produce, as these tinned foods are really valued as part of tapas.