When Irish-American inventor William Painter developed the ‘crown cork cap’ in the early 1890s, he spawned a legacy that remains today. The caps were designed as a leak-proof and disposable method of storing carbonated drinks and eventually gained national attention. Soon after, the Crown Cork & Seal Company (CCS) was formed. William, however, went one step further by developing a machine that simultaneously filled and capped drink bottles.

This thrust CCS – which eventually became Crown Holdings (Crown) – into packaging acclaim. As it grew, it further diversified into food and speciality item packaging. Now it has 143 manufacturing plants in 36 countries.

Crown’s EMEA division is led by Didier Sourisseau, who was appointed President in April 2017. France-born Didier admits feeling astonished when he was selected for the role. “What was a bit unique in my nomination, was that I’m not an English or North American native,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “Looking at the past 25 years, it is quite new for the company to put a French guy at that level of the organisation.”

Didier Sourisseau, President, EMEA of Crown Holdings
Didier Sourisseau, President, EMEA of Crown Holdings

Didier has been at Crown for 25 years, beginning in the sales department before becoming Senior Vice President of Food and Closures and now President of EMEA. “I grew in the company and I’ve been developed by it,” he says. “I was identified as someone with potential and given the opportunity to be trained in the best business school in Europe. It’s a great example of what the company is doing; taking care of its people, giving them a chance and developing them. It’s really genuine.”

The EMEA division is headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, and operates 61 manufacturing plants throughout the region. “Crown is a big operational machine and we have a strong knowledge of our business, in terms of efficiencies,” Didier says. “All our lines are measured on the same system with the same key performance indicators. We know the speed of the line, the spoilage of the line, and the labour and resources we should put into it. We also work with preventive maintenance, which is specific to each sector.”

Enhancing efficiency

Crown has eight product categories in its portfolio: glass bottles for beverages; aluminium and steel beverage cans and ends; aluminium and steel food cans and ends; metal vacuum and composite closures; aerosol cans; decorative steel packaging; flexible packaging; and steel beverage crowns and aluminium caps. Beverage cans account for 58% of its business. In 2016, the company recorded sales of 63.6 billion beverage cans worldwide.

As most of Crown’s products use metal, Didier commends the support of its suppliers. He highlights that its aluminium and steel supplies account for 50% of the company’s costs. “Without our raw materials we just cannot work,” he says, adding how each order needs to be correct so the right quality and the right amount is delivered to the business. “You have to work closely in terms of focus and item because we use different specification of steel and aluminium depending on our needs. We need to have a close relationship with these suppliers to make sure that when we start on the first of January we will receive the right specification and quantity of metal by the first of June.”

“Without our raw materials we just cannot work.”

Didier Sourisseau, President, EMEA of Crown Holdings

Once the orders are complete, the next phase is to get all Crown products made as efficiently as possible. Because the supply chain is very long, Didier points out that a mistake in terms of volume can severely impact delivery to Crown’s customers. “One of the areas where I want to see improvement is in that supply chain,” he says. “I want to make it shorter and more reliable to respond more quickly to our customers.”

The company has operational vice-presidents in each sector and collaborates with each plant to ensure they are all on the same page with each set of practices. Each quarter the plants are measured on their performance, beginning with safety.

“Then we have labour efficiency, line efficiency, spoilage and the cost of non-quality,” Didier says.

At the end of the year, the plant with the best improvement receives a $US200,000 investment. Didier adds that the program is “extremely popular” and a good motivation for the workers.

Strengthening sustainability

Crown already has a strong footing in sustainability, as most of its products use aluminium and steel – two of the world’s most recycled materials. Aluminium is so recyclable that it can return to shelves just 60 days after it has been placed in the recycling bin. Moreover, the Aluminium Association states that almost 75% of all aluminium ever made is still being used today.

“Aluminium and steel are super-sustainable and perfectly meet the objectives of the European Circular Economy Package,” Didier observes. “Both aluminium and steel are permanent materials and can be recycled again and again with no loss in quality.”

On top of its recycling capabilities, Crown has found other ways to reduce its impact on the environment. In 2016, the company launched its five-year strategy to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Within this strategy are two main goals it wants to achieve by the end of 2020. The first is to cut its energy consumption by 5% per billion standard units and the second is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% per billion standard units of production. At the end of 2016, the company had already made significant progress towards its second goal, dropping its greenhouse gas emissions by 6.25%.

Didier Sourisseau, President, EMEA of Crown Holdings

Ingenious innovation

One of Crown’s strongest capabilities is innovation; having developed several technologies to enhance its product offerings. In 2017, Crown collaborated with Coca-Cola to release beverage cans that use ‘reveal inks’. These temperature-sensitive inks enable the cans to ‘reveal’ certain images as consumers drink the liquid. When the can is chilled, one image is visible, another as it is consumed, and a third when the can is at ambient room temperature.

The company’s mission is to “deliver packaging that is functional, convenient and engaging” and its family of CrownConnect™ technologies enables just that. Crown’s goal is to use the ‘intelligence’ of the packaging to make consumers’ lives easier and more enjoyable, as opposed to adding complexity to foster interaction.

CrownConnect is a family of products that has been developed by Crown to address three key aspects of today’s marketplace: traceability, authenticity and customer loyalty. By marking uniquecodes directly onto packaging, each product becomes unique, with its own individual identity. Brands can then connect with consumers via offers, competitions and other promotional activities, but the benefits reach far beyond there. For example, unique identifiers offer advantages in the supply chain, enabling goods like infant formula to be authenticated as genuine and preventing counterfeiting.

CrownSmart™ is a great example of interactive initiatives in action, explains Didier. This enabling technology affords brands the opportunity to give products sole identities via a unique code situated on the tab of a beverage can. These codes can be used for a variety of purposes. Marketing teams can collect purchasing data that allows them to anticipate trends, understand their market and interact with consumers to tailor campaigns.

Logistics teams can track stocks and product movement, and prevent counterfeiting, while consumers have peace of mind as they can check the authenticity of the product they bought. With billions of unique codes available, the possibilities for brand owners are virtually infinite, and “will become a standard feature on every packaging format going forward,” says Didier.

To further strengthen its innovation capabilities, Crown partnered with internet of things specialist EVRYTHNG to develop smart products. Under the partnership, Crown prints serialised codes on its packages that are integrated with EVRYTHNG’s smart products platform in the cloud. This platform enables packaged goods to become more intelligent, interactive and traceable. Once consumers scan the codes with their smartphones, they get access to product information, loyalty rewards and product reordering services. Consumers can also get specialised content such as recipe suggestions or health-related services.

“Metal packaging has been a constant in the food industry for decades, with consumers almost taking its existence for granted,” says Didier. “This is fine, of course, but what is interesting is the popularity the can has garnered in recent years in terms of its sustainable credentials, from the younger generation and consumers as a whole. As an industry, we have worked hard to educate the wider world about metal’s infinite recyclability, its contribution to the circular economy and also the major benefits it delivers in terms of keeping products safe and fresh prior to consumption.”

Fast facts:

A list of Crown technologies

From the first capping machine to its latest augmented reality products, Crown has always had a technology focus. Here are a few of the technologies that have taken Crown Holdings to the forefront of packaging.

Super End Beverage ends – These beverage ends reduce metal use by 10% and are more buckle resistant. They also have a ‘billboard’ feature where companies can print their logos, messages or promotions.

Crown’s 360 End – These were released during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, enabling the entire beverage lid to be removed from the can – turning the can into a cup, discarding the need for additional glasses.

The Ideal Closure – This closure is a hybrid of a metal disc – which creates an airtight seal – and a plastic band with a perforated ring. This ring breaks before the seal in order to identify whether the bottle has been tampered with.

Peel Seam – These are double-seamed peelable ends fitted on metal food packaging. They allow consumers to easily open food cans and bowls.

Earth Safe – A dispensing system for aerosols which uses compressed air rather than hydrocarbons as a repellent.

Holo Crown – This holographic foil technology is primarily used for promotional packaging. It uses the diffraction of light to create three-dimensional images that change position and colour on a tin. Brands can create uniquely decorated tins to grab the attention of consumers.

To cap it all off

Didier says having the right vision allows the company to overcome whatever challenges it is facing. “It’s about understanding what we want to do and what we don’t. And to prioritise what we decide to do now,” he says.

“You really have to communicate and make sure your workers understand, and step after step you will go in the direction of your vision and targets.”

“The challenge for the future is to modernise and continue to lead the packaging industry in our sector.”

For now, the company will focus on two of its core businesses: beverages and food. It will also keep an eye on its aerosols, closures and speciality packaging divisions.

“We are a giant packaging organisation in Europe, making about US$3.6 billion in revenue. That’s 12,000 people across 22 countries,” Didier says. “We are built on acquisitions or mergers with different cultures and with different technology choices from time to time, and we now have enough maturity to standardise the organisation.”

The company celebrated its 125-year anniversary in 2017 and it has no plans to slow down. “We have achieved more than US$100 million in investments last year and we are going to do the same this year by opening new plants and modernising our equipment,” Didier continues.

“The challenge for the future is to modernise and continue to lead the packaging industry in our sector.”