Composite cans come in all shapes and sizes. Yet despite the packaging’s versatility, there are certain standard sizes used across industries in order to capitalise on efficiency and practicality. One popular size is known as the 401.

The name comes from the outside diameter of the can: 4 and 1/16th of an inch. It’s a standardised name though that thoroughly belies the can’s long and shifting history. When the automobile industry boomed after World War II, the motor oil industry went along with it, and the product was packaged in metal cans of the 401 variety. The cans were made to be punctured with a spout, emptied in one shot, and then discarded. Billions of those cans were made each year in order to meet growing consumer demand and the composite can manufacturers took notice of the trend. They wanted to capitalise on the motor oil industry too and so pushed the packaging of the product in composite cans instead of all-metal ones. Considering composites are lighter and more cost effective than metal, the composite can manufacturers took over the entire industry, relegating metal oil cans to antique shops. The new oil cans had a pull tab and worked like a soda can, and they reigned supreme until plastics entered the arena.  Plastic manufacturers offered resealable bottles with neater pouring spouts and thus cornered the market, pushing the composite cans out of the industry.

Suddenly, composite can manufacturers found themselves with exorbitantly expensive 401 can manufacturing lines and no industry to manufacture any 401 cans for. Many companies shut down and their machinery gathered dust. The surviving manufacturers realised a market shift was crucial and so repurposed their equipment to package cocoa, tea powder, and other dry food products. The concept caught on and so the 401 size is now common in the food industry. Thanks to the post-war motor oil cans, products such as peanuts, potato starch, iced tea mix, and protein powder are all packaged in 401 cans.

At Canfab Packaging, we acquired two 401 manufacturing lines left to gather dust after the plastics industry took over the packaging of motor oil. We repurposed one to use for manufacturing 211 cans (so named because they have an outside diameter of 2 and 11/16ths of an inch), while keeping the other as a traditional 401 line in order to offer our customers the decades’ old standard. Find out more about the sizes we offer on our products page.