American National Can Co. is selling its once-promising Omni container business to Silgan Corp. Omni, a pioneering line of multilayer, high-barrier plastic bowls and cans, in the 1980s appeared to have a bright future replacing steel food packaging. But markets for shelf-stable, eat-out-of containers developed sluggishly as Omni faced intensifying competition from manufacturers of metal and thermoformed plastic barrier con-tainers.
The proposed Omni sale, announced June 2, is a small part of a larger deal that will see Silgan buy ANC's Food Metal & Specialty business.
Carol Constantine, an ANC spokeswoman, said the Omni business made up an insignificant portion of the unit's $597 million in 1994 annual sales. Plastics News estimates the Omni container's annual sales at less than $30 million.
The firm produces the microwave bowls and cans at one plant, in Woodstock, Ill. Food Metal & Specialty operates 16 plants.
The sale of the Omni products might not be a big loss for ANC, according to packaging consultant Mel Druin, executive director of the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Center for Process Plastic Packaging.
``When the microwavable line of Omnis came along it looked very good for making inroads in the shelf-stable can market,'' said Druin, who, as former corporate vice president at Camp-bell Soup Co., was on the ground floor of early efforts to market shelf-stable plastic containers.
``But it probably became a dinosaur because of the cost and the fact that the injection blow molded, shelf-stable plastic category hasn't gone anywhere.''
Druin said the advent of coextrusion systems and more sophisticated thermoforming techniques made it possible to make the same sort of shelf-stable containers at a lower cost than the injection blow molded variety.
``They have become extremely costly, and the quality is there in sheet coextrusion,'' he said.
Toby Rankin, Silgan executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the Omni product line will be a venture into relatively new territory. The com-pany's packaging, with the exception of some custom salad dressing containers, has been primarily for nonfood health- and personal-care items.
``This will be a new line for us,'' he said. ``We will be watching to see if there are opportunities resulting from it.''
He declined to say if Silgan will maintain production of the Omni line or keep the Woodstock plant in operation.
``We can only stick to our announcement of the pending purchase,'' he said. ``It must get regulatory approval.''
ANC is a subsidiary of Paris-based Pechiney SA, which reported $12.8 billion in 1994 sales. ANC has other significant plastics units in North America, including its flexible packaging business, with estimated 1993 sales of $500 million, and an extrusion blow molding business with estimated 1993 sales of $47 million.
Silgan makes a wide range of metal containers for human and pet foods, and custom-designed plastic containers for health and personal-care products. It reported sales of about $861 million 1994, and operates 33 plants in North America.
Silgan ranked ninth in Plastics News' November 1994 survey of North American blow molders, with sales of $200 million.