Alternative to lead capsules – survey, wine bottle seal manufacturers

Several states have recently passed laws mandating the phaseout of lead wine capsules. Such laws are pending in other states. It seems clear that rightly or wrongly, the use of lead in wine capsules will soon be over.

Wines & Vines asked capsules suppliers what they planned to do to deal with this situation.

We asked the following questions: * What plans are you making to deal with the ban on lead capsules? * What alternative material do you plan to use? * Do you have experiments underway with other materials? If so, what materials? * Will the changeover from lead to alternate materials affect the cost of capsules? If so, by how much in dollars or percentage? * Do you now have on the market alternate-material capsules? If so, what are they? Are they of similar quality?

The following suppliers responded:

APM, Inc.

We are either in production or about to be on several alternative materials. Additionally our supplier of tinned-lead has supplied some tin only capsules to us for evaluation.

The market will give us a range of materials all having different performance, esthetic and economic characteristics. We currently supply aluminum, polylaminate, PVC and polyethylene. There is nothing very similar to lead, so that unique characteristic will be gone.

Let me compare the most likely substitutes with tinned-lead:


We are working on a variety of different plastic films with metallized finishes comparable in appearance to lead. Early indications are very positive.

William A. Preston


APM, Inc.

441 Industrial Way

Benicia, Calif. 94510

Cork and Seal Cebal

Cork and Seal Cebal, being the largest lead capsule manufacturer in the world, is currently offering alternatives to the lead capsule. The company has three solutions available to replace the present lead capsule. The three proposed alternatives are capsules made from pure tin, aluminum composite, and polystyrene.

One might assume that the pure tin capsule is the easiest and most practical solution to the lead capsule in terms of appearance and performance. However, this assumption is made without considering the aluminum composite capsule named the Capgard.

Cork and Seal Cebal has succeeded in providing as much malleability and pliability to the Capgard as the tin/lead capsule, despite the hardness of the aluminum material. This, in turn, allows the capsule to have the ability to be spun on as smoothly and to be cut as easily with a knife as the tin/lead capsule. In addition, the Capgard will look and feel just like the traditional lead foil. Therefore, the aesthetic value of the capsule will not be sacrificed.

The wineries will only realize minor modifications to the spinners when switching over to either the pure tin or aluminum composite capsules.

On the other hand, the Retraflash made of polystyrene, is a heat/shrink capsule that serves as an alternative to PVC capsules.

Cork & Seal Cebal

5425 Napa-Vallejo Hwy.

Vallejo, Calif. 94589

Cork Supply International

Cork Supply International represents Vereinigte Kapselfabriken Nackenheim (VKN), the leading manufacturer of tinlead capsules in the world. In volume, they are the largest supplier of these capsules to the California market. Naturally, VKN will offer U.S. wineries a lead free capsule whenever they want. Currently our philosophy is to offer metallic capsules to distinguish premium wines from lower quality wines which may use plastic capsules.

VKN has offered a pure tin capsule and an aluminum capsule for a number of years. Both capsules may be put onto the bottle the same way. VKN’s experience with aluminum began in Germany after World War II when tin and lead were in short supply. The capsule is manufactured from a single piece of aluminum and is seamless. There are drawbacks, however.

Pure tin capsules need no further experimenting. We have had experience with it for many years, and it can be used by wineries with existing equipment. Pure tin capsules show no difference in appearance when compared to standard tin lead capsules.

A seamless aluminum capsules needs further improvements. After spinning onto a bottle, the molecular structure hardens. This toughens the capsule making removal difficult, and causing sharp edges that may cut the consumer. VKN is working intensively on improvements to the aluminum capsule.

A further development is in the works. According to Dr. Heinz von Opel, owner and Chief Executive of VKN, they will introduce a totally new concept of capsules in the near future. Called “Classic Cap [R],” wineries will be able to apply the capsule without major changes to their existing machinery. The appearance of “Classic Cap [R]” is similar to, if not more attractive than, the traditional tin lead capsule. Consumers will be able to remove “Classic Cap [R]” from wine bottles in the same manner as tin lead capsules. “Classic Cap [R]” is made from FDA approved materials and is environmentally friendly and totally recyclable.

The cost of tine capsules is approximately double the cost of tin lead. Seventy percent of the capsule cost represents the higher raw material cost of tin. Tin is traded on the LME Exchange in London and the price fluctuates widely. During the past ten years, tin prices have dropped about four hundred percent. However, market observers forecast a slow rise in the tin prices, adding emphasis to successful development of other alternatives.

Seamless aluminum capsules cost about one and one half time more than tin lead. This represents the higher manufacturing costs and in-plant modifications necessary to produce aluminum capsules.

The new “Classic Cap [R]” initially will be priced at approximately twenty five percent more than tin lead. Further price changes will reflect market volume. VKN expects that about eighty five percent of the current capsule market will benefit from use of “Classic Cap [R],” and larger sales volume will reduce production costs, with the savings passed through to the wineries.

Joachi, Michalski


Cork Supply International

537-F Stone Road

Benicia, Calif. 94510

Cru Industries

As the first–and only–manufacturer of tin alloy capsules in the U.S., we are moving quickly to comply with state legislation that has banned lead and other metals in packaging.

We have developed an all-tin capsule that in tests on winery bottling lines at high speeds have only required slight adjustments of the rubber bands used to regulate tension in bottling line foiling equipment. It appears that our customers will not have to retrofit their foilers to accommodate tin alloy capsules.

We are producing these new capsules in our high-speed punch press where the raw capsule is formed by a multi-draw method. We also have the capability to produce capsules by the machine spinning method.

We believe that tin has to be a short-term alternative because of the high price of this metal which, at this writing, was about nine times more expensive than lead.

When you consider that the current tin-lead capsule is about 98% lead and 2% tin, this makes for a very tough price hit for our winery customers. We anticipate at this time that the new cap will cost at least twice what wineries are paying today.

A cheaper alternative might be some form of aluminum but aluminum used by itself presents problems such as sharp edges that could cause minor cuts, severe difficulty for the capsule to be cut by a waiter with a pen knife commonly used in restaurants, and the fact that aluminum work-hardens when it is drawn, hence a foiling problem at the winery.

An aluminum laminate is being considered but this tends to delaminate in winery foilers.

Cru at this time is working with more than one major American company seeking a lower-priced alternative that would have the same malleable properties of tin-lead and that will perform the same on existing winery bottling line equipment. It would be premature at this time to talk about what materials we are considering.

Thomas Daly

Executive Vice President

Cru Industries

100 Coombs Street

Napa, Calif. 94559

Enotech Corp.

Capsules alternative to tin-lead have been available for years: a) polylaminated aluminum b) PVC heat shrink c) rigid polyurethane push-on

These capsules are less expensive than tin-lead but do not convey a quality image from a wine marketing viewpoint.

We now have available, and can already offer, pure tin capsules, which are identical in appearance to tin-lead. However, these capsules are 80-120% more expensive.

Another alternative capsule presently being developed is a softaluminum-alloy capsule (without tear tab to distinguish it from a typical brandy or liqueur package), which would also be comparable in appearance to tin-lead and pure tin. However, this type of capsule is not as yet perfected and may not be available for 1-2 years.

Enotech also supplies capsuling equipment for all types of capsules, including applicators, spinners, pleaters, and heatshrink equipment.

R. Peter Klipstas

Enotech Corp.

P.O. Box 576

Palo Alto, Calif. 94302

KLR Machines

Since KLR neither uses nor provides tin/lead capsules, possible bans have no adverse effects for KLR. Since KLR provides SANOPLAST PVC and OPS Heat Shrink Capsules, we anticipate an increase in sales of SANOPLAST PVC and OPS Capsules.

Both SANOPLAST PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) and SANOPLAST OPS (Oriented PolyStyrene) Heat Shrink Capsules are alternatives to tin/lead. They have advantages of lower per unit cost, more extensive graphic capabilities and unique removal systems unavailable with tin/lead.

While major wine producing countries use heat shrink capsules for both premium and non-premium wines, their use in the U.S. (particularly, California) is currently limited to non-premium packages. There are two related reasons for California’s reticence to use Heat Shrink Capsules on premium packages.

Marketers believe the consumer identifies non-tin/lead capsules with non-premium wine. One reason consumers may have this opinion is Californian wineries limit tin/lead to premium packages, and Heat Shrink to non-premium packages. One reason “Marketing” may limit Heat Shrink to non-premium packages, is previous experience with poor appearance of Heat Shrink capsules. Poor appearance of Heat Shrink capsules is always the result of poor application equipment and techniques, and not capsules per se.

While PVC Heat Shrink Capsules may solve lead problems associated with tin/lead capsules, PVC may cause both marketing and environmental concerns. To shrink properly, PVC must be thin and thin capsule material may provide non-premium image. In addition, PVC disposal is problematic. Burning PVC may be banned.

OPS (Oriented PolyStyrene) can solve both problems associated with PVC. Laminated OPS can provide thicker capsule, and there are no bans on burning or disposing OPS. SANOPLAST is currently the only producer of laminated OPS Heat Shrink Capsules. KLR is cooperating with major California wineries to design OPS Heat Shrink Capsules visually indistinct from tin/lead.

In the past, Heat Shrink Capsules cost 25-50% less than tin/lead. OPS Heat Shrink Capsules will be priced about 10% more than PVC. Increased oil prices may increase both PVC and OPS prices.

Heat Shrink Capsules require special Heat Tunnels for application. Generally, even most expensive Heat Shrink Capsule application equipment is only 10-20% of the price of tin/lead capsule application equipment. In addition to lower capital costs, Heat Shrink Tunnel operating costs may be much less than half that of conventional capsule “spinners.”

KLR MACHINES already provides custom designed SANOPLAST PVC Heat Shrink Capsules to many wineries. KLR only supplies SANOPLAST OPS Capsules to selected cooperating wineries. When trials are completed, SANOPLAST OPS Heat Shrink Capsules will be generally available from KLR MACHINES, INC.

KLR MACHINES already provides custom designed SANOPLAST PVC Heat Shrink Capsules to many wineries. KLR only supplies SANOPLAST OPS Capsules to selected cooperating wineries. When trials are completed, SANOPLAST OPS Heat Spring Capsules will be generally available from KLR MACHINES, INC.

Wine Bottle Capsules (tin/lead, aluminum, PVC or OPS) do not affect quality of wine in the bottle. Capsule type can be changed as easily as any other packaging component. It is matter of “marketing will.” Premium wineries are afraid to be first to change this “traditional” package.

But consumer perception of what is now “traditional” and what now marks a premium bottle of wine, was shaped by that same “marketing will.” It’s “Catch-22”: wineries told consumers tin/lead capsules signified premium wine and now complain consumers identify tin/lead capsules with premium wine. Instead of following the “market demand” they created, wineries should lead marketing to re-emphasized wine in the bottle, instead of capsules on the bottle.

R. Ivan Linderman



350 Morris Street, Suite E

Sebastopol, Calif. 95472

Pickering Winery Supply

Pickering Winery Supply acts as the sales agent for the Societe Alsacienne D’Aluminium, an international company known in the U.S. as Savoye Packaging Corp., a joint venture manufacturing champagne capsules currently and soon to locally produce heatshrink and/or polyminated capsules for still wines as well.

We are not manufacturers of tin-lead capsules, but their elimination in the U.S. has forced us to rethink our position in this market place.

Currently we offer the following alternatives to tin-lead capsules. Aluminum (40 microns in thickness) Polylaminate A.P.A. 25 III 12

* A.P.A. = aluminum-polyethylene-aluminum

* 25 III 12 is a sandwich: 25 = 25 microns of aluminum; III = 3X 12.5 microns of of polyethylene; 12 = 12 microns of aluminum. Heatshrink:

* P.V. C. in 75 & 90 microns

* Polyester in 75 microns

* Polypropylene n 75 microns

All of the above can replace tin-lead. The best, however, is the polylam which requires pleating either mechanical or pneumatic prior to spinning which necessitates teaching the wineries how they are to be applied and perhaps marketing how they could be best designed.

A certain number of laminated materials are currently under study which will be available in 1991. Our goal is to find a material which looks as much like tin-lead as possible with the least amount with the least amount of pleating required.

All the materials mentioned above cost less than the current price of tin-lead.

For example, an average price:

* Aluminum printed in 2 colors 50mm length printed to is $30 per thousand;

* Heatshrink 50mm length printed in 2 colors is $30-35 per thousand

We would like to add that for sparkling wines we now offer in addition to the aluminum capsules and the polylaminates 12 III 12, 25 III we, 25 IV 12, a new polylaminate made of several different materials which give the malleable and rather undefined look of lead which will be of great interest for the super premium producers currently using tin-lead champagne capsules.

Kendall Pickering

Pickering Winery Supply

1300 22nd Street

San Francisco, Calif. 94107

Ramondin, U.S.A.

Our factory has already adapted to produce 100% tin capsules as an alternative.

The alternative material we are using is 100% tin.

We have experimented with other materials, but it is top secret.

The changeover from tin-lead capsules to 100% tin ill affect the cost of the capsules by 75% over today’s tin-lead capsules.

We do not have an alternative-material capsule on the market today but, we have been manufacturing custom orders for 100% tin capsules since August.

Jose Saenz


Ramondin, U.S.A.

P.O. Box 2266

Napa, Calif. 94558

Scott Laboratories

As you know, several states have indicated that tin lead capsules will be unacceptable in future years. Simultaneously, the Wine Institute has declared that lead in capsules should no longer be used after the end of 1991. We must remember, however, that the Europeans are ready to use tin lead into the mid-1990s. This means that unless there is a federal ban, our wine industry may be working under a packaging disadvantage vis a vis importers. The question is how to maintain a prestige appearance while abiding by the American reality.

Scott Laboratories has traditionally offered, and will continue to offer, heat shrink, polyminate and aluminum alternatives to tin lead. We expect that the “fighting varietal” sector will turn to heat shrink as the most economic tin lead lookalike. These are currently made from PVC alternatives are PET and oriented polypropylene. PET is already used extensively in other industries. There are still some kinks to resolve before it can be used across the board for wine capsules.

The premium sector of the market is likely to shift to pure tin capsules. To our knowledge all of the current tin lead suppliers are working on converting at least some of their capacity to produce tin capsules. These conversions involve a fair amount of their equipment and cannot be done overnight. I expect, however, there will be sufficient potential capacity to service the American need by mid-1991.

Tin capsules will cost between 2 and 2.25 times as much as tin lead. They can be used on current winery machinery with minimal modification. They will have the mirror drawback of not stretching to the same degree as tin lead will stretch. This may cause some minor package changes.

Bruce W. Scott

Scott Laboratories

2220 Pine View Way

P.O. Box 750249

Petaluma, Calif. 94975

COPYRIGHT 1990 Hiaring Company

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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