Employees: 14,500 worldwide (3,100 in Colorado)
In Colorado, Ball's brand is often synonymous with cutting-edge aerospace technology, but the company's 133-year-old packaging operations represents 90 percent of its total business.
Focused largely on the beverage market, Ball makes a staggering 40 billion aluminum cans a year in North America (including many at its facilities in Golden). That's a full quarter of the continent's cans. And Ball makes another 20 billion cans elsewhere.
Part of Ball's business is about logistics: preservation and mobility. But it's also about presentation. "[Customers] want to grow and build their brands -- and packaging is a big part of that," says Ball spokesperson Scott McCarty.
The Ball Technical and Innovation Center -- or BTIC -- "is where it all begins," says McCarty. "Then we develop it."
There are actually two BTICs: one in Westminster, and another in Bonn, Germany. Customers come in and get a gist of the widening array of options when it comes to aluminum packaging. Thanks to its new Eyeris printing process, Ball is offering new graphics with higher resolution, thermochromic ink that changes color based on ambient temperature and a broader palette of colors.
Amidst these innovations, the old 12-ounce can isn't driving Ball's growth, says McCarty. Along with reclosable Alumi-Tek bottles, Ball now makes 22 sizes of cans, with capacities ranging from 5.5 ounces to 32 ounces. "We make more sizes than anyone else," says McCarty. In late 2012, Ball debuted the first Royal pint-sized can -- 19.2 ounces -- in North America.
"Fifteen years ago, it was about big runs of millions of cans that were all the same," he adds. "Now it's about changing up the lines and doing many different runs of different sizes of cans and types of packaging." To this end, specialty products have jumped from about 15 percent of Ball's packaging sales to 25 percent in recent years.
McCarty says craft brewers have moved towards cans in the last decade and it's demonstrably catalyzed growth. While Colorado's own Oskar Blues was the pacesetter for canned craft brew, Ball now supplies nearly all of the country's top craft brewers with cans. Why? Aluminum cans are not only the planet's most recycled container -- about two-thirds are recycled worldwide -- they also are faster to chill, cheaper to ship and harder to break, says McCarty.
"It's been a great segment to be a leader in," he adds of craft brewing. "Now that we do smaller runs, they're got all of the benefits of a can in the size of run that they need."
Challenges: McCarty identifies "further increasing the high recycling rate for beverage cans" and "growing can share in new beverage segments such as water and wine" as Ball's top challenges for metal beverage packaging.
Opportunities: "Specialty metal beverage packaging – bottles, different sizes, graphics – and continuing to work with craft brewers to grow their brands," says McCarty.
Needs: Two things, says McCarty: continued state support, and a hot summer.