Shortage of beer cans means some popular Michigan beers will just be bottles

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COMSTOCK, MI – The increased demand for aluminum cans has been an issue for years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as two shutdown orders wreaked havoc on Michigan businesses, especially breweries, the lack of cans really hit hard at the end of the year, say area brewery owners. As on-site draft and keg sales plummeted and more people bought beer from grocery stores and other retail outlets, breweries scrambled to find cans.

“The market was moving towards cans, and Covid was only exacerbating it because people want bigger packs in lighter packs, so cans really took off,” said Larry Bell, founder and president of Bell’s Brewery , Inc.

“Besides, nobody sells bottled seltzer, do they?”

Beer sold in cans represented 60% of sales in 2019, a 20% increase from 2010, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a trade association for American beer distributors. This number is expected to be significantly higher in 2020.

Ball Corporation, the world’s largest can maker, told investors last month that the U.S. market alone was short of 10 billion cans this year, according to Thrillist.com.

“We’re in a better space than most,” Bell said. “But I think any brewer who canning is affected by the big guys, especially the small brewers. We have at least one contract with our supplier. But will we be short? We do not know.

What the scarcity of cans means to customers is that beers like the popular Bell Seasonal Hopslam double IPA beer will be released exclusively in bottles for the first time in years. It started to hit stores this week.

“It just makes sense to cover our buttocks and put Hopslam in bottles. We have to make sure we have enough cans for Oberon and Two Hearted for the rest of the year, ”Bell said.

A return to bottles would also be useful, he added.

“If consumers were to consider replacing some of their purchases from cans with bottles, it would help all brewers in the country, and especially the little ones who don’t bottle,” he said.

Why is there a shortage of cans?

Odd side ales

There are “a multitude of reasons,” said Wes O’Leary, sales manager at Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven.

“Manufacturers were trying to expand their facilities. Ball, in particular, is building two more massive production plants, ”he said. “In the midst of these constructions, lockdowns around the world began to occur, especially in bars and restaurants which typically pour draft beer into kegs, shifting most alcohol purchases to the world outside. site.

“This has increased the demand from breweries to put more, if not all, products in cans. In addition, this exponential growth of the seltzer category has definitely put additional pressure on aluminum production. All the while, it seems people drink even more during these stressful times. It was the perfect storm.

The growth of seltzers this summer has only made matters worse. Can makers have told Odd Side they won’t be getting any more cans until summer 2021, at the earliest.

“We had to pack cans of Dank Juice to support our seltzer line,” O’Leary said. “Although that was the initial plan, we certainly had to wrap up a lot more than planned. We ended up ordering thermally wrapped cans, which are a bit more expensive, to meet our seltzer needs. The minimum order was 8,000 cases of cans per flavor, which was a lot, but well worth it now in hindsight. “

Odd Side also bottled beers. About eight to ten at one time, O’Leary said.

Is the return to bottles the first trend of 2021?

Alliance Beverage Dispenser

“We’ve seen a lot of (breweries) go to the bottle if they’re able to do it,” said Tim Wille, director of the craft brand at Alliance Beverage Distributing in Grand Rapids, which works with nearly 40 breweries.

“Those who cannot return to the bottle find themselves in a difficult situation.”

He said the impact was being felt in everything from small breweries to national breweries. California-based Stone Brewery Co., for example, has decided to bottle all of its seasonal beers this year, he said.

But mid-sized breweries have been hit the hardest, he added.

“They’re struggling because they don’t have the flexibility to switch to a row of bottles. They don’t have a bottling line. They invested in canning lines when they decided to pack. We’ve seen a lot of these guys cut orders because they can’t get cans from their suppliers, ”Wille said.

Short’s Brewing Co.

Short’s Brewing Co. in Bellaire, which took over the brewing of some of Arcadia Ales popular beers like Whitsun Ale and Loch Down last summer after it closed in 2019, has decided that all future Arcadia beers will be marketed in bottles.

Scott Newman-Bale, CEO of Short’s and former chairman of the Michigan Brewers Guild, said he has enough Whitsun cans to get him through the summer, but after that, who knows?

“If the can supplier has a random volume, then I can take a truck or two to (Whitsun). I might be lucky, maybe not, ”he said.

He said Arcadia’s Porter Rico is now in cans, but he said Loch Down and future versions will be in bottles.

“Literally, these are the kinds of decisions we have to make every day,” Newman-Bale said. “Do we have any cans? If so, is it worth using our cans on it? Not just for Arcadia, for any project. It really changed the planning process.

Regarding Short beers, he said the biggest impact was the reduction in variety packaging.

“They don’t represent the highest profit margin for us, but they’re very popular,” Newman-Bale said. “Now we really have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want to risk delivering products on a project where the margin is lower? Is it a good idea?'”

The future is uncertain when it comes to the availability of aluminum cans. The courts, like other breweries, go abroad. They expect a shipment of cans from South Korea in April.

“We don’t have enough for our anticipated needs for sure, but we’ve always been lucky enough to find the extras,” Newman-Bale said.

In November, he was helping local breweries by personally delivering pallets of cans to help them get through the crisis.

He had to stop.

“I’m not comfortable in my own position,” he said. “December has been a lot worse than expected. I decided to panic a bit. I’m fine now.”

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