The Overnight Switch From Glass to Cans in Craft Brewing

View from the Trenches Header_w boxI'm starting a new series on my blog called View From the Trenches. It will be more journal-like in that I will share personal thoughts and observations from the field and discuss cultural shifts and trends.

The speed of the switch from glass to cans in craft brewing takes my breath away. Coming from a canning brewery, I never did understand the appeal of bottles, but I understood the appeal of tradition. In 2016, I had a bottling brewery client who wouldn’t entertain the switch to cans even after I mentioned all of the advantages of cans. Today, I don’t know any brewery who is investing in a bottling line. In fact, I know several breweries who are trying to unload their bottling lines for a canning line. What happened and why did the industry make the switch so quickly?

Cans are Cheaper
Cans are significantly less expensive than glass, both in material and shipping. If you are shipping your beer any distance, the weight of the package becomes more and more important. With the accelerated switch to cans, I am seeing some small shortages, but most of my clients are able to receive cans when they need them. Cans are made of aluminum which falls under tariffs. I am not seeing any measurable increase in the cost of cans, and that small increase far outweighs the cost differential from bottles to cans.

Cans are Better for the Beer
Light and oxygen are the main enemies of the beer. Even the darkest of bottles expose the beer to some light damage, while cans completely protect the beer from light. Oxygen is the other main enemy of beer. The seals on cans allow for an airtight seal with no oxygen present. Even the best bottles have some head space. That head space contains oxygen and is damaging to the beer.

Cans Allow for High Stacking on Brewery Shelves
Bottles can only be stored one pallet high and don’t allow for double stacking. That is not an issue for cans as they can easily be double stacked. This is a bit of an advantage to the distributor and retailer. Both parties can stock twice the amount of beer in the warehouse and everyone benefits.

Stack of cans_web

Can Linings Are More Reliable
In the early days, the biggest objection to cans was the lining as it was not reliable. This led to the perception that beer packaged in bottles was higher quality beer. With the advent of better can linings in the last couple of years, convenience won over tradition and the race to switch to cans accelerated. Some states, such as California, are starting to ban BPA in can linings. Make sure that your can supplier can provide BPA-free can linings if that is an issue in your state.

Distributors Prefer Cans 
Since cans are lighter in weight and able to be stacked higher on shelves of in a warehouse, it is no surprise that distributors are making their preferences clear. In fact, I had a bottling client who could not sign with a distributor until they could provide the beer in cans. This fact alone is accelerating the switch to can packaging.

You Can Take Cans More Places
Less and less beer is consumed while sitting on a bar stool. Consumers want to take their beer more places and consume it while living their lifestyle outside of a brewery and cans are the best packaging for carrying beer far and wide. Many outdoor enthusiasts make sure to leave room for their favorite brew whether they are packing for a long hike in the mountains, or stand up paddle boarding on a lake. 

More and More Beverages are Being Canned
One thing I have seen is that even though cans are less expensive to package, some breweries are charging a premium for cans. How do you like that? The brewery pays less for the packaging and then charges the customer more for the package?

Despite the fear of the can lining, I’m seeing more and more types of beverages packaged in cans. From canned cocktails to kombucha, the advantages of cans are bleeding into the mixed beverage space. I have heard some concern regarding sour beer and other acidic drinks and that the can linings may have trouble holding the beverage for longer periods of time. But the advantages of cans are very appealing overall for all types of beverages.

What are your thoughts on this industry-wide shift?

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