Can Shortage Is Latest Headache for Nebraska Brewers


Brittany Zaborniak, a server at Cosmic Eye Brewing, stacks a tower of beers on the canning operation line, Aug. 21, 2020, in Lincoln. The Brewers Association warned at the end of July that aluminum can manufacturers were at capacity with no way to increase production this year. (Justin Wan/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)
By 
Matt Olberding
Lincoln Journal Star

Lincoln – If coronavirus pandemic-related closures and downturns in business haven’t caused enough headaches, craft beer brewers are facing another potential problem: a shortage of aluminum cans.

The Brewers Association warned at the end of July that aluminum can manufacturers were at capacity with no way to increase production this year.

The group said an overall shift in preference to cans, not just for beer but for soft drinks and other beverages like hard seltzers, had helped lead to a supply-and-demand imbalance even before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic led to more off-premise sales, which further increased demand for cans.

“With bars and restaurants being closed, keg sales dropped to zero for everyone, and we all shifted to 100% package, putting a pretty big strain on the supply,” Cosmic Eye Brewing owner Sam Riggins told the Lincoln Journal Star.

Riggins said he has had issues getting aluminum cans, especially the 32-ounce versions known as crowlers. He said he had been trying to order them since April and finally was able to get some in early August.

Riggins also said he’s started to have issues finding 12- and 16-ounce cans, as well.

“Our usual warehouse in Omaha has been out for weeks without a real clear date on restock,” he said. “My backup and backup-backup supplier are both out, as well.”

Kolby Wood, who owns White Elm Brewing, said “it’s been a struggle” to source the cans he needs, especially 12-ounce cans.

“It’ll probably mean a temporary production halt of our only 12-ounce beer, Skinny Legs IPA,” Wood said, although he noted the halt will likely be short-lived, because Ball Corp., one of the largest aluminum can makers, is planning to increase its production.

Ball Chief Operating Officer Daniel Fisher said in an Aug. 6 conference call with investors and financial analysts that demand in North America has grown a lot faster than the 4-6% that was forecast for this year.

“It’s been 8% or 10% … so you’re talking about upward of 8 billion to 10 billion incremental cans in one year alone,” Fisher said.

It’s not just craft brewers that are feeling the effects.

Dr Pepper reported earlier this month that its sodas were unavailable in certain parts of the country because of a shortage of inventory, and Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have both said they have cut back on production of non-core drinks.

Some local brewers and cider-makers say that while they’ve heard about the can shortage, it hasn’t yet affected them.

Mike Murman, who owns Glacial Till Vineyard and Glacial Till Craft Cider, said that so far he has not had any issues getting cans delivered.

Zipline Brewing bottles its beers for retail sale, and has not had any issues getting the small amount of cans it uses in house, but co-founder Tom Wilmoth said that he’s heard about plenty of brewers that had have problems.

“The can supply challenge is real and troublesome,” he said. “I’ve heard some folks are cutting brands to ensure they have enough cans to fill with cornerstone products.”

Wilmoth said that while Zipline plans to incorporate more cans into its business in the future, “we’re glad to be in glass for now, and looking forward to an expansion of the can supply before we enter that market.”

That could be awhile. Zac Triemert, president and head distiller of Brickway Brewery & Distillery in Omaha, said that he thinks it could be 2022 before can supply catches up with demand.

“We’re just at the very beginning of it,” Triemert said. “I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of the problem.”

He said Brickway has been lucky because of a decision he made last fall. By reading trade publications and watching the industry, he became convinced that a can shortage was inevitable, so he started putting in early orders and buying extra inventory.

Triemert said that decision may have saved Brickway from some serious problems.

“If we couldn’t get cans, you might as well close our brewery,” he said.

 

This story first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star. It was distributed as a member exchange story by The Associated Press.

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