expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Rising Tide of Craft Cans

The rapid rise of beer in packaged form began in earnest after World War II. Beer had been available in bottles for many years and in cans for about a decade. But draft was king. That began to change following Prohibition, largely the result of consumers preferring to drink beer somewhere other than a bar or tavern.

Advancements in packaging, refrigeration and transportation made during the war eventually helped make packaged beer more popular than draft. Growing up through the sixties and seventies, I clearly remember an abundance of macro beer choices in bottles and cans.

Most people considered cans to be inferior in those days. They were easier to handle, but there was the constant scourge of tasting the can, whether it was steel or aluminum. Bottles were preferred by most self-respecting beer drinkers and mainstream consumers.

When craft beer came along, canning was impractical. Not that anyone would have bothered with it. The supposition was that bottles were superior if you wanted to protect the integrity of your product. So packaged craft beer came mostly in 12 oz bottles or 22 oz  bombers. Cans were rare.

Today, those assumptions and practices are under siege. A lot of consumers have decided they like the flexibility of cans, which are lighter, less breakable and easier to take on excursions than awkward bottles. They've also decided that beer from a can tastes just fine, that maybe the reason cans had a bad rep in the past was the beer that came in them.

Walk into your local bottleshop and you'll see the result: cans everywhere. In fact, you're more likely to see that trend on display in a bottleshop than you are in a grocery story, according to intel in a recent article by Brewers Association economist Bart Watson. Cans are winning big with a particular segment of the market, which I'll get to shortly.

In the big picture, bottles remain the top dog in packaged craft beer, Watson says. Bottles accounted for about 72 percent of packaged craft production in 2016. Cans came in at just over 28 percent. But can growth is spiraling upward. Watson reckons cans will account for about 31 percent of packaged craft in 2017, once the numbers are in.

The most intriguing part of this for me is where the most spectacular growth is occurring. You might assume brewers across the board are switching to cans. But that isn't the case at all. In fact, only a small percentage of breweries are switching from bottles to cans, according to Watson. Regional craft breweries are largely sticking with glass.

That's why you aren't going to be blown away by craft cans in grocery. Regional and national craft continue to dominate shelves in that channel. Which means a lot of bottles. So shopping the beer aisle in grocery isn't going to be much of an indicator, in terms of can growth. But your local bottleshop probably is.

The reason is wrapped around who's using cans and who's growing. Watson demonstrates this with a table which shows that smaller (likely newer) breweries are far more heavily invested in cans than older, larger breweries. It also turns out smaller breweries are responsible for the greatest craft segment growth, by percentage. And this beer is far easier to find in bottleshops than grocery.

Breweries producing less than 10,000 barrels were responsible for 58 percent of craft segment growth last year; those producing between 10,000 and 100,000 barrels were responsible for 17 percent of segment growth. Between them, these folks accounted for more than 85 percent of craft can share in 2016 and they grew that share by more than 20 percent last year.

The trend to cans is an emerging tsunami. In a few years, they will surely account for more than 50 percent of packaged beer. Cans have gained traction with young fans who flock to smaller, newer breweries. It hardly matters that those breweries tend to produce trendy brews to attract that audience. The appeal of those beers is driving wider acceptance of cans by the day.

Larger, established brewers are being forced to take note. Most have been slow to accept and adopt cans, but attitudes are changing. Hey, even if you don't want to brew and release trendy new styles, putting your beer in cans with updated label art is smart marketing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it civil, please.