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Great! Now there's a beer can shortage, too

Craft breweries worry about production slowing
Posted at 10:52 AM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 11:44:36-04

Just what we needed during this endless year: There may soon be another COVID-19-related shortage on store shelves.

This time, it's anything that comes in an aluminum can, including Coke products, other soft drinks and especially beer.

Local craft breweries like 50 West Brewing are growing nervous.

Scott LaFollette is head of brewing operations at this regional brewery that had been growing by leaps and bounds until now.

He's concerned about the sudden aluminum can shortage, which is forcing breweries to wait longer and pay more for their shipments.

"It is just in the beginning stages, so it's probably going get much worse before it gets better," he said. "We are already seeing our lead times on can production slow to about three times the normal length. We are also seeing a price hike forced on us."

Why another shortage?

Like other pandemic shortages this year, it's all because of soaring demand. In this case, it is record-breaking demand for 12-ounce and 16-ounce aluminum cans.

Hard seltzer like White Claw has soared in popularity, and that, too, comes in aluminum cans.

Making things worse, LaFollette said, is that there's very little demand for keg beer from bars, which used to be about half of United States beer production.

"A lot of our production has shifted to cans the past few years," he said. "About 95% of our production is canned product, and if we can't get cans, we can't put anything out."

If you are not much of a craft beer drinker, you may assume this is not going to impact you.

But it's already starting to affect the big national beer brands as well as soft drink makers.

"We're even hearing people like Coca-Cola are having problems getting cans right now," LaFollette said.

CNN reports major beer brands like Miller Coors are cutting back on less popular brews to save cans for their biggest sellers like Miller Lite.

They are also increasing bottle production, which had dropped dramatically in recent years.

But at regional craft breweries like 50 West, switching to bottles would be too expensive, LaFollette said. It would require an entire new production line.

So far, beer prices are not going up. However, with cans costing 20% more, don't be surprised if a six-pack is more expensive in a few weeks.

But don't try to stock up: Unlike toilet paper that lasts forever, beer starts losing its flavor after four months. As always, don't waste your money.


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