As the craft beer market continues to expand, the long-term success of craft breweries depends on differentiation in more than just product line. It’s likely that your tasty Belgian Triple will be offered by not just one, but many of your competitors as the market continues to saturate. Differences in taste may satisfy the aficionados, but that only makes up a small percentage of your overall market. How you present your brand and deliver on your brand experience will determine if you find your fan boys. Windows of opportunity in how you package your beer may be the edge that your brand needs to outpace the competition. Canning could be your beginning point of differentiation.
An overall consumer opinion of cans representing poor quality beer has kept many craft brewers from offering cans, though the attitudes are changing. The metallic taste perceived from canned beer is always a concern for brewers who aim to deliver their beer as it was meant to be tasted. Plastic liners in beer cans help to eliminate the metallic taste from permeating the beer, though concerns about drinking directly from the can will always be considered an issue for many brewers. The reality is, that true beer aficionados will always pour their beer into a glass. However, most craft beer drinkers will drink their beer from the container it comes in, and it’s this group that presents the largest area of growth for the industry. While it’s likely that the taste is changed from drinking directly from the can, it’s doubtful that the bulk of craft beer drinkers and big beer converts will be influenced by the slight differences. These are the same people that would drink directly from a bottle which affects the aroma and flavor in much the same way.
The point of entry into the canned beer market is one of the biggest obstacles facing craft brewers. The initial cost of setting up a canning line is estimated to be between $200,000 to $500,000 not including the cost of printing cans. Mobile canneries have begun popping up as an affordable entry point for smaller craft breweries. The services roll out portable canning lines to breweries of all sizes with conveyors powered through regular 110-volt wall outlets. In addition, pre-printed labels are adhered to plain silver cans similar to labeling bottles cutting down on the cost of printing and storing large volumes of cans. While this new technology is still out of reach for most nanobreweries, its an affordable option for most craft breweries interested in canning.
Despite the perceptions of canned beer quality, canning your beer can have some distinct advantages over bottled beer. Canned beer is much more portable than a bottle in that it’s lighter and more durable. Cans protect beer from light better than any brown or green bottle, because it doesn’t let any light in. Aluminum is more easily recycled than glass, though it’s arguable that the initial production of aluminum requires more energy than glass. Canned beer is easier to transport in bulk than bottled beer, because it’s lighter and you can fit more cans on a palette than bottles. Saving money on transport adds up to greater profit at retail.
The biggest benefit of the can is in brand differentiation. In 2012 the Craft Brewers Association estimated that there are 2,347 craft breweries operating in the United States. In that same year, over 200 of those craft breweries offered beer in cans, meaning that only 8.5% of the craft brewing industry in the U.S. is offering canned beer. Canning is still a huge area for differentiation particularly since most craft breweries compete on a local level. Dallas-area Deep Ellum Brewing Company was first to market in Dallas with canned beer, and it has no doubt given them a competitive edge in the local beer section for retail opportunities.
In 2002 Oskar Blues became the first craft brewery to market itself in a can, and has seen enormous success with an increase in retail orders. Cans have the unique ability to stick out amidst a sea of bottled six packs while also allowing more product to be stored on a refrigerated shelf. Canning also opened opportunities for Oskar Blues to be offered at sporting events or concerts where glass bottles aren’t allowed. Cans can also be offered on airplanes opening new areas of opportunity for retail sales as well as brand exposure.
Over the next year it’s likely that canned craft beer will grow exponentially with the continued change in consumer opinions and the increase in affordable options for canning lines. The window of opportunity to differentiate with packaging will begin to narrow while the early adopters will continue to benefit from the brand recognition associated with being the first local brewery to offer up cans to consumers.