The scariest thing at Wormtown Brewery in Worcester, Massachusetts this Fall has nothing to do with Halloween. This small independent brewery ran out of aluminum cans for the first time in company history.
“We have had a couple of loads of cans canceled on us, but last week was the first time we truly ran out of cans,” said co-owner David Field.
Shipments of cans are becoming very rare for breweries and beverage producers nationwide. Americans are drinking less at bars and restaurants and more at home, putting greater demand on liquor stores and breweries like Wormtown.
Typically, this craft beer producer would send out about 20 percent of their product in kegs to area bars, but because of the pandemic, close to 100 percent of the beer they produce is being sent directly to consumers.
“People drink more often at home; they drink more in small social circles,” Field said.
In the U.S., there are only a small handful of can distributors. Most years, they produced about 100 billion aluminum cans. However, this year, there’s a nationwide shortage of close to 10 billion cans.
Everyone– from major soda companies to small craft breweries–has started to feel the impact. Part of the shortage is being caused by the explosion of hard seltzers into the market. To make the situation worse, many recycling plants were forced to go offline during the spring.
But, mostly, experts say the can shortage is simply being caused by supply and demand.
“It’s going to catch up with everybody. If they haven’t been hit, they will be, and it looks like it’s gonna be a little while,” Field added.
Perhaps one of the biggest buzzkills for small breweries is if customers can’t find their product on a shelf, they might be gone for good and turn to another product that’s more available. Field says that could have long-lasting impacts on his company’s bottom line.
“That person who loves our beer might be introduced to somebody else’s beer they like and may not come back to us,” he said.
The problem is impacting brewers all over the country. The Brewers Association, which represents more than 5,000 breweries, says they’re even hearing about some manufacturers having a difficult time getting glass bottles.
“There’s been a huge increase in demand for cans that then when the pandemic hit, was just accelerated. Not just with beer, but all package types to cans,” explained Chuck Skypeck, who serves as the group’s technical brewing projects manager.
What it all means for the American consumer is fewer options for beer and other soft drinks as well. It’s a difficult task for the nation’s brewers as they try their best to quench this country’s thirst for beer.