More canning woes add to a long list of new troubles for breweries nationwide

Pre-printed cans like these may soon be a thing of the past for local craft breweries. (Photo courtesy of Red Door Brewing)

Just before Thanksgiving, craft breweries around the country received some very unwelcome news. Ball Canning, the largest producer of aluminum cans in the country, announced changes in how pre-printed cans could be ordered. Instead of being shipped one semi-truckload at a time, Ball would now require breweries to purchase five truckloads, or roughly 1 million cans per order.

The nationwide response was bordering on being the chorus in a doom metal song. Many small and mid-sized craft breweries simply do not have the ability, or need, to order 1 million cans at a time. It was just the latest blow to a struggling industry dealing with supply chain chaos and COVID restrictions.

We reached out to the New Mexico breweries that can and distribute significant amounts of beer — Bosque, Bow & Arrow, Boxing Bear, Canteen, Ex Novo, La Cumbre, Marble, Red Door, Rio Bravo, Rowley Farmhouse Ales, Santa Fe, Second Street, Steel Bender, Tumbleroot — but most did not respond, likely due to the fact that they have no idea what they are going to do at this point in time. We did hear back from Ali Cattin, operations manager for Red Door and Mother Trail, Ex Novo founder Joel Gregory, and a vacationing Jeff Erway of La Cumbre provided a quick response via email.

If other breweries add their responses, we will update this story.

NMDSBC: Will the new ordering requirements affect your brewery?

Red Door/Mother Trail: Yes, Red Door has three printed SKUs we were getting from Ball. We recently received cans and won’t need to order again for some time. Mother Trail does gets some of our blanks from Ball.

Ex Novo: Yes. When the announcement first came out it said it pertained to Ball’s direct customers. We work through Cask for our Ball cans, a third party supplier, who take a cut already and make cans more expensive for us, and they let us know later the five-truck MOQ would apply to us as well. We have five SKUs of printed cans currently, and we need less than five truckloads per year as it is for these brands.

NMDSBC: How much of a potential economic blow is this to your brewery and the rest of the industry?

RD/MT: This is a real blow to mid-sized and small breweries that leaned heavily into cans in the last few years. It’s very much pulling the rug out from under them. With Crown not accepting new customers as well, it is exacerbating the supply chain issues small businesses are facing now. Luckily through RDBC’s partnership with Mother Trail, we are insulated somewhat. Mother Trail will continue to purchase 12- and 16-ounce blank brite cans as some of our clients use those. We will continue to offer cans to local breweries as we have been doing. Warehousing five FTL’s will be a pain, but we have the capacity to do so. It’s also a considerable investment in inventory, and most breweries would be stretched to make that.

Ex Novo: TBD. If we cannot find another way around, or are able to source cans from Crown, there are two options: 1) Shell out a huge amount of cash that we do not have on hand (let’s just say we could buy three-to-four 120bbl fermenters with this, per SKU) for each SKU we want printed. Even if we could do this financially, we could not store this on-site, so we’d be looking at off-site storage and costs for rent and transportation. Option 2) We go to brite cans, assuming we can source them, and we label everything. We did this for a while during the pandemic’s early days, and it was not a good time. It doubles the cost of canning for us, and is more labor intensive, not to mention our brands do not look great in this format as they were not designed for it. If you’re a brewery that does a million cans a year, this is a ~$100k blow for you if you have to start labeling.

Anyone who has taken a tour of Ex Novo’s brewery building knows that space for cans is already at a premium.

NMDSBC: What steps can you take to keep the cans rolling out?

RD/MT: Mother Trail is preparing to take more local orders for cans, ends, Paktechs, box trays, etc. We are committed to supplying New Mexico breweries with packaging materials they need. We can leverage our purchasing power to provide affordable materials for our clients.

Ex Novo: We’re talking to all the suppliers we know of that might be able to source cans one way or another. Hopefully Crown keeps things open for new customers, but I’m sure they are going to be flooded with many new customers cut off from Ball. We’ll keep the beer coming one way or another.

NMDSBC: Are there any specific planned can releases that will now have to be canceled or postponed?

RD/MT: Red Door is set for our seasonal releases that will be canned for the immediate future. Maple Breakfast Brown (just released), Mic Czech, and New England IPA all have printed cans in stock.

Ex Novo: Not at this point, we have enough inventory to get us through all we have planned, but we’ll have to evaluate things once we know more in the weeks to come.

As we noted above, we did receive a quick response from La Cumbre’s owner/master brewer: “FML … What Joel said. We might be able to keep Elevated printed through Ball, but that’s it. Hoping to be able to keep going with our other printed cans through a secondary supplier … We shall see.”

Add it all up and this is another major obstacle for breweries to overcome in a time when margins are thinner than ever. While it might not affect the smallest breweries that do not do much (if any) canning, it is definitely going to take a bite out of the biggest breweries in New Mexico.

A big thanks to Ali, Joel, and Jeff for taking time to respond in the midst of a holiday week.

Now more than ever, keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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