The craft beer industry is booming, and competition is fierce. One of the most important decisions a brewery will face when it comes to selling and distributing their beer is whether to can or bottle their beer. There are certainly benefits (and drawbacks) to both beer canning and bottling. Here, we’ll talk about the benefits of beer canning – and why so many craft breweries have turned to cans.
Beer Canning vs Bottling Production Costs
Finding opportunities to reduce costs and improve efficiency is a critical component of running any business – and a brewery is no exception. Choosing to can your beer can reduce costs in several ways.
Equipment and Maintenance Cost
Though the startup costs associated with canning line equipment are currently more than the equipment required for a bottling line, it pays for itself in the long term. Because a canning line requires fewer human operators than a bottling line, breweries that choose to invest in a canning line will find that they can utilize their valuable resources and talent elsewhere (or alternatively, hire fewer employees).
Many startup breweries with limited funds may choose to use a small hand-bottling line because of the low initial cost, but will upgrade as their growth allows over time. Many canning lines are designed to be upgraded over time, so be sure to choose a system that can grow with your brewery.
Bottling lines rely on more human operators than canning lines – but that means canning lines are more automated, using more parts and therefore more likely to need regular maintenance. Be sure to have a good maintenance provider lined up.
How you will brand and market your beer is another important consideration. Whether you choose to can or bottle your beers, you’ll need to decide whether you’ll work with a third party to have labels printed, or invest in the equipment (and labor) to do it yourself. If you choose to work with a packaging and labeling company, they’ll work with you to print your can labels. You may then apply those labels to the cans yourself – or hire a third party to complete the canning and filling process. Check your area for mobile canning companies – they bring a truck to your location, set up the assembly line, and can your beer for you.
Alpine Packaging can guide you through the beer can labeling process – from design to the application of the label. Learn more about our pressure sensitive labels and how we help you choose the correct label material depending on your cans and environment here.
Filling a can is a much faster process than filling a bottle, thanks to the can’s wide opening. Over time, the large difference in filling time results in savings.
Distribution and Transportation Costs
Once your cans or bottles are filled, it’s time to consider the costs for distribution and storage.
Once brewing equipment is installed, many small and mid-sized breweries don’t have extra storage space – making storing bottles or cans a challenge. Thanks to their thin walls and uniform cylinder shape, cans take up less space than bottles do. Cans can also be easily stacked, whereas bottles require boxes or other extra materials in order to be stacked. These extra materials translate to extra costs.
Weight, Size, and Transportation
The wall of an aluminum can is about as thick as a human hair – making it incredibly lightweight when compared to its bottle counterpart. A bottle weighs about 7.5 ounces more than a can, resulting in higher transportation costs. The more beer you’re shipping out, the more those costs compound.
Cans are also more durable than glass bottles, which can break if not secured properly throughout the entire transport process – from being loaded into trucks to being unloaded onto shelves. Cans are about half as tall as bottles and don’t require any extra materials for transportation, meaning that you can fit two to three times the number of beer cans in a truck.
Beer connoisseurs have plenty to say when it comes to how beer packaging affects the quality of the beer. It wasn’t long ago that canned beer was assumed to be low-quality beer – but as more and more craft breweries embrace canning, that perception is shifting. Over the years, aluminum can manufacturers have made further innovations in the quality and production of their cans, building trust among the brewing community.
Flavor and Preservation
There have been plenty of studies on the perceived effect of beer canning versus bottling on a beer’s flavor, but virtually all of these studies are inconclusive. While pre-conceived notions continue to grip consumer’s opinions about canned beer, studies show that when put to a blind test, people are unable to identify a canned beer versus a bottled beer. Here is one such study.
There is some consensus that over time, the light that filters through bottles may have some effect on the quality and taste of the beer. Clear bottles offer no protection from light, while brown and green bottles offer varying levels of protection. Learn more about the science behind “skunked beer” and the effect of light here.
The other element that damages beer quality is oxygen. The canning process seals each can with very little headspace, instead injecting a shot of carbon dioxide into the can just before the lid is sealed. This reduces the amount of oxygen left in the can and minimizes any off-flavors as a result.
Consumer Preference & Lifestyle
Consumers at some level may prefer bottles due to preconceived notions about quality, but lifestyle considerations often make cans the preferred choice. Craft breweries and their consumers tend to value environmental impact, and cans are typically made up of about 70% recycled materials. Conversely, bottles are typically made up of 20-30% recycled materials.
Additionally, cans serve the adventurous and outdoorsy types well. Whether you’re headed to the beach, the pool, or on a camping trip, beer cans are typically the preferred packaging type for beverages.
If you are able to endure the higher up-front costs of an automated canning line, it’s well-worth the investment. Over time, you’ll see that you are able to recuperate those costs, and you’ll be able to grow your canning line as you grow your brewery.
Here at Alpine, we work with breweries nation-wide, guiding them through the beer can or bottle labeling process. Request a quote today to learn how we can serve your brewery’s needs!