The perfect beer storm isn’t the kegger of the year. It’s what’s happening to beer supplies, as a few factors over the past few months are coming together to strain the availability …
The perfect beer storm isn’t the kegger of the year. It’s what’s happening to beer supplies, as a few factors over the past few months are coming together to strain the availability of popular drinks.
While the industry took a hit when major breweries dealing with the COVID-19 crisis reduced staff or completely shut down factories, many are resuming operations again. What’s depleting supplies now isn’t a lack of beer; it’s the lack of aluminum cans.
“Essentially the containers are limited,” said Joe Kondelis, sales manager for Tanager Beverages, a Cody-based distributor.
Kondelis added that, “We have beer. It’s just not in the package people like. If people really want beer, they’ll buy bottles if that’s all there is.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer preference was moving toward cans. They keep light out, which maintains a higher quality beer, and they’re easier to recycle. In the summer months, when people are enjoying outdoor recreation activities, the cans are favored for their portability. The demand for canned wine has also exploded in the past year.
This shift in consumer preference is also happening in the midst of a pandemic. As news of the coronavirus spread, people went out less, and then public health orders shut down taprooms and bars. Even now that establishments have reopened, capacity is capped and some people are still reluctant to go out. When people drink at bars and taprooms, it’s typically in a bottle or a glass, but people drinking at home are more likely to drink from a can.
“On top of all that, people are drinking more than before,” Kondelis said.
Recent research by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center found that, between February and April, when pandemic restrictions were at their height, 17% of people reported increased alcohol consumption. They cited boredom, isolation and stress as frequent factors for the increased drinking, according to the survey.
Sales data from the first few months of 2020 also showed a 5% increase in wine and spirit purchases over the same period last year, with a more than 20% jump in March.
All these factors combine to cause what industry experts are saying is an unprecedented, national shortage of cans.
Last year, when Tanager placed an order with suppliers, it was filled, especially orders with the big producers like Anheuser-Busch. Now, distributors are receiving allocations based on what the producers can provide.
The Liquor Division of the Wyoming Department of Revenue is the state’s exclusive wholesaler of wine and spirits (private wholesalers licensed by the department, like Tanager, can distribute malt beverages) — and the division is facing some shortages at its 140,000 square foot warehouse in Cheyenne.
Dan Noble, director of the Wyoming Department of Revenue, said canned cocktails and wines are in shorter supply, but so are other spirits to some extent. Those limits can be attributed to trucking shortages, factory slowdowns or closures, or a number of COVID-related disruptions.
“We’re hoping for the best,” Noble said.
Kondelis thinks that things in the malt beverage world are going to turn around over the next few months. New aluminum can factories are coming online, and the industry is slowly responding to the demand.
In the meantime, he said Tanager is doing its best to get products to its retail customers, who aren’t always happy with the shortages.
“I understand. It’s their livelihood,” Kondelis said.