One thing we have long struggled with is the type of packaging we are going to put our finished product in. Speaking with other craft breweries, we are not alone in the uncertainty we face in making this decision. I have summarized the pros and cons of each decision, and I hope at the end of the post, you can give me some feedback on what is the best in your mind. Starting your own brewery is a great thing, but it is important to have a firm sense of what you want, and merge that with the financial and marketplace dynamics you face. In other words, what you started out wanting may not be what you end up with.
Really there are 2 choices that you can put beer into. Either cans or bottles. Before I dissect each of the options, here are some general comments. I had long thought that cans were the clear environmental choice, but a few articles haver pointed me back in the direction of uncertainty. Click here to read one article. So with no clear winner on the environmental side, what about taste. I hear anecdotally that people can taste the plastic in cans. Does this mean they don’t pour the beer out of cans into a glass (yikes). Also there is the image. Is the wider market really ready for high quality craft beer in cans? I know Steamworks and Central City have their beer in cans, and by all accounts do very well, but could you imagine a much smaller player, like 33 Acres or Bridge Brewing putting their beer in cans? Would it make a difference at all to your perception of them.
Cans: Cans are a good option for a brewery for a variety of reasons, but there are some downsides to them, which I have tried tried to summarize below. Essentially, there are 2 options for can sizes 355ml or 500ml. The smaller can is more North American while the larger can has a much more European feel to it.
- More transportable and lighter than bottles
- Beer keeps better in cans than bottles
- Per unit cost is less expensive than bottles
- About 66% of all beer sold in BC is sold in cans
- Government liquor stores want new listings in cans
- Canning lines are more expensive than bottling lines and notoriously more finicky. We have quotes for a canning line at $90,000, and the price can go sky high from there
- Minimum orders for cans are about $30,000
- You need to figure out what beer you are going to sell and then hope the market likes it, as production time for cans is much longer
- Image of someone drinking from a can doesn’t always conjure up quality craft beer
- Lead time for can orders is much longer than a bottle label order
- A couple different sizes of cans which completely change the look and feel of the marketing
Bottles: On the other hand, bottles are a great option for a new brewery, as the 650ml bottle is the standard size for craft beer, and is well established in the BC marketplace. Not unlike cans, there are both pros and cons to packaging beer in bottles.
- About 33% of all beer sold in BC is sold in bottles
- A beer bottle doesn’t put off any odd tastes, whether perceived or not
- A beer label allows for more colours and detailed artwork
- The amount of time needed for artwork and printing is much shorter than producing cans
- Bottling lines are less expensive than canning lines, and you can buy change-over parts to switch between bottle sizes
- We have quotes for bottling lines at about $60,000 and the price can go way up from there
- There is a much wider variety of bottles available to put beer into (all are in ml): 330, 341, 350, 500, 650, 750, 1000
- Government liquor stores are trying to get out of bottles, so a listing with BCLS is much harder to obtain
- In my opinion, a bottle of beer put out a different image than a can of beer
So you can see how we are conflicted on the decision that we are going to make. We have flip-flopped back and forth from cans to bottles and we have really wrestled with the decision. What would you do? What would you want us to do? The trouble we now have is that we can no longer waffle on this decision. We need to place our order so that we can get our equipment in time for the launch of our brewery.
So vote here, and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you as well.