“We have to ensure that we don’t get into a toilet paper situation.”
That’s the concern carried by Casey Werderman, co-founder of Wine & Beer Supply, an Ashland-based firm that provides cans, glasses and other hardware to breweries and wineries, as he describes the current demand for aluminum cans, which has skyrocketed in recent weeks.
With brewery taprooms in Virginia closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly every beer maker in the Richmond region has put their efforts into packaging and selling its brew to-go or through delivery. However, brewers and suppliers such as Werderman worry that if demand remains at its current level, it may lead to a can shortage.
Case in point is the demand for crowlers, 32-ounce cans that can be filled from taps onsite at breweries and packaged behind the taproom counter. They’re becoming hard to find as pandemic-era social distancing persists.
Werderman said they’ve seen a huge increase in demand for cans all over the East Coast, Richmond included.
“We have eight truckloads of cans coming in this week. I typically have about one each week,” he said. “For us to get that stuff in took a lot of maneuvering, a lot of late and sleepless nights.”
He said Wine & Beer Supply is in good shape in terms of supply. Roger Kissling, VP of sales at Iron Heart Canning, a local mobile canning firm, said his operation is in a similar position.
“At this current time, we don’t have any interruption in our supply of cans, though we’ve had an increase of inquiries,” Kissling said. “I can’t tell you what the future will hold, but there currently is enough supply.”
Virus aside, cans also are approaching their usual busy season, as demand for cold cans of brew typically rises with the temperature.
Werderman and Kissling both said sales of cans increase during normal circumstances, and that it’s driven in part by brewing conglomerates such as MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, which are starting to ramp up production now.
Serving the majors
“Your major (breweries) have the ability to gobble up all the inventory for their needs. … There are three can manufacturers in the whole country and so much of their demand is centered around the majors,” Werderman said.
“If there is a pinch, it hits in the summer. Is that going to happen this year? I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it’s a fear because I haven’t seen any evidence of it happening yet, but it certainly could,” Kissler said.
Both Werderman and Kissler said they’re confident they’ll be able to meet their clients’ needs, and they’re hustling to do so.
“For us, the most important part is that we’re supporting our customers in their biggest time of need, because our success is intrinsically tied to their success,” Werderman said.
“We have to keep our product flowing, pun intended,” Kissler said. “Right now, the answer to do that is to package.”
Meanwhile, there are concerns about the number of crowlers available both in Richmond and nationally. Brewbound, a brewing industry trade publication, reported this week that Ball Corp., a major crowler manufacturer, is being wiped clean of its supply.
The dearth of crowlers has been felt locally by Mark Benusa, who owns Fine Creek Brewing Co. in Powhatan. The 2-year-old brewery, which doesn’t do any canning except for crowlers, relies heavily on taproom sales.
“We went into this thing on the lower end, unfortunately, of having crowlers. We called our normal supplier and they were out and weren’t getting a truck for a while,” Benusa said.
Unexpected high prices
So he found another Florida-based supplier but realized it was heavily price-gouging them.
“They were marked up like $700 per pallet. It’s usually about $1,800 per pallet with shipping and this was like $2,500,” Benusa said. “We were like, ‘Forget this.’ Our only chance to sell anything is these crowlers. It’s very frustrating.”
Thankfully Fine Creek’s local contemporaries were able to help out.
Random Row Brewing Co. in Charlottesville and Buskey Cider in Scott’s Addition all provided Fine Creek with some of their stock.
“We had a ton of crowlers going into this so we shared with them,” said Elle Correll, co-owner of Buskey. “We’re all starting to share if one of us has more of one thing than another.”