The can packaging debate is pretty much over in the craft beer industry — craft brewers are loving cans — but we decided to ask Crown Beverage Packaging about it anyway. As one of the country’s top metal packaging solutions providers and the inventor of the bottle cap (hence the name), Crown has been helping craft brewers ramp up canning lines across the country for a few years now, providing a variety of unique aluminum-packaged beer products that are seeing increased exposure — from laser-etched tabs and promotional ends to unique finishes and inks. Nick Osborne, regional sales manager for Crown Beverage Packaging, North America, answered a few of our questions — not just about the canning industry, but the craft brewing market as a whole.
Nick, thanks for taking the time. You’re a veteran of the can and beverage industry, so how has the craft beer industry evolved in recent years? What would you consider to be the key advancements in the last year or two?
Osborne: For starters, the craft beer segment has experienced dramatic growth over the past few years. The sheer number of breweries today has grown at an incredible rate. According to the Brewers Association, craft beer grew over 17 percent last year and represents about 11 percent of the total U.S. beer market today. What is interesting to me is how new breweries are starting every day throughout every part of the United States, compared to a few years ago when craft was more limited geographically to a handful of major metropolitan areas.
Regarding major advancements in the industry, there are a couple of key aspects. The first is the amount of knowledge in the industry. A few years ago, Crown was still spending a lot of time educating breweries and customers on the advantages of cans over glass for their packaging — light transmission, portability, pack-out, branding/graphics improvement, enhanced sustainability. Today, most breweries are already looking to get into cans before we even talk to them. The word is out.
The second is ease-to-market for new, smaller breweries starting today compared to the past. There is much more access to mobile canners, graphics designers and high-quality seamer equipment. The average brewer is much more knowledgeable about the filling and canning process than ever before.
That’s interesting. Building off of that, how do you anticipate the industry developing over the next few years?
Osborne: From a capabilities perspective, craft breweries will continue to make huge strides in their supply chain management and back-office “business” areas of brewing. From a macro level, I wouldn’t be surprised if mid-tier and larger regional brewers started making the leap to national distribution. As the market becomes more and more saturated with options, I anticipate we will see a trend of acquisitions among brewers. Another interesting thing to keep an eye out for is how the actual formula for the beer changes. Consumers may start reverting back to lighter beer and lower ABV preferences. As the economy continues to improve, it will be interesting to see how consumer spending changes in the beer market. Craft has continued to grow despite being a premium offering in a slowly improving U.S. economy.
From someone who has been in the beverage industry his entire career, most notably with Red Bull and Mark Anthony, what is it about the craft beer industry that makes it so unique?
Osborne: Compared to any other beverage category, craft is a world apart. Most beverage segments are comprised of 100 percent large, global players. Craft is built upon smaller, local breweries that compete against the larger, mainstream brands. Craft is a very friendly, tight-knit community, whereas other segments can be more competitive. I believe most craft brewers want other brewers in their area to succeed as well and help prop-up the entire craft industry as a whole. Also, regarding regulations, I think craft brewers are a lot freer to experiment, be creative, and formulate different blends. In beer, everybody is able to homebrew. There is such a unique set of factors — water quality, the types of hops used, etc. It allows each brewer to create a unique concoction. You don’t get that in any other beverage category.
Crown has been supplying metal containers to the beer market for over 100 years. What is different about Crown’s approach and business model for craft? Do you offer any unique services or support to brewers?
Osborne: Absolutely, Crown knows the craft beer industry very well and understands the challenges of both small and large breweries. Our goal is to be flexible, easy to work with, and as customer-centric as possible. We hold a brewer’s hand through the entire canning process. We have the lowest minimum order quantity in North America, we offer the industry’s best technical seamer service, and we even help link brewers with mobile canners and copackers. With our new Crown Graphics Center, Crown offer customers a free 30 minute consultation on all artwork for new designs to help them with the separation process and color choices. We will soon be launching our Crown Graphics Portal (CGP), which is a user-friendly, customer interactive website that allows users to track their graphics project through the entire process.
Will you be attending the Craft Brewers Conference in April this year, and what are you anticipating from the show?
Osborne: Of course! Crown will have a large presence at the show this year. We will be exhibiting in Booth No. 1,200 and sponsoring the beer station right next to it. I expect this show to be the largest CBC to date. I do not want to give away too much, but we are excited to display a wide variety of capabilities in inks, varnishes and ends. Crown will also be launching our new line of sleek can sizes. If any brewers are interested in additional information on Crown’s craft cans, please email me directly at ([email protected]).