Feb 5, 2021 - News
Minnesota craft breweries face a can crisis
Illustration of beer in the shape of a beer can, but the aluminum can is missing.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A national shortage of aluminum cans is hitting Minnesota breweries at a time when they need them most.

Why it matters: Breweries have become more reliant on the sales of cans as the pandemic has slashed the demand for kegs at restaurants and bars — but the two big U.S. can suppliers can’t keep up.

  • Stillwater-based Lift Bridge Brewery needs in the ballpark of 4 million cans a year to package enough beer to keep liquor stores stocked.
  • But CEO Dan Schwarz said those suppliers told breweries they would be cutting allocations by 15-20%.

By the numbers: Lift Bridge's sales to liquor stores — which are mostly cans — were up 8% in 2020, but sales to restaurants, bars and venues — which are typically kegs — were down 58%.

Addressing the problem: Lift Bridge has limited its variety of brews.

  • "A lot of breweries our size on up have cut brands, just to make sure that they can focus on their top sellers," Schwarz said.

Surly Brewing started wrapping new label sleeves on the brands of retired or overstocked brews — but not before warning its customers that their Furious might look a little different.

  • "Surly’s official statement on this matter is "F*ck it, let’s drink," the Minneapolis brewery wrote.

The bottom line: It’s been a tough year for craft breweries, who were facing stagnating growth and more competition even before the pandemic shut their taprooms in the spring and fall. A can shortage on top of that is not a welcome trend.

  • "The consumption growth rate has flattened — it's not what it used to be, and there's lots more competition," Schwarz said.

This story first appeared in the Axios Twin Cities newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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