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Saskatchewan craft breweries face ‘a lot of sleepless nights’ amid aluminum can shortage

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WATCH: Saskatchewan craft breweries are competing with massive companies for a scarce supply of aluminum cans – Apr 30, 2021

A fresh shipment of aluminum cans is as good as gold for Saskatchewan craft breweries.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers worldwide have been drinking at home in greater numbers, while bars and restaurants have seen fewer customers or have been closed altogether. It’s led to greater demand for drinks in aluminum cans.

Read more: Saskatchewan craft breweries fighting to stay afloat during coronavirus pandemic

In the lead up to 9 Mile Legacy Brewing’s new Saskatoon facility opening late last year, staff stocked three times as many cans as they needed.

“If you don’t have cans, you can’t sell cans of beer, right?” said Shawn Moen, 9 Mile’s CEO and co-founder.

Concerns about Donald Trump’s aluminum tariffs subsided in the fall, but macroeconomics has continued to weigh on the craft brewery.

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With consumer behaviour shifted, Moen said he’s gone from one aluminum can supplier to as many as three.

He said the province’s craft breweries have managed to help each other out.

“We’ve certainly loaned cans and bottles to other brewers, and we’ve received some help on the lid front as well,” Moen said.

Read more: Trump signs proclamation to officially exempt Canada from aluminum tariffs — for now

While Moen said his small business has been able to rely strictly on North American suppliers, others have had to look to manufacturers in South Korea and China. Sourcing internationally has meant new shipping expenses.

At the same time, aluminum commodity futures have jumped roughly 60 per cent since May 2020, reaching highs not seen since the spring of 2018.

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Mark Heise, president and CEO of Regina’s Rebellion Brewing thought he caught a break when he’d found a manufacturer in southern Mexico – until the deal went south.

“The manufacturing plant down there informed us that Heineken had basically bought up their entire supply,” Heise said.

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Now, Heise said his can supply is the last thing he thinks about before going to bed and the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up in the morning.

“Honestly, it’s a lot of sleepless nights,” he said.

Read more: Recent SLGA policy changes has craft industry in Saskatchewan excited

Craft breweries lack the buying power of Canada’s largest beer companies, but even some of the large regional breweries have had to decide which brands get packaged in cans and which are left in the tanks, according to Luke Chapman, interim president of Beer Canada.

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“Manufacturers of cans have told Beer Canada that they’re sold out of their supply for the next two years,” Chapman said.

“So this is going to be an ongoing issue for some time in the Canadian beer industry.”

The beer sector is searching for many of the same cans as the non-alcoholic beverage industry. While members of the Canadian Beverage Association are working to respond to changes in customer preferences, some products have been unavailable on store shelves.

Read more: Why is there a shortage of canned soda pop in Canada?

“We understand this can be disappointing and inconvenient (and) we appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through these unprecedented times,” the association said in a statement.

There were multiple factors leading to increased aluminum demand prior to the pandemic, according to Scott McCarty, spokesperson for Ball Corporation, a leading aluminum manufacturer.

Consumer interest has led to an “explosive growth” in hard seltzers, while companies have gravitated toward aluminum for products because it’s easy to recycle, McCarty said.

Read more: A brief history of the Molson Pilsner: Not a Saskatchewan beer, but a Lethbridge beer

Ball Corp. is also ramping up production efforts to address the “unprecedented demand.”

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“Ball is working with our customers to minimize short-term impacts by bringing in cans from our global plant network, as well as continuing to improve the efficiency and production of our existing aluminum can, bottle and end lines,” McCarty said.

To address the demand, Ball has installed additional lines in its existing facilities, while building new plants in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

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