Single Beer Cans Trending

Chances are you grew up around beer in cans. Since postwar times, they’ve been a North American staple—Joe Sixpack’s namesake and game day refreshment of choice. However, have you noticed a difference in what constitutes “canned beer” lately?

Tall, Handsome & Single

Like bottles did once upon a time, cans are shifting from a stubby format to tall, and they’re sporting a whole new look. A glance in the beer cooler today reveals cans that are big, bold, and beautiful. And they often step out alone.

Jordan Knott of Legacy Liquor Store says, “Single can sales are the fastest-growing category in the beer department, and we’ve built an enormous new fridge just to accommodate the trend.” Somewhat shockingly, he adds, “By comparison, our bomber category [the 650ml bottle, which was long the craft staple] has shrunk immensely in the past year, both in sales and footprint.”

Whether it’s the 473ml tallboy (16 oz. to our American cousins) or the more metric-minded 500ml, tall cans represent a “sweet spot” that satisfies the beer lover. Knott observes, “The combination of serving size, price, and portability is why customers prefer it. The other reason is that liquor stores prefer it. It makes it easier for us to take on a new product when we know we can merchandize it either as a 4-pack or a single.”

Of course, cans are nothing new in mainstream beer. As Knott says, “In macro beer, our can sales are easily ten to one [over bottles]. The craft beer segment is just the latest to jump on board the can bandwagon.”

Bart Watson is Chief Economist for the Brewers Association, which represents independent breweries in the US. Earlier this year, Watson noted that the biggest shift in recent packaging trends has been a continued increase in share for cans vs. bottles. Bottles still represent the majority of craft beer packaging in North America, but as of 2017, cans grew to exceed a 30% share. Watson points out that craft breweries that have a higher share of cans in their mix tend to be those that are smaller, newer entrants—the ones that are growing fastest.

Those small new breweries often don’t have their own bottling line, but they can get access to mobile canning services that come right to the brewery.

Jonathan Coates handles marketing and design for West Coast Canning. He sees another upside: “The IPAs these breweries are producing are absolutely jam-packed with hops. Cans are impervious to ultraviolet light radiation, so the beer has a better chance of reaching the consumer in tip-top condition with all those incredible aromas intact.”

As a beer fan, he shares, “There is definitely a trend towards selling singles, and I’m very happy about it. I love being able to grab a selection of novel beers and not having to commit to purchasing four of some expensive mystery beverage.”

Value for the Canny Consumer

Not all craft cans are expensive. Back in May, Central City Brewers & Distillers announced their intent to upsize their entire core Red Racer can lineup from 355ml to 500ml before the end of 2018. Since production costs remained essentially the same due to efficiencies gained in the change, they decided not to raise target sell price and presented the volume increase as a consumer bonus. This summer, their supersized cans started appearing on store shelves retailing as low as $19.99/dozen (and even lower on LTO). That is 6 litres of beer for under $20—a value that would be impossible to imagine in bottles.

Epitomizing the trend is the way the tall can has become the darling of “beer lifestyle” bloggers and Instagrammers. The outdoor “can-in-hand” post has become the ubiquitous visual in their social feed. Feeding the frenzy is the artwork that adorns these mini “can-vasses”, as hot new breweries focus on what’s outside the can as well as inside. Coates says, “The BC market, in particular, is becoming a real battle for attention and I’m fascinated to see where it goes from here.”

Time will tell if the trend transfers to hospitality and nightclubs, where table service has traditionally called for bottles over “less sophisticated” cans. Knott opines, “I would say the can stigma is mostly gone now. More and more reputable breweries release in the format, and now people are used to it.” If consumers demand it, a day might come when the term bottle service becomes significantly less literal.

Dave Smith is Editor of What’s Brewing, the Journal of BC’s Craft Beer Movement (www.whatsbrewing.ca).