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Cans and Bottles: Craft Beer Packaging Trends

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One of the most frequent data requests I’ve been getting recently relates to packaging. As with everything in craft, packaging is an area where change is the constant, so older analyses quickly go out of date.

Packaging is also an area where there are clearly opportunities to differentiate. In our latest Nielsen Craft Insights Panel (CIP), “container type” was the area where the highest percentage (55%) of craft drinkers said there was “not enough” variety, versus 29% for “more than enough” and 16% for “just enough.”

Let’s start with overall trends. First, bottles continue to be the dominant package chosen by craft brewers, but that dominance has continued to ebb. The below graph shows bottles versus cans in absolute volume and as a percentage of craft (scan) volume from 2011 to late in 2016 (Source: IRI Group MULO+C, Total U.S.). As you can see, bottles still clearly outsell cans, but the can percentage has continued to rise. Note that the percentage rise isn’t because of a decline in bottle sales (which have continued to climb), but simply because the increase in can sales has been faster than the increase in bottle sales.

From a consumer perspective, this may be partially due to the closing gap in the perception of bottles and cans. Looking again at the CIP survey, bottles still outperform cans on consumer perceptions of taste, quality, freshness, and value, but those gaps have closed. The full data from that survey is available to members here.

Who is driving these shifts, both size-wise and geographically? Let’s start with size. As you can see from the data below, smaller craft brewers have shifted much more heavily into cans than larger craft brewers. Many of these brewers likely started out by installing a canning line versus a bottling line, whereas larger craft brewers started in an era when that would have been practically unheard of.

Craft Cans as % of Scan Volume
Brewery Size (CEs) 2013 2016
<1,000 15.8% 39.5%
1,000 to 9,999 20.6% 40.1%
10,000 to 99,999 18.2% 42.3%
100,000 to 999,999 4.3% 24.7%
1,000,000 to 9,999,999 3.9% 11.1%
10,000,000+ 5.5% 10.9%
Total 5.6% 17.2%

Source: IRI Group, Total U.S., MULO+C, YTD as of 11/27/16. Data uses IRI Craft Definition.

As you can see, every size category has increased its can share, but the largest craft brewers (who still move…

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