Been having a hard time finding your favorite cold one? You’re not alone in the treasure hunt.
Displays of stacked 30-packs of Busch and Busch Light typically greet customers who enter George’s Liquor Store in Richmond. But for a few days in recent weeks, the store was completely out of two of its top sellers, according to employee Jeannine Saladino.
“We have at least 100 to 150 of 30-packs typically in the store. I’ve been here 6 years, we’ve never ran out of back stock of 30-packs of Busch and Busch Light, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen it. I mean it was crazy how it happened,” she told KMZU.
Spot shortages of some canned beer brands and the near-disappearance of less popular sodas, caffeine-free Diet Coke, are fueled in part by changes in peoples’ behavior amid the coronavirus pandemic. George’s Liquor owner Jay Patel tells of his experience.
“There is a shortage of aluminum cans, because a lot of the beer is coming out of stock. Coca Cola was out for 3 weeks. Even now, they’re only making their popular products. Even then, they are not giving us too many cases. It’s very limited.”
The bottom line: people are drinking more at home.
Michael Mulch, whose family owns Mulch’s Country Mart in Carrollton says, sees it firsthand.
“We can see it in our sales with beer and hard liquor consumption has been way up,” Mulch says.
Paul Beykirch, president of the Sedalia-based Central Distributing Company, supplies Anheuser-Busch products to an 11-county area. He says during Missouri’s stay-at-home order in March and April brought a spike in sales.
“There has been a tight liquid shortage this year, compounded with what I’ve read about a can aluminum shortage,” Beykirch says. “I think the beer industry has been up 7 to 8 percent higher than last year in volume and that was unanticipated.”
Additionally, no one could anticipate that bars and restaurant would close because of a pandemic, causing establishments to reorder stock – not just to replenish what they sold, but to start over, he says.
Beer manufacturers, like Anheuser-Busch, use winter and spring months to store product for the hot months of summer sales.
“Production volume is about the same year round, so in January when our sales are much lower than their production ability, they will produce at a high level and our inventory increases. In the summertime, if we have no inventory, they cannot produce fast enough to meet demand. When we are not able to build our inventory in the spring to a high level, then we do have spot shortages in the summertime,” Beykirch says.
High demand has been a boon to the lagging soda industry.
“I think that industries that were slow or on the decline, like pop has been – or even beer – and all of the sudden, it’s exploding, is just a shock. All of a sudden, it went from something that you’re trying to scrape up sales to now, holding onto your hat to keep up with demand,” Mulch says.
The can crunch is not because the raw material for aluminum is in short supply, industry leaders say. Neither is its from a shortage of recycled aluminum, according to Robert Nuelle, owner of Nuelle’s 4×4 Salvage in Higginsville.
“They’re telling you there’s a shortage, but I’ve got a semi-truckload that isn’t worth what it was,” Nulle says. “There may be a shortage, because people are holding onto ’em, because the price isn’t there.”
Prices for aluminum cans bring in around one-third of the price compared to 2018, he says.
Much like what happened during the meat shortage in recent months, the bottleneck is in the capacity to produce cans at the limited number of production sites in the U.S.
“Some of our distributors are saying it’s more that the aluminum cans are basically all made by the same manufacturer. It doesn’t matter if it’s beer or pop. So, they can’t kick out the cans quick enough. That’s been the biggest problem, I think,” Mulch says. “Then, there’s other wrinkles, like plants shutting down for Covid. It’s an all-the-above situation.”
Robert Budway, president of the Can Manufacturers Institute, the industry’s trade association, told USA Today, “the can industry is working 24/7 on meeting the unprecedented demand.”
The Aluminum Association has offered this prepared statements to numerous media outlets: “The aluminum beverage can manufacturing industry has seen unprecedented demand for this environmentally-friendly container prior to and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can sheet producers have increased shipments to market, which were up significantly in May and June (the latest data available). Many new beverages are coming to market in cans and other long-standing can customers are moving away from plastic bottles due to ongoing environmental concerns around plastic pollution. Consumers also appear to be favoring the portability and storability cans as they spend more time at home.”
Plastic also has a shorter shelf life, according to Mulch, about a 3-month span. Compare that to aluminum, which can store up to 9 months, he says.
Beykirch sees sales now leveling off to pre-Covid demand — a good sign for consumers. Plus, his beverage industry is forecasting a down period due to the cancellation of special events, like the Missouri State Fair. That event alone would have sold more than 1,000 kegs of beer.