Here’s why big cans dominate the craft beer market


Cost of life7:14How Craft Brewers Came to Love the Big Can

Anyone who walks through the beer aisles of their local liquor store will know the scene: rows and rows of local craft beers, wrapped in distinctive and often colorful logos and artwork – all high up, 473 ml (or 16 oz.) cans.

The big can – also known as a tallboy, king can or pounder – is nothing new. The Milwaukee-based Schlitz Brewing Company began selling them in the 1950s.

But it’s become an increasingly popular size for craft beer, a category that has mostly shunned smaller 355ml cans and glass bottles in recent years.

According to beer brewers, the popularity of the large can isn’t just the lure of having more to drink per can.

Haydon Dewes, co-founder of Cabin Brewing Company in Calgary, says the cost of a tall can compared to a short can is “negligible,” at least in terms of the extra aluminum required to produce it.

The real reasons have more to do with marketing, brand awareness, and craft beer trends that date back at least a decade.

Haydon Dewes described the mood of the art on Cabin’s Super Saturation New England Pale Ale as “modern nostalgia” with its crisp lines and groovy font. Large cans give brewers more space to explain their product to consumers. (Cabin Brewing Company)

Large cans help distinguish the artisan product: the brewer

“We’re the ones saying, we’re craft beer, we’re not macro beer. We don’t put our beer in short cans and put it in a box of 36. It’s a premium product which comes in a pack of four,” Dewes told Cost of Living.

Cabin’s website sells its four flagship beers for $4.50 for a single can and in packs of four for around $17 to $18.

Dewes says the four-pack for large cans has become a craft beer standard, due to long-standing expectations about the cost of beer packs.

“A four-pack is about the same volume as a six-pack…and the cost is about the same as well,” he said.

This also helps distinguish it from non-craft brands that sell smaller cans in higher volume.

“There’s something, for better or worse, quite exclusive about a four-pack. It’s like if you see a tall four-pack can, you know it’s craft beer. If you see a box of 12 short cans, your brain is telling you, “This is budget beer. It must be cheaper, surely.”

Large cans account for 80% of craft beer sales in Ontario, according to an email from the LCBO. Short cans, on the other hand, represent only about 5% of craft beer sales.

Large cans are also popular among many non-craft beer brands, the LCBO noted, accounting for 60% of sales in this category.

Having a bigger box means more space to cover with distinctive artwork and logos that make an instant impression and tell customers exactly what they’re getting.

“We also have to tell people what the name of this beer is, what type of beer it is, and also our brand, all sort of on one space on the side of the cans,” said Pete Nguyen, partner and creative director. at the Sea Change Brewing Co. in Edmonton.

Pete Nguyen is a partner and creative director at Sea Change Brewing Co. in Edmonton. (Sea Change Brewing Co.)

The “one and done” and the example call

Benj Steinman, writer and president of American trade magazine Beer Marketer’s Insights, says that in the United States, at least, craft beers have struggled to reach consumers in recent years.

The outlier is the large cans, which sell very well in convenience stores. He said they also allow people to just have a beer and feel satisfied.

“I think it’s kind of priced attractively, and it’s kind of a one-and-done,” Steinman said.

Craft beer enthusiasts are a bit like bird watchers; they just want everything. They want to be able to check off as many as they can.​​– Haydon Dewes, co-founder of Cabin Brewing Company

According to Dewes, single-selling also allows beer connoisseurs to sample multiple varieties at once.

“Instead of walking away with a box of 12 of the same beer, you can walk away with 12 different beers,” he said.

“Craft beer enthusiasts are kind of like birdwatchers; they want it all. They want to be able to tick off as many as they can.”

thank you alchemist

Dewes and Steinman both singled out Alchemist Beer, a Vermont-based brewer, for sparking the popularity of large craft beer cans with its Heady Topper double IPA in 2011.

While most smaller scale beers were marketed in bottles at the time, Heady Topper came in a distinctive can with high contrast black and silver art, and the instructions “Drink from the can!” written along the top edge.

According to Steinman, it generated “a tremendous amount of buzz” among “connoisseur craft geek” consumers.

The Alchemist Double IPA Heady Topper is widely credited with popularizing the modern trend of craft beer served in large cans. (The Alchemist/Facebook)

Alchemist co-founder John Kimmich is quick to note that this wasn’t the first craft beer to be marketed in large cans, citing examples such as the California-based Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA. . But he certainly agrees with the assessment that Heady Topper made the practice widespread in popularity.

Many factors went into the decision, Kimmich explained, including the fact that aluminum cans incur lower transportation costs compared to glass bottles and that broken bottles are potentially more dangerous than a crushed can.

But he said using large cans also helped Alchemist make a major statement about its brand.

“We’ve always wanted to be able to provide our customers with absolute world-class beer at a very reasonable and fair price, and present it in the ultimate blue-collar, single container, which is a pound.”

From big to small

While the big-can approach has helped craft beer gain popularity, it may have steered it away from the mainstream beer consumer: someone looking for a big box of small, easy-to-drink cans. – responsibly – in multiples.

In recent weeks, Sea Change has started releasing its Blonde Ale in short 355ml cans in an effort to reach these customers. According to Nguyen, this addition to their usual pipeline of large cans resulted in a more expensive process.

Sea Change Brewing Co., recently launched its Classic Blonde Ale in a small 335ml can with the aim of reaching a different segment of the beer market. (Sea Change Brewing Co.)

“Our packaging costs are much higher for this, but we assume this is going to give us access to a market … which could see us side by side, say, like a 15 or 24 pack of a Budweiser or Molson product. .”

Nguyen, who is one of the main designers of all Sea Change labeling, said more work is also needed to adapt the art to the smaller cans.

“You can’t just reduce it. So [we] He kind of had to change some of the proportions to make it look like it took up the right amount of space on a small can.”


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