Omaha breweries suffering from can shortages, high shipping costs

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 7:24 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The side effects from the ongoing pandemic are continuing to take a toll on Omaha’s breweries. Now, due to the supply chain crisis, you may need to pay a few extra bucks this new year for your favorite local craft beer.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Infusion Brewing’s canning line wasn’t bustling like it is now.

“There was a time like last summer when we went three, almost four weeks without being able to can because we didn’t have any cans, so that was rough,” says Bill Baburek, the Owner of Infusion Brewing Company.

Aluminum can shortages have been haunting brewers for months.

“So many products were in cans,” says Zac Triemert, the President and Head Distiller at Brickway Brewery. “Bars were closed, and we weren’t able to drink out of a keg and we were drinking all of our beer out of cans as well as hard seltzers and sparkling water, so it’s been a problem for a long time.”

Baburek and Triemert say their businesses took a big hit, and that cans, especially those made domestically, were hard to come by.

“We bought some cans from a brewery up in Norfolk, Nebraska, Divots, he sold us a few cans, when I say a few I mean like 50,000 so he got us a little bit of a Band-Aid because he had a few extras that he could spare,” Baburek says.

“When you go from having your beer in all these different bars and restaurants and you lose that business overnight and you have to move everything to your package business cause people are buying beer in grocery store and liquor stores, and then not being able to get the materials, the cans, to put the beer into, yeah it was a huge nightmare,” he adds.

Pre-printed cans that Infusion ordered took more than a year to be delivered. Brickway eventually began putting new labels on already-labeled cans when they couldn’t order any blank cans.

For some businesses, like Infusion, the problem has slightly improved.

“We haven’t still fully recovered by any means, but it’s gotten a little bit better for sure,” Baburek says.

But for others, like Brickway, it’s about to get even harder.

“Canning manufactures are struggling to keep up with demand, so they’ve put some real strict guidelines on what you can buy and when you can buy it,” says Triemert.

The manufacturer he’s referring to is the Ball Corporation, one of the largest can manufacturers in the world.

“So small producers like us used to be able to buy one semi load of cans at a time, but now we have to buy now semi loads at a time, and that’s pretty tough.”

The truckloads also must all have the same labeling, instead of a variety of different pre-printed cans.

A minimum of five truckloads equates to about one million cans, which is about 800,000 more cans than businesses like Brickway typically order.

“On top of that, the pricing is going up, not 5%, not 15%, but 50% starting January 1st, so that is absolutely going to affect beer pricing, there’s no way all of us small producers can just eat that 50% increase,” Triemert adds.

Although Infusion uses a different can manufacturer, Baburek says he knows the pain his counterparts are soon to be facing, as they had to increase their pricing last January in order to continue profiting while shipping cans in from overseas.

“On average, you find your craft beer around $8.99 a six-pack, we’re probably looking at closer to $11.99 a six-pack just to break even on that can price increase,” Triemert says. “We’re not going to put another single cent in our pocket, but we have to pass the extra cost of the cans on to the customer, unfortunately.”

Although the news of the changes is a big blow to his business, Triemert is trying to keep a positive outlook.

“We’ve all been through so much during COVID that it just didn’t surprise me and honestly hardly moved my needle because my threshold for pain is pretty high these days and so we’re all going through the same stuff together and we’re going to go through this particular issue together as well.”

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