London

Forget bottles. Cans are here to stay, Ontario beer drinkers 

The clock is running out on selling bottled beer in Ontario because of skyrocketing glass prices, a global supply shortage and retailers who prefer canned beer.

Brewer, beer writer say breweries ditching bottles as stores demand cans, glass prices blow up

Forked River Brewing Company sells its beer in cans now in part because retailers prefer stocking shelves with cans instead of bottles. (Supplied by David Reed)

Not long ago, a certain type of beer drinker would snub any ale sold in cans and purchase — almost exclusively — beer packaged in bottles, assuming it was the superior vessel.

But those days are over, at least in Ontario, due to skyrocketing glass prices, a global supply shortage and retailers who prefer canned beer, said David Reed, who owns Forked River Brewing in London, Ont. 

"There's been a shift in consumer acceptance of cans. It was to the point where grocery stores wouldn't take your product if it was in a bottle," said Reed.

David Reed, owner of Forked River Brewing Company in London, Ont., says he switched to can a few years ago amid soaring glass prices. (Supplied by David Reed)

Grocery stores prefer cans because they take up less space on shelves, he said. 

And bottles are expensive these days.

Since Reed opened his brewery nine years ago, glass prices have steadily increased, which is why Forked River switched to cans a few years ago.

"Definitely we've seen the prices in glass bottles go up 70 per cent in the last four or five years," said Reed, who pointed to glass plants shutting down or relocating.

"We've really pivoted to cans," he said. "We have a bottling line here that basically collects dust because we've moved to mostly cans." 

Until recently, the brewery was still bottling its higher-end, barrel-aged beers, but even those are now packaged in cans, said Reed. The brewery has also dumped selling new growlers too.

Reed says beer can technology has improved, and is the superior receptacle over the bottle (Supplied by David Reed)

Cans are better anyway

"The current trend toward cans in Ontario wasn't actually driven by breweries or even consumer choices," said London-based beer writer Ben Johnson.

"The truth is that the LCBO [Liquor Control Board of Ontario] prefers cans because they are easier to stock, stack and shelve," he said. "Brewers converted to cans to increase the odds the LCBO would list their product so they might actually be able to sell more." 
Ben Johnson, a London-based beer writer, says the Liquor Control Board of Ontario 'prefers cans because they are easier to stock, stack and shelve.' (Supplied by Ben Johnson)

Because the LCBO is the biggest game in town, breweries deliver what it wants, said Johnson.

According to both Reed and Johnson, cans are safer to transport, fully recyclable and don't break. They also now have better liners to protect the taste of the beer, and have better airtight seal than bottles.

"The two main enemies of beer are air and light," he said. "Beer in cans is much better protected from the things that can oxidize your beer or make it taste skunky."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 20 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna. Contact Rebecca at rebecca.zandbergen@cbc.ca

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