Despite taste myths, Canadian beer can sales spike
TORONTO - More and more Canadians are choosing to reach for a cold one in a can despite long-standing complaints that such brews taste tinny, a sales trend that beer vendors and industry observers say isn't about to fall flat any time soon.
Nationwide, sales of canned beer are up 10 per cent over last year, and a whopping 27 per cent in Ontario alone, according to a recent report from The Brewers Association of Canada.
Meanwhile, bottled beer sales are down six per cent in Ontario. The rest of the country has seen the movement of suds in a bottle drop four per cent.
The rise of cans has been blamed for at least one plant closure in Edmonton - the Molson brewery there could only produce bottles.
The much maligned can of beer, it seems, has undergone an image makeover.
Ontario microbrewery Creemore Springs entered the canned beer market in April 2005 with surprising results, said sales and marketing manager Karen Gaudino.
"We weren't 100 per cent sure if premium micro (beer) drinkers were interested in a can format, but we couldn't have made a better decision," said Gaudino.
"To our surprise, our canned sales have been doing quite well, both at (Ontario liquor and beer stores), so it seems to us that consumer preferences are switching to cans."
Gaudino cites numerous reasons for the shift, including new consumer freedom to mix-and-match brands and the tamper-proof aluminum cans.
However, the cans' convenience and the rapid debunking of myths about the taste of canned beer are probably the biggest factors spurring sales, Gaudino said.
Today's cans are made with a thin, plastic lining on the inside to protect the taste of the beer, challenging the notion that canned beer tastes tinny.
The taste factor is definitely helping to level the playing field, said Stephen Beaumont, author of The Great Canadian Beer Guide.
"I think that the old view was that canned beer had a tinny taste and, like all of this beer mythology, it is slowly going by the wayside," he said.
In Ontario, beer is sold at The Beer Store, a chain of outlets owned by three major breweries, and provincially operated Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores.
Although beer sales at the LCBO account for only 15 per cent of provincial sales, spokesman Chris Layton says they are definitely seeing an echo of the national trend.
"Obviously cans are sometimes seen as being more convenient, they're sometimes easier to transport, a little bit on the lighter side," he said, noting that sales of canned beer in six-packs or in 500-millilitre tall cans are allowing consumers to mix and match their beverages.
LCBO numbers from this year show canned beer makes up almost 40 per cent of its beer sales, up from 29 per cent two years ago.
"When people want to transport products, maybe they're going to a gathering or heading on vacation, I think there's a certain appeal that comes along with that," Layton said.
The spike in sales is part of a larger trend that won't stop any time soon, said Beaumont, who said the "portability, chillability and weight" of beer cans is helping to set a new standard.
"Canned beer sales always go up in the summer. People are camping, they're going to the cottage, and they're always taking more cans."
As well, Ontario's liquor outlets have been putting "significant emphasis" on cans in the past year, encouraging more listings of canned brands over bottles, Beaumont said.
"I think that the LCBO saw both the opportunity to maximize that growth that was existing, and I believe they see this with an environmental element as well," he said, adding that the aluminum from cans is easily recycled.
With the environment in mind, the choice of cans over bottles is a no-brainer, Beaumont added.
"Particularly with imported brands, the bottles are not going to be refilled anyways. It costs less to transport because they don't weigh as much and they're more tightly packaged."
The beer industry is already feeling the affect of the shift, he said.
A Molson Canada brewery in Edmonton is slated to close at the end of August, affecting more than 130 employees. The brewer said the industry shift from bottles to cans was a key factor in their decision, as the facility could only produce bottled beer.
Molson's chief brewing officer Daniel Pelland said the decision is "about being competitive."