When the Great River Brewery of Davenport, Iowa first began packaging its beer in May 2010, it encountered a situation unique to many young craft brewers. Great River wanted to package its beer in cans, but for brewers of its size the cost of pre-printing large numbers just didn’t make sense from a financial perspective. It wanted to put its money into making great new artisanal beer and not have that money tied up in inventory of large numbers of pre-printed cans.
So Great River decided to partner with Multi-Color Corp. of Batavia, Ohio for a novel solution.
Seeing that the problem was not the cans themselves, but the method for decorating the cans, Great River launched recent batches of ale in aluminum cans with shrink sleeves applied after filling. This essentially eliminates any pre-printed inventory and capitalizes on what Multi-Color calls “late-stage differentiation.” The Brewery now can purchase unbranded cans in whatever quantity they are comfortable with and fill only the number needed based on the size of the batch.
Furthermore, the close-knit community of craft brewers now can work in partnership to control costs. By banding together to buy larger quantities of plain aluminum cans, they can achieve even larger discounts and still continue to brew without committing to certain volumes.
“We call it capitalizing on late-stage differentiation,” says Kevin O’Brien, director of sales, Multi-Color. “How do we help them move to that last stage of application so that they can create as much flexibility with their package as they want without being tied into, ‘Hey, I’ve got to produce 10,000 or 500,000 or 1 million of these particular cans and I only need 2,000.” And O-Brien says with the printing technology offered by his company, Great River doesn’t have to sacrifice anything when it comes to the final result since Multi-Color offers them a broad portfolio of printing techniques for its shrink sleeve labels.
Printing technology for cans continues to advance, says Janelle Harris, director, Graphic Services, Ball Corp.’s metal beverage packaging, Americas, division, which supplies cans to many craft brewers. She points, for instance, to Ball’s Eyeris technology, which enables photo-quality can graphics with very fine detail. “This appeals to brands who not only want to stand out on store shelves, but who also want their cans to deliver their unique brand story,” she says. “We see this all the time with craft brewers, who have created and nurtured their brands from the start.”
Advances like those from Eyeris mean that the appearance of today’s cans are leaps above those of the past. “They’re not even in the same ballpark,” Harris says. “Six years ago it was virtually impossible to get the clarity of printing and graphics on cans that you see today – 99 percent of that is due to Eyeris technology and the DLE (Stork) plates Ball uses.”
Ball also offers special inks that can lend a texture to a can that visually resembles embossing, or can change their look when the beverage inside is at the optimal temperature to enjoy. “The can is a work of art to our customers, and that is what we focus on delivering,” Harris says.
“Craft beer is all about personality and unique taste,” she continues. “These are brands that speak to people on a deeply individual level. Our can graphics deliver the brand on store shelves before consumers enjoy the brand by drinking the beer inside. Savvy brewers know this and are emphasizing high quality can graphics.”