CBC: Basics of Packaging – Cans and Bottles

The online Craft Brewers Conference included an informative presentation sponsored by Wild Goose Filling on how to successfully package craft beer in cans or bottles. The Basics of Packaging: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Get Your Product Out the Door aimed to help breweries implement a profitable and efficient packaging operation. The presentation covered how to organize your packaging process, select equipment, prepare your facility, source packing materials, and anticipate hidden costs.

As previously noted, the CBC presentation content is currently free for anyone to take a look at, but will eventually transition to being available only to Brewers Association members.

This content was equally relevant to kombucha brewers. Indeed, the Lousiville, Colorado-based company was a Gold Sponsor of the (canceled) 2020 Kombucha Konference and have a page about kombucha packaging on their website. Their website also has two infographics that make the Case for Bottling and Why Choose Cans.

The economics of packaging

They noted that a $60,000 packaging (cans or bottles) machine would pay for itself in slightly more than three months if it ran for just 10 hours a week.

Once the cost of the machine is recouped, it makes money. With the COVID-19 shutdown, off-premise and online sales have increased. Efficient packaging helps get the product out the door.

Planning

Deciding on cans vs. bottles and sizing throughput is the first step. Then, scope the distribution and a sales strategy needed to support the volume you produce. Budget for the cost of maintenance, the facility space and cold room storage of both empty and filled containers.

Cans vs. Bottles

The infographics above show the highlights of each. While craft beer lags the availability of beer in cans, it is catching up. Most kombucha is still sold in bottles, but recent reports note that cans are growing in popularity, since “cans have the potential to introduce kombucha to new consumers in new retail channels at a lower price point.”

Bottles are an easier option to bootstrap a new business since they can be sourced in smaller quantities. Wild Goose argue that the quality debate is over, and the decision is more a branding question. The data shows that the craft beer industry sells most volume in 6-packs of 12 oz bottles.

Budgeting

Packaging is often the last thing to be budgeted. The best quality ‘booch will never shine if the packaging line does not work well.

The first thing to address is the filler system. Labor savings will come with more volume. The total cost of packaging comes down to three questions:

  • What percent of the brite tank will get into a sellable package? Gauge your percent loss and be wary of overfilling or low fills.
  • When and how will the packaging machine need service? How available are spare parts?
  • What is the resale value of your equipment? Anticipate when you hopefully outgrow the initial size.

Decoration

Weigh up the options for shrink sleeves for cans vs. pre-printed cans (which have high minimums, so consider where you will store a semi-trucks’ worth). Labelers work for both cans and bottles.

Quality and risk

From hand canning and bottling to fully automated systems, there are trade-offs between labor costs, product quality that results from exposure to the atmosphere, and reduced shelf life. Hand filled growlers have the lowest initial cost but the shortest shelf life. Automation via inline or rotary systems keeps labor costs down but requires greater up-front investment.

Sizing a system

Begin by considering the size of the brite tank, able to be emptied in one shift. Consider how many times a week you will refill it, and how to expand production. The goal is to avoid having the filler back up or have to slow down because the labeler can’t keep up.

Designing a system is about more than cans per minute. Consider:

  • Machine layout: Transit times from fill to lid to seamer.
  • Machine construction materials, safety and certifications.
  • Control system versatility. Can you adjust the system to ensure product quality?
  • Fill quality (accuracy, rate, foam).
  • Seamer construction. Are the seams reliable?
  • Serviceability.
  • Spare parts availability.
  • Service organization.

Scale the ‘infeed and outfeed’ so the workflow from depalletizing to container rinse, packout, date coding, fill checking, and more.

The Wild Goose website has educational materials and a well written blog that kombucha brewers will find useful. The operation of a typical canning line is shown in this two-minute YouTube video.

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