Forbes - Hudson Lindenberger, Contributor
I cover the ever-changing landscapes of the beer and alcohol industry.
The pandemic and its accompanying lockdowns have forever altered the liquor industry in the United States. It ushered in the most extensive list of liquor law changes seen in the country since Prohibition. Booze-focused delivery companies surged to the forefront, becoming a daily part of many consumers' lives. A growing focus on well-being has fueled the growth of multiple healthy beverage options-hard seltzers, non-alcoholic drinks, infused drinks. It also hammered home the importance of packaging your product in a to-go container for sale.
Founded in 2015 by two former aerospace engineers, Oktober Can Seamers was perfectly positioned to step into the void created when tasting rooms, bars, and dining rooms suddenly went empty last spring. Business owners found themselves scrambling for a way to package beverages to go. Many turned to the Grand Rapids, Michigan, based company to purchase one of their canning machines.
"Overnight, our sales exploded as the lockdowns spread across the country," says Dennis Grumm, the CEO and co-founder. "We thought our business would dry up as tasting rooms closed, but it was the exact opposite. It increased 10X."
As a one-stop shop, Oktober offered an easy-to-use machine that took up a small footprint with a support system behind it to ensure a simple integration. They would sell you cans either labeled or unlabeled delivered to your door. Plus, their in-house design team could create a label or use a brand's artwork. While a large part of their sales increase was fueled by breweries looking for a quick and simple way to can their beer in 4 and 6 packs, the most surprising growth segment was from restaurants and bars.
The first calls from bars and restaurants confused Grumm at first. They had never sold one in that channel before. Their product was a mainstay in brewpubs. But the calls kept coming, and they realized that their product was a good fit for a variety of on-premise businesses trying to create new revenue streams. Business was so good that on-premise sales accounted for over 10% of their sales in 2020. Their success attracted the attention of Bacardi and led to a program that rolled out the can seamers to bars and restaurants in several states.
The first calls from them confused Grumm at first, they had never sold one in that channel before. But the calls kept coming and they realized that their product was a good fit for on-premise businesses trying to create any revenue stream possible. Business was so good that on-premise sales accounted for over 10% of their sales in 2020. Their success attracted the attention of Bacardi and led to a program that rolled out the can seamers to bars and restaurants in several states.
"We realized that the lockdowns in here [California] were hurting our partner businesses, so we created a mobile canning program to help," says Stene Puente, on-premise state manager of California for Bacardi USA. “We bought fifteen of their can seamers and coordinated a time with an account to bring it in and package their pre-mixed cocktails into their own labeled cans. It only took a little time and left them with several hundred cans to sell to customers for the to-go business. They are recyclable, travel easy, and their customers love them. The program is still going strong."
This diversification in business models is advantageous to on-premise accounts and Oktober Can Seamers. It brings in additional revenue and can be sustained as more states roll back legislative roadblocks and enact to-go law changes. "Accounts find that they recoup the cost (around $2,400) of one of our machines quickly, usually within a month or two. After that, it just makes them money," says Grumm.
The Fish Market restaurant group has been operating in California since 1976. When the pandemic lockdowns hit their five locations, they were forced to pivot their business model quickly. Taking advantage of the temporary liquor law changes passed by the state, they dove into the to-go beverage business but quickly realized that mason jars were less than ideal. That's when Bacardi USA entered the fray with their canning program, and The Fish Market jumped on board. It was so successful that they bought two canning machines from Oktober Can Seamers and instituted a specialized takeaway beverage menu across all locations. It's something they don't plan to stop. "Take out is here to stay, and we wanted to create a product that our customers liked and offered us the opportunity to expand our brand's exposure with good-looking cans," says Cameron Schimmel, the beverage manager for The Fish Market. "We only see this segment growing for us in the future."
The chances are good that canned or another form of takeaway alcoholic beverages will become the norm at many bars and restaurants in the future. Adaptations and lessons learned from the last year will most likely stick. Consumers' thirst for takeaway cocktails seems real.