The craft beer industry has endured a lot of setbacks since the beginning of the pandemic. Now, another challenge: Minimum order requirements for printed beer cans have resulted in craft brewers scrambling to find alternative options.
Fortunately, there’s another option. Custom printed beer can labels can withstand a watery cooler, save you on costs (and inventory storage), look great … and even help you weather material shortages.
Ball Corporation Shakes Up the Craft Beer Label Printing Landscape
Citing “a tightly constrained supply environment,” Ball Corporation (a major printed aluminum can manufacturer) announced in November that, starting Jan. 1, 2022, it would be increasing its minimum order requirements from one to five truckloads per SKU.
This fivefold increase translates from about 200,000 printed cans to over a million. Moreover, Ball said it will no longer warehouse inventory for its customers.
The decision is a blow for small- and midsized brewers. For many, a single truckload was already a stretch. Five is out of the question – especially when buying printed cans for small batch brews.
Ball Corporation agreed to postpone its new requirements until March after discussions with the Brewers Association and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden.
The takeaway? If you are a craft brewer that has relied on Ball for beer can printing but can’t afford to order or store over a million cans at once, you have less than a month to find an alternative beer label printing method.
Custom Printed Beer Can Labels Are Perfect for Today’s Brewers
Luckily, printing directly onto aluminum has never been the only option for making beer labels: Pressure-sensitive labels have reliably adorned craft beer and other beverages for decades.
(The term “pressure-sensitive” just means the label material is coated with an adhesive that bonds to the application surface when pressure is applied. Yes, these are the standard “sticker”-style labels many people visualize when they think of product labels in general.)
“Beer can stickers?” you might be thinking. “Will that give us the look we want? And will they perform?”
Will they ever. Not only can pressure-sensitive labels look great and perform superbly on aluminum cans, today’s label printing technology and expertise can make it easier for craft brewers to manage their inventory and keep their cash flow strong.
Printed Beer Can Labels Are Visually Stunning
Hop Culture’s latest annual ranking of the best beer labels was dominated by pressure-sensitive labels wrapped around aluminum cans. Here’s an idea of what’s possible with a quality pressure-sensitive label and a great designer - these probably aren’t what most people think of when they envision a “beer can sticker,” is it?
Need more design inspiration? Don’t miss our roundup of the beer label designs we loved in 2021.
Pressure-sensitive craft beer labels can be made from paper or synthetic material. While paper can lend an authentic, naturalistic vibe to your beer can label, plastic film is much more likely to survive a dunk in a watery cooler.
You’ll notice these labels avoid the sloped lip and base of the can. Practically, this is because pressure-sensitive labels adhere better to uniform surfaces. Aesthetically, the hint of metal offers a sleek, modern look.
An experienced beer can label printer will often advise you to design your label to include an overlap so that the label can wrap around the can and stick to itself. This will stop the label from flagging (the lifting that tends to occur with labels applied to cylindrical surfaces).
Printed Beer Can Labels Are Perfect for Small Batches, Small Budgets and Small Storage Spaces
In addition to looking amazing, choosing printed beer can labels can give you a lot more flexibility.
Let’s say you’re doing a small batch of seasonal porter. Great! You need to order at least a million printed cans.
Not so great.
That’s a lot of money and storage space tied up in unused inventory, which is not an ideal situation for any craft brewers out there.
On the other hand, a beer can label printing company that uses digital printing technology can make small-batch printing incredibly efficient and economical. These printers allow for what’s called variable data printing – which is what makes it possible to print a 2,000 label run … of 2,000 completely unique labels.
Need 250 labels for a porter, 1,000 for an IPA, and 750 for a Pilsner? Digital printing can do it all in one print run.
So, instead of being stuck with a warehouse full of unused printed cans (and the money tied up in it), you have the labels you need for your volume and your production schedule.
The Right Beer Can Label Partner Can Help You Weather Material Shortages
When there are material shortages, the big players in the market tend to get the lion’s share of what’s available – which can leave smaller brewers in a bind.
This is where a custom label printer who already works with breweries can be a lifesaver for anybody looking for alternatives to printed beer cans: They’ll know the kind of materials that will work best and likely already have a reasonable supply of the material on hand.
And once the relationship is established, your labeling partner can be your material shortage problem solver:
"The good thing is we don't need to know today what you're going to be brewing six months from now. If you know you're going to be producing X number of cans, that's X amount of material for us. So, we get that material in the pipeline so it will be in place when you need it, without us needing to know up front how many different versions you're going to be running and how many of each."
– Lori Campbell, President, The Label Printers
Another way an experienced beer can label printer can make it easier for you to handle material shortages? They’re experts on those materials – so they know what will work in a pinch.
For example, let’s say your label is typically printed on one particular SKU of label stock. And now, imagine there’s a shortage of it.
Unless your label stock is particularly niche or specialized, a good printer will have plenty of alternative stock on hand that will work just as well (and if it doesn’t work – say, the size is too big – they can often make it work).
Who Should You Work With for Custom Beer Can Labels?
Ball Corporation’s recent policy changes illustrate the risks of the one-size-fits-all approach to making beer labels.
As a brewer, your focus should be on crafting beers that wow your fans, not on jumping through hoops to make your processes fit someone else’s business.
The right label printer will understand the nuances of the beverage industry and will work with you to create labels that fit your vision, goals, budget and timeline. These days, it’s also important to choose a label printer with enough materials on hand to help you avoid supply chain delays. Your label printer should also be prepared to help you pivot quickly to new materials or an alternate printing process should the need arise.
Learn more about what to look for in a label printer in The Complete Guide to Custom Food and Beverage Labels.