Beer Business Daily first reported news this week that Allagash Brewing Co. would start releasing its flagship White in cans starting March 2019. According to the newsletter, the rollout will begin only with the brewery’s home state of Maine and extend through Upstate and Western New York. Allagash founder Rob Tod told BBD that this will be the first time canned White will be available to the public—brewmaster Jason Perkins mentioned on the GBH podcast in May that small canned runs of White had been offered to employees in the past.
Tod added that his brewery took its time with canning White because "we were busy trying to keep up with White and core,” but retailers and distributors were “begging” for cans of the beer.
Update (9/29/18): When White is released in its new format next year, it'll be going into four-packs of 16-ounce cans, the brewery has confirmed to GBH. It's the same size Allagash used this spring for its first-ever canning for public release with 16-ounce packages of Hoppy Table Beer, sold only at Allagash’s Portland, Maine HQ.
“Why now?” the company announced on its blog in April’s unveiling of the Hoppy Table Beer news. “Well, for one, we feel ready. We’ve taken on a lot of projects around the brewery, from barrel aging, to brewing Coolship beers. We’re at a point where we feel ready to take on the next big challenge, and that challenge is cans. Also, we’re not blind to the love that beer drinkers have for cans.”
Update (9/28/18): An Allagash representative indicated many more details about release are still being ironed out and that the reason the move is finally being made is because the brewery has worked out its canning process to meet its internal quality standards. Allagash has spent nearly as much time on testing equipment as the filling process, they noted.
WHY IT MATTERS
In that same blog post announcing the Hoppy Table Beer cans, Allagash notes that the business’ eventual acceptance of using cans came from a focus on quality, noting that “we’ll be testing and learning and feeling out this canning line with an eye towards what we’re able to do with cans in the future.”
That future is now, thanks to the proliferation of aluminum across the industry. While 12-ounce glass bottles in six and 12-packs are so commonplace it's mathematically impossible to throw them from their perch as the top package sizes in U.S. stores, cans have provided the fastest growth numbers in recent years, boosted by rapid adoption.
In January, GBH reported that four-packs (163.8%), six-packs (117.6%), and 12-packs (48.4%) of cans showed tremendous growth in IRI-tracked dollar sales from 2015-2017, a timeframe in which glass counterparts declined slightly. And despite the potential impacts from tariffs and shortages, the power of putting beer in cans isn’t lost on breweries all over, including for the 36th largest Brewers Association-defined craft brewery in the country.
An interesting part of this move comes from its rollout. In his interview with BBD, Tod noted that, while the brewery’s overall growth rate in 2018 was 5%, White’s rate in IRI-tracked stores was just above 13%, with cases of the beer running about $60. That price point continues to be one of the most important in beer, with estimates by Bump Williams Consulting showing that the $40-$60 case price range offered the most dollar sales growth to craft beer in 2017, accounting for 50.1% ($40-$49.99) and 24% ($50-$50.99). The high end of this range includes breweries like Victory and Dogfish Head, the latter of which consistently references the cost as a point of pride.
According to IRI numbers that track grocery, drug, Walmart, and other stores in Maine, but not convenience, the Pine Tree State has accounted for about 20% of the Belgian Wheat beer’s national volume sales over the last five years. In 2018, Maine has accounted for almost half of all White’s sales in those stores located in the New England region. From 2014-2017, White averaged volume growth rates of about 34% in Maine in these IRI stores.
Sharing this release with its home state makes sense for Allagash, and distribution through Upstate and Western New York makes good business sense geographically. After all, there’s plenty of room to grow in a region still coming into its own with beer.
According to IRI-tracked stores, excluding convenience, sales of White have slowly ramped up in the Buffalo-to-Rochester area ("Western") and the state's capital of Albany ("Upstate"). In 2017, White sold roughly the same volume in this general territory as releases like Left Hand Extrovert American IPA, Great Divide Denver Pale Ale, or Pfriem Blonde IPA. Sales in these New York IRI cities combine for less than 2% of White's total U.S. volume, but have shown 35% growth in 2016 and 2017. On top of all these numbers from stores, BBD also reported that Allagash has tracked White draft up 3% in 2018. All told, the beer makes up about three-quarters of Allagash’s total volume.
That number may not change drastically from the limited rollout of White in cans, but creating the opportunity for future growth offers an exciting challenge for one of the most recognizable and commonly drank craft beers in the country. As so many breweries mention when rolling out canned beer, the chance to enable White into new drinking occasions with an easily portable—and less breakable—package presents opportune moments. This is especially true in Maine and New York, where outdoor life and campfires thrive come spring, which just happens to be when White will debut in cans next year.