HOUSTON - After 18 months of the pandemic, a stubborn shortage is leaving some thirsty consumers high and dry. When many were forced to stay home, and out of bars and restaurants, a lot of people turned to cans and bottles to quench their thirst and the beverage industry is still struggling to keep up.
The biggest culprit is the aluminum can. Favored by manufacturers and consumers, it's used for a variety of products, while plastic and glass bottles are in high demand, too. Take a stroll down some grocery aisles, and you may notice some empty spots. A recent addition, in some HEB stores, notes glass, plastic, and aluminum packaging may be in limited supply.
Packaged beverages were already popular before the pandemic. Industry estimates project sales to grow $75 billion dollars, globally, in the next five years. COVID, however, pushed demand to a whole new level. "All of a sudden, you have this huge, enormous demand for individual, containerized beverages," says University of Houston Supply Chain and Logistics professor Margaret Kidd.
While many of us never give it a second thought, there are a limited number of sources for these containers. Glass and plastic have growing material costs, and the world's largest manufacturer of aluminum cans makes 350 million of them, each day. It's a losing battle, and the company is working to boost capacity. "This doesn't happen overnight," says Kidd, "Think about the amount of time it takes to redesign a current manufacturing facility or build from scratch. We're talking years to build capacity into the system."
As manufacturers and consumers wait for that, there's a scramble for what's available. A craft-brewing trade organization says large brewers were among those hoarding cans because they had the money and storage space to do it. That free-for-all means consumers are likely to see the occasional shortages continue into next year.