The Partnership that O’Connor Used to Pilot Can Crunch

O’Connor Brewing is a veteran craft brewery that has been open for more than a decade now and president Kevin O’Connor said he prides himself on planning ahead and being ready.

Heavy users of bottles and still having a top-selling IPA in bottles even now, the Norfolk, Virginia brewery’s founder saw that cans were taking over shelf space a few years back and quickly pivoted to adding a canning line. Adding in a shrinkwrap sleeving unit in-line with the canning equipment was also a key to helping push out newer releases and seasonals without the need for printed cans.

“The shrink sleeves, to me, lend a better visual for the customers than labels, especially when they are on the shelf,” O’Connor said. “I feel it grabs the consumer’s attention more and gives an added benefit for our brewery.

“The perceived visual is like a painted can, but less expensive in terms of buying multiple truckloads of a particular SKU. With craft brewing always in search of new products, sleeved cans make it easier to pivot than holding on to painted cans as well.”

For nearly four years now, O’Connor has worked closely with Saxco International to help supply its switch to cans and now the two are partnering to also make sure the brewery is stocked up with sleeved cans as well.

​“The clear and present danger of everybody moving to cans ​… it just couldn’t go on forever​,” O’Connor said​. ​“​And of course, with COVID and just the sheer fact of how much packaging was moving.​“

Looking at Nielsen and IRI data for the past five years, especially the can share​, O’Connor said those percentages have crept up significantly.

​“​When the world stopped in March 2020 it moved so quickly from bottles to cans​​ —​ that was something that ​Saxco didn’t have to tell me about,​“ O’Connor said. “I saw quarterly to quarterly moving in that direction.

​“​Luckily, we had already planned on starting to move away from more bottles to more cans. So we were ahead of the curve, getting our canning line in and solidifying our relationship with people like Saxco. But right when the pandemic hit, those were some of the first calls that we made: ​‘​We’re seeing this, what does it look like?​‘​ They really helped us out just to keep beer moving.​“​

Everybody at every brewery has felt the pinch of the “candemic,” O’Connor said. But with Saxco’s buying power and their grouping of breweries, he said that the supplier has always kept a really solid stock on hand.

“With our years in business with them, we’ve never had any issues throughout this entire time sourcing cans,” O’Connor said. “That’s been a great partnership.”

O’Connor said they work with Saxco’s Ed Weber to forecast for the coming year.

“We really have never gone out of stock with them,” O’Connor said. “They’ve always kept the par level and they will talk with us when they see movement on something faster and talk to us about working to increase those par levels. At the same time, they’ll keep an eye on it if things have slowed down a little bit on certain packaging, then they’ll get right down to zero before they make any kind of reorder for us.”

In November 2021, Saxco announced that it acquired the We Sleeve-It assets from the RB Dwyer Group of Companies. The transaction significantly strengthened Saxco’s aluminum can service offerings to breweries like O’Connor and they have started to take advantage of the new service by using previously printed cans already in stock and re-sleeving them with newer runs of brands that can be run without the need for adding blank brites into the mix.

​“A lot of stuff that we’re doing with them definitely is going to be more pre-sleeved cans​,” O’Connor said in planning for 2022 and beyond. ​“​It allows us to purchase minimums that they need. But if they know we need 10 pallets of a seasonal, they can do that for us, which is great.

​One thing that ​O’Connor says is a great ​advantage for the brewery and in working with Saxco is the ability to warehouse.

“If you’re in an x-square​-​foot building and you want to get your pricing down and you have a great couple of flagship and seasonal brands, it was great to be able to have it produced and warehoused and we could buy as we needed​,” O’Connor said. ​O’Connor has some new brands that are going to be coming out this year and he said they have been working with Saxco to get ready.

“It has been painless, to be honest with you,” he said. “We got ahead of it and they have been helping us out with that.”

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