Asia Brewers Network

Bottle v Can – Which do consumers prefer?


Today’s article is about whether people prefer bottle or can for beer.

As a brewer based in China, I’m often involved or see discussions between brewers whether canning their beer is the right choice.

For a small craft brewer, canning can be preferable because:

  • A canning line generally takes up less space than a bottling line
  • Bottled beers may become ‘light-struck’, not possible in cans
  • Cheaper shipping
  • Quicker filling times
  • Cans are better for the environment

However, the debate rages in China, across Asia and farther afield, whether the pros with canning, are outweighed by the one big con: the belief that canned beer is seen as an inferior, cheaper product compared to bottle beer by consumers.

So, I ran a poll on a few different social media platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) to see what people’s perceptions were. Here’s what the respondents on LinkedIn had to say:

Bottle v Can LinkedIn
The sample size wasn’t large with 82 votes across the various platforms (thanks to all those who took the time to vote and give feedback). It brought up points that I’d not consider before. I enjoyed doing the survey and had some interesting conversations off the back if it.

Total Votes – Across All Platforms

So, let’s take a look at the results beginning with the various social media platform (please note: Twitter doesn’t provide a breakdown of who voted for what, just total overall votes on the platform).

Please see the table below for votes across Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter:

Bottle v Can survey all platforms

Rounding up the totals we get:

  • Can – 35.4% (29 total votes)
  • Bottle – 54.9% (45 total votes)
  • No Preference – 9.8% (8 total votes)

This was broadly what I was expecting. It seems across the board people prefer bottles over cans when it comes to drinking beer.

Here are some of the reasons they gave for their preference:

“Beer in 500ml cans gets too warm, bottle for me” Nick, United Kingdom

“Bottle, I know there has been an improvement with cans but growing up canned beer was simply awful and avoidance becomes ingrained” Peter, United Kingdom

“I always thought bottles tasted better or were classier” Andrew, Canada

These types of comments were similar across the board for people who preferred bottles over cans. Furthermore, for the older age group, cans are seen as inferior products partly because when cans first came out in many countries the beer inside was not of the best quality.

Perceptions become ingrained (as Peter said) and this may lead to beliefs being carried across generations with younger people still preferring bottles because their beliefs have been shaped by people who drank before them.

So, even though can offers advantages over bottle beer in many cases, people still see beer in cans as inferior. One of my favourite comments was: “Bottle then can, I find cans mysterious, as you can’t see what’s inside them” Melanie, United Kingdom … a perfectly valid response if you ask me.

Bottle or Can for Beer – Why Did Some People Prefer Cans?

Some of the reasons people preferred can over bottle:

“Neil, call me the can man…here in Paris we have much better beer available in can than bottle” Jean-Michel, France

“As a consumer, canned beer, because it can be thrown in a backpack for outdoor recreation” Hector, USA

“Cans, chill quicker than bottles” Adam, United Kingdom (note: Adam actually preferred bottles!)

So, the people who commented about preferring cans weren’t always saying the beer tasted better. Rather, it was more about convenience.

Before going on to the next section, I wanted to comment on the breakdown for Twitter. On this platform the split between can and bottle was more even.

I don’t know why, as I can’t see who voted for what on that platform. However, could this be an age thing? Are people who use Twitter generally younger than other platforms so more open to drinking from a can?

Or maybe because more people in the US use Twitter … more on that below.

Bottle or Can for Beer – By Region

With this in mind I undertook a breakdown by region using the poll results from LinkedIn and Facebook. Please see the breakdown below:

Bottle v can survey by region

I did have one vote from New Caledonia (thanks to Kubatbek Alimbekov for voting!). For LinkedIn, I put the region where the person was based according to their bio.

For instance one US brewer who voted for cans actually works in Asia so his vote was counted towards the Asian section.

I know the voting for the Americas and Australia are from a small sample size. However, the split is more even between bottle and cans for these two countries.

Here I’m thinking nurture over nature with beer in can being around for longer and more accepted. When I think of Australian’s drinking beer, I visualize Aussies drinking cans of VB (Victoria Bitter); similar to US beer drinkers and their Bud Light.

There’s more of a cultural history to it. There’s the legend of David Boon (Australian cricketer) drinking 52 cans of beer on the flight from Australia to London, a ‘world’ record.

Bottle or Can for Beer – By Sex

I also undertook a breakdown for women and men. Unfortunately, not many women voted. However, the breakdown for women was evenly split 2 each for bottle, can and no preference.

Bottle v can survey by sex

I’m not sure how to interpret this information, does it mean women are more adaptable? Being less set in their ways than men so happier to drink beer from whatever is offered?

I had a conversation with Vanessa from China. She’s a label supplier for packaging. She say’s, and I quote: “It comes to me that the orders for labels for bottles are usually long term, while for cans they are short but different and flexible”.

She’s sees smaller craft brewers using cans as they offer more flexibility.

Bottle or Can for Beer – Let’s Start Rounding This Up

So, when it comes to bottle or cans for beer it seems overall bottles win out. People perceive the beer inside to taste better and be “classier”. Will this change?

We’re now seeing more alcoholic beverages being packaged and sold in cans. They can be pre-mixed cocktails or hard seltzers. I was talking to one connection in Spain who’s looking to put wine into can this year to sell it to China.

Bottle or Can for Beer – Conclusions

I’m seeing more brewers daily switching to can from bottle. One reason being in it offers more stable product packaging. When you give beer to distributers, often you lose some control in how it’s stored or shipped.

The beer isn’t going to become light-struck for example in can. Furthermore, a packaged can is lighter than the equivalent volume in bottles. Aluminium is lighter than glass. Also, cans take up less space when shipping compared to bottle because of the shape.

Being lighter plus taking up less space makes shipping cheaper. So, if the price point is less and the product more stable, it represents the better option for brewers.

With more breweries opening all the time they need every competitive advantage they can get. Hence the push by breweries to can.

I see over time beer in cans becoming more popular with perceptions changing. Similar to Jean-Michel in Paris preferring cans because of choices available to him.

As more breweries push to can so will their customer, if they still want to be able to drink their favourite beer. Cans over time become the norm with costs, beer stability and environmental impact being the brewers reason with the drinkers following.

These are my thoughts, taken from your comments, feedback and data. Then using my experience as a brewer, as well as speaking with people in the industry about where we are heading in brewing.

Am I right in my conclusions? What do you think and what’s your preference? Please feel free to send in your comments.

Article by:

Neil Playfoot

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a 25-year brewing veteran; who’s brewed around the world. From Bermuda to Armenia working on many brewhouse installation projects. He’s now based in China helping people realize their brewing projects and sourcing equipment there. Neil offers consulting services and publishes regular articles through his personal site the Asian Beer Network.

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