Supply chain crisis hits craft brewers

Australia’s craft beer industry has been slammed by the supply chain crisis, with brewers facing their toughest period yet during COVID-19.

“There have been a lot of challenges in the last two years, but I don’t think there’s anything like what we’re seeing now,” said Kylie Lethbridge, chief executive of the Independent Brewers Association, told

“We‘ve got an 8% overall market share, but we employ 50% of the industry, so we’re more labour intensive.

“So if you have half your workforce off, because they’re either isolating with COVID or have been a close contact, then that’s a massive challenge for meeting production schedules.”

Australia currently has about 625 independent craft breweries ranging from the largest — Young Henrys Brewing in Newtown, Sydney and Gage Roads Brewing Company in Fremantle, Western Australia — to microbreweries.

Lethbridge said some breweries had struggled to get ingredients for speciality beers, like fruit, while the industry had earlier suffered from an aluminium and pallet shortage. A brown glass shortage is also hitting beer production internationally.

The issues have affected brewers large and small.

Mexican beer Corona, imported by CUB, was suffering such major supply issues prior to Christmas that stores could only order a maximum of 20 cartons per week.

An internal memo from CUB said: “I have just been advised this morning that unfortunately CUB are having stock challenges on Corona. Up to last week they had felt that our stocks were fairly safe; however, they are facing some massive shipping challenges along with ongoing challenges at the Mexican brewery. CUB have now placed ALL customers nationally a maximum order limit on Corona.”

“To be clear, we are not facing shortages of VB, Carlton Draught, Great Northern, Carlton Dry, or Pure Blonde,” sales director Peter Bingeman said in a statement to Guardian Australia in December.

“Recently we had limited the sale of our most popular canned beer for a short time due to aluminium shortages, but those shortages have been successfully managed.”

Back in October, Lion was forced to shut down production of some lines due to the pallet shortage. The brewer decided to prioritise production of its best-selling beers, which meant a large number of its smaller pack SKUs were out of stock.

BWS stores across Australia were also forced put up signs explaining the retailer was “experiencing delivery delays on some products”, which resulted in a two-carton purchasing limit in store and online for some products.

“It’s a mess right now,” said associate professor Vinh Thai, who works in the department of supply chain and logistics at RMIT.

“My prediction is, best-case scenario, things will ease out a little bit in the later half of next year,” Thai said. “In a conservative scenario, I would look into 2023.”

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