Oh Great—Now There's an Aluminum Can Shortage, Too

Americans are drinking at home more, and canned beverage companies are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

If you've been to a coffee shop or a fast food restaurant lately, you might've seen a freshly printed sign hanging on the cash register or underneath the drive-thru speaker, telling customers that they're only accepting exact change or credit card payments.

After enduring the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of the spring and early summer, we're now in the middle of a nationwide coin shortage. The Federal Reserve has recently announced the creation of a U.S. Coin Task Force (this undoubtedly sounds cooler than it is) in order to try to figure out how to handle pandemic-related coin shortages.

Opened soda cans.
Andy Kirby/Getty Images

"With establishments like retail shops, bank branches, transit authorities and laundromats closed, the typical places where coin enters our society have slowed or even stopped the normal circulation of coin," the Fed wrote in a statement.

That's bad news for anybody who wants to hit up a vending machine (retro!) or who's just found enough sofa change to score some White Claw for the weekend—although selections of canned beverages have started to decrease because we're dealing with an aluminum can shortage now, too.

Due to a combination of pandemic-related factors—including lockdowns, restaurant and bar closures, and the number of people who have been working from home—canned sodas, beers, and other drinks have become ridiculously popular, and neither can manufacturers nor the aluminum industry were prepared for this kind of sales surge.

“The aluminum beverage can manufacturing industry has seen unprecedented demand for this environmentally-friendly container prior to and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic," the Aluminum Association told USA Today earlier this week.

"Many new beverages are coming to market in cans and other long-standing can customers are moving away from plastic bottles due to ongoing environmental concerns around plastic pollution. Consumers also appear to be favoring the portability and storability cans as they spend more time at home.” (The Can Manufacturers Institute added that their industry was "working 24/7" in an attempt to meet the current demand for canned drinks.)

Both shoppers and grocery store managers have noticed that some of their go-to beverages have been increasingly hard to find. A buyer for the Pennsylvania-based Gerrity's Supermarket chain told the Citizens' Voice that Coca-Cola had temporarily stopped producing 12-packs of Minute Maid Light Lemonade, for example, so those cans could be used for best-sellers like Coca-Cola and Sprite.

Social media users have also expressed frustration about being unable to find more niche sodas. "Like many companies, we are seeing greater demand for products consumed at home, and we are taking measures to adapt to the demand," Coca-Cola tweeted to one disappointed shopper. "We are working closely with our customers and our suppliers to mitigate the challenge during this unprecedented time."

During an earnings call earlier this week, Pepsi CEO Ramon Laguarta confirmed that the company had "made some choices in [its] supply chain" to ensure that its top products would continue to be available. "We've discussed that with our partners, retail partners, and we both agreed that it's probably the best thing to do to eliminate the less... let's say, the smaller SKUs in the portfolio to maximize the best selling SKUs and be in-stock," he said.

Back in Pennsylvania, Gerrity's store manager added that distributors were finding it difficult to keep the most popular flavors of White Claw in stock, and the top-selling canned beers were in short supply too. Other supermarkets have started putting up signs to inform customers that some products could be temporarily unavailable due to the aluminum can shortage.

According to USA Today, some can manufacturers say that they will build "at least three new factories" by the end of next year, but that doesn't help anybody who wants a Cherry Coke Zero right this second. Guess it's time to rediscover the flavor (and the added danger) of whatever we can get in solid glass bottles… and whatever we can buy with a credit card.

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