Supply chain problems ruin happy hour
When I first met David DeFazio, in 2014, he proudly presented Wyoming Whiskey, the state’s first bourbon since Prohibition. DeFazio and its partners took care not only of the liquid but also of its packaging, creating a personalized bottle with the company name stamped into the base of the glass, intended to look like something that might have existed a century ago. .
The company’s bottle has become so popular that some restaurants in Wyoming are reusing it as a water pitcher, but now they’ll have to find an alternative.
At the end of November, Wyoming Whiskey announced that it was temporarily changing its bottle to a more squatted, more generic form, without custom embossing, because its supplier was unable to fulfill orders. “We have suffered a windfall of demand thanks to Covid,” explains DeFazio. “We cannot lose this momentum. The two options were to find a bottle of stock or to take it out of stock.
Wyoming Whiskey is not alone. As shortages of glass and other materials continue, coupled with significant shipping delays and skyrocketing transportation costs, many spirits producers have been forced to find alternatives to their usual packaging.
Last year, the oldest licensed distillery in the United States, New Jersey-based Laird & Company, began using generic bottles for some of their legendary applejack and apple brandy. He added a neck tag to explain the brand’s different appearance.
In addition to making its own spirits, Laird’s provides contract bottling for other brands, many of which have their own shortages. “The US industry has always produced on a just-in-time manufacturing basis and with the Covid shutdowns it has never been able to catch up,” said company executive vice president Lisa Laird Dunn. She adds that large producers buy inventory, as well as whole days of production from glass manufacturers. “The little stills, it’s us who are really hurt because we don’t have that muscle,” she says.
But stills of all sizes are feeling the impact of glass shortages, according to Lisa Hawkins, senior vice president of public affairs at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). “Some distillers have had to find new suppliers or change the size of their glass bottles due to shortages,” she said, adding that such measures “often require changes in labels, closures and packaging.”
Some companies, like Heaven Hill, whose portfolio includes Evan Williams Bourbon, Deep Eddy Vodka, and Lunazul Tequila, have started allocating spirits and delaying releases to ensure continued, even limited availability. “We had to make some tough choices among the line extensions within a brand to determine which line extension we will bottle and ship on time given the glass supply,” says the vice president of the chain. supply from Heaven Hill, Cindy Mouser.
Pernod Ricard, which owns brands like Absolut Vodka, Jameson Irish Whiskey and Malibu Rum, has made efforts to keep its spirits on the shelves through concessions, such as canceling planned holiday gift boxes of glassware with a bottle, as well as the switch from personalized bottles to generic bottles when necessary. “It’s the difference between an empty retail shelf and a well-stocked shelf,” says Melissa Hanesworth, vice president of manufacturing in North America at Pernod Ricard.
Some distillers, however, are forced to make more difficult choices, including discontinuing products. Several liqueurs made by Leopold Bros. in Denver are packaged in beautiful green Calvados-style bottles from French producer Saverglass. When the pandemic began, Leopold Bros. anticipated potential shortages and ordered as many bottles as he could in advance, which kept things going until the end of 2021. But with a two-year delay on new orders, Leopold Bros. has now changed some liquors to taller clear glass bottles while completely removing other less popular flavors such as coffee and sour apple.
While not ideal, co-founder Todd Leopold admits the company was already considering some of these changes before the pandemic. “It made it a lot easier, and it certainly makes it easier to talk to your customers, because some are obviously disappointed and it’s like there is nothing we can do. “
As you might expect, along with the shortages, the costs of materials and shipping are rising, which are now showing up at checkout. Although Laird’s held on for as long as it could, the company raised the prices of some of its spirits. “We have no choice,” says Laird Dunn.
Spirit Works Distillery in Sonoma, Calif., Which temporarily switched from custom bottles to generic bottles in 2021 due to shipping delays, has seen spending skyrocket throughout its supply chain. “We haven’t changed our prices since the start” ten years ago, says co-founder Timo Marshall. “Literally every supply bill that passes my desk is increasing dramatically now, so we finally have to make decisions about what our pricing looks like in the future.”
Even in the most optimistic scenarios, the impact of shortages will last for months. DISCUS says it is unable to make predictions on when the stresses might ease. Wyoming Whiskey isn’t sure when it will be able to stock up on personalized glass, although it has an open order that is now over six months behind schedule. “We have no faith that we’ll see it anytime soon,” DeFazio says.
While Laird’s has been able to re-stock custom bottles, “it’s still a lifelong problem,” says Laird Dunn. “Nothing is set in stone until I actually have it in my warehouse. “