A question we hear a lot - both from customers in our tasting room and bars and restaurants now that we're distributing - is when we'll start packaging our cider. At the moment, we only sell our cider on draft to bars and restaurants, which limits the number of accounts we can have. We only sell growlers out of the tasting room, which have a pretty limited shelf life compared to buying a bottle or a can. So we get why a packaged cider is a good move.
As usual with running a business (and with most things in life), a lot more goes into this decision than meets the eye. Here's a breakdown of some of the decisions we have to make if we want to package our cider.
The Moving Parts:
- What format? Cans or bottles? What size? Six packs, four packs, or singles? Right now, at least in Indianapolis, the 'tallboy' 16 oz. cans are the most common package format for craft breweries, but we normally serve our cider in 12 oz. pours. A unique bottle shape may look sexy on the shelf, but distributors and liquor stores like to have the same footprint so that they can stack cases of different products efficiently. Lots of decisions to make and we've barely even scratched the surface.
- What equipment? Obviously, in order to can or bottle your cider, you need a canning or bottling line. You can buy a canning line for as little as $80,000 (great deal!), or go the mobile canning route if you're in an area that has one (Indianaplis has a few mobile canning options). If we pursued packaging, we have to consider that, unlike beer, cider needs to be Pasteurized after packaging so you don't get cans or bottles exploding on shelves. We would need to buy, borrow, or build a Pasteurizer, which would take time and money. And with every large equipment upgrade, you also need more hoses, clamps, fittings, valves, and on and on.
- What price point? Generally speaking, you want your cider to be priced within a dollar or two of the other products they sit next to on a liquor store shelf. So...where will liquor stores want to position our cider? If they want to place us next to Angry Orchard, we might have trouble, because we can't beat their price. If they want to put us next to a 750 mL bottle of French cider, ours might look like an inferior product if it isn't also in a 750 mL bottle. A higher price conveys a better product, but too high and people will be irritated if the cider isn't worth the extra few dollars, or they'll never pick it up.
- What design? You want your package to look good, represent your brand well, stand out in a lineup of dozens of other similar products, be inoffensive yet unique, and convey a lot of important information. Much like creating our logo, this is something we will definitely have to outsource. We can recognize what we like, but we don't know how to make it. So some lucky company will have the joy of translating our constantly-evolving yet highly specific design ideas into something that ticks all of the boxes.
- What regulations? One of my pet projects is talking about crazy governmental regulations that our business falls under. However we package our cider, there are literally four sets of differing regulations we'd have to adhere to. If it's under 7% and staying in the state, we have to follow FDA food labeling regulations. If it's over 7% and crossing state lines, we have to follow FDA and one subset of TTB regulations. So we have to know what regulations our cider will fall under, and then figure out what they even mean. Here is one of the regulations, put into common English instead of legal-speak:
So, if you're ever in the tasting room or run in to one of us at an event and say, "Hey, when are you guys going to start canning!", first, the answer is hopefully soon, and second, please forgive us if our eyes glaze over for a few minutes before we respond.