Charlotte’s craft breweries are tapping into bigger retail market

Charlotte’s craft breweries are tapping into bigger retail market
(MELISSA KEY/CBJ)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte’s craft breweries have found a lifeline in canned beer as COVID-19 has disrupted and transformed their operations.

That’s critical as draft sales dried up in mid-March, when North Carolina shuttered taprooms and forced restaurants to close dine-in service. Breweries had to get creative — and remain so — as a phased reopening has limited capacity to 50%.

Some were well-positioned with canned product already on grocery store shelves; others scrambled to revamp business models built around draft sales, lining up mobile canning operations and seeking alternate outlets for their brews. Curbside pickup and delivery became another avenue to get craft beer into consumers’ hands.

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“It is a lower-margin business for brewers, but it’s been a lifeline,” says Bart Watson, chief economist with the Colorado-based Brewers Association, a national trade group for independent brewers.

The bottom line at many smaller breweries relies on those higher-margin taproom sales and distribution of kegged product. He notes revenue is as much as four times higher for those types of sales versus canned product.

“It really depends on the brewery, their finances, their debt levels and how much they are able to pivot,” Watson says.

Read this week’s CBJ cover story for an inside look at how local breweries are managing the shift.

Cooper: Alcohol sales at N.C. restaurants ending at 11 p.m.