Pittsburgh — Though the aluminum can supply shortage in the US has garnered attention since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, industry participants say demand and the need for additional can production capacity has been on the rise since before the pandemic.
"Can volume has been increasing for the past several years as beverage companies introduce new product categories and consumers shift to aluminum as a more sustainable beverage package," a spokesperson for Novelis told S&P Global Platts. "Our customers recognized this well before the global pandemic, and as such announced plans to invest in their capacity and are actively building the infrastructure to meet increasing demand."
Novelis, a leading producer of aluminum can sheet and other flat-rolled aluminum products for diverse end markets, said the pandemic has only accelerated capacity constraints as consumers drink more canned beverages at home.
The Aluminum Association said the recent surge in at-home beverage consumption comes at a time when beverage manufacturers have been increasingly switching from plastic to aluminum cans for environmental reasons.
"The one-two punch of the switch to aluminum and increased at-home consumption of beverages has made it challenging for can manufacturers to meet increased demand," the Aluminum Association said in a newsletter to members July 17. "Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, can manufacturers felt a crunch as they saw a switch from plastic to aluminum cans for still and sparkling water."
Crown Holdings CEO Timothy Donahue said the company already invested in capacity expansion projects in anticipation of increased North American market demand before the pandemic.
"Even without COVID, I think we would be capacity constrained as an industry," Donahue said during a call with investors July 21. "The market was always going to be oversold this year and we were always going to be trying to find cans to serve the US customers."
Donahue said Crown, a metal packaging producer with an emphasis on beverage cans, has been able to adequately supply the US market with beverage cans due to a downturn in Latin American demand during the pandemic, but recovering demand in Latin America could cause US supply issues in 2021.
US producer shipments of aluminum can stock for the domestic market in the second quarter rose 5.5% year on year to 912.5 million lb, according to the most recent data provided by the Aluminum Association.
In the first quarter, Aluminum Association data showed that US imports of aluminum can sheet reached 118.18 million lb compared with 71.59 million lb in Q1 2019, a 65% jump.