This year’s smaller-bottled spirits at AEppelTreow Winery and Distillery in Brighton will have a different look, but that’s not because the owners wanted a change.
Charles McGonegal, owner of the winery along with his wife Melissa, said he had to switch the bottle design out of necessity. “I don’t have a choice. It was this, or lose 20% of my revenue for a good chunk of the year,” McGonegal said.
The reason he switched was because his normal supplier was out of his typical 375 milliliter bottle design, an indirect result of sand shortages during the pandemic.
Toilet paper, now sand?
The unprecedented COVID-19 vaccine rollout has sucked up international supplies of sand, a key ingredient in creating the glass vials where vaccines can be stored. As such, vaccine production, along with how the coronavirus and Texas’ deadly winter storms affected supply lines, is creating an unexpected problem for wineries, distilleries and breweries: They can’t get glass bottles as easily as they could before.
Sand is a primary substance used to construct roads, bridges, trains, silicon chips, in land regeneration projects, and glass for windows, computer screens, smart phone screens and more.
There are less than 1,000 sand mines in the U.S., the London newspaper, Daily Mail, reported in March. That could hurt the construction industry, which uses up to 50 billion tons of sand a year. Since 2015, there’s been a global shortage of glass that’s only worsening as vials are needed for vaccine rollout. Experts say demand for glass vials will rise by 2 billion over the next two years.
Some brands have made moves to lessen their glass usage, such as Snapple Beverage Corporation, which has switched from glass bottles to 100% recycled plastic bottles that use 80% less packaging material.
McGonegal speculated his normal spirit bottle supplier, Imperial Packaging Corporation, based in Northbrook, Illinois, might be one of the distributors of vaccine bottles, hence the shortage of the bottles he needed.
Imperial Packaging Corporation declined to comment on this story.
McGonegal was told the 375 milliliter bottle design wouldn’t be available until at least August, he said.
That wasn’t going to be an option: “I need them now,” McGonegal said.
He panicked. He described the situation as “stunning” and a reaction he had was “Oh my God.”
“It was a day or two of great worry until we figured out plan B,” McGonegal said.
Luckily, his second supplier Waterloo Container, based in Waterloo, New York, came to his rescue. McGonegal had been using Waterloo as his primary distributor for wine and champagne bottles, but not spirit bottles.
Bobbi Stebbins, marketing director for Waterloo Container, said the company has so much stock inventory, it has been able to help customers like McGonegal.
“We are definitely reaping the benefits of that right now,” Stebbins said, noting customers from across the country as well as Canada have been reaching out to Waterloo with the same issues.
However, it hasn’t been the smoothest sailing. “With the national glass shortage, we are feeling the pain of that as well.”
Waterloo has seen delays in stock productions, and some products the company was expecting in March or April have been postponed until November, Stebbins said. The company was additionally told other products are not going to be made this year.
She speculated the glass shortage may have occurred as COVID caused more people to be home, leaving more small business spirit companies with more time to produce products. In addition, many factories were shut down for months during times of social distancing, which paused production. Some factories are still not operating at 100% employee capacity. February’s ice storms in Texas also played a role in the slowing of production, Stebbins said.
Waterloo has been offering customers the best product options possible, even if that may mean a similarly priced option with a slightly different design.
“That’s what makes us different,” Stebbins said. “We supply to small wineries, small distilleries and large, national brands. We try to treat them all the same. We’re well prepared to handle this type of crisis because we have so much stock available and ready to ship.”
The company has 97 different liquor bottle molds, but is out of some of them.
“We may not be able to provide the exact bottle that someone’s looking for, but we’re well situated to solve almost any packaging dilemma,” Stebbins said.
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