By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Jan 26, 2016
Aluminum beverage containers
After a false start under a different corporate owner, ALeco bought out the concept for Evolution Bottles in 2011 under the leadership of Coors and his co-founder, Evan Watkins.
The company honed its production processes and delivered the first shipment of digitally printed aluminum bottles to Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville, West Virginia, in early 2014.
"It took off amazingly well," says Coors. "We were spot-on with the concept targeting the micros."
While Anheuser-Busch first brought aluminum bottles to the mass market in 2005, the craft sector wasn't able to match the volumes of the multinational breweries, and the premium price of about $2 a bottle made it difficult for ALeco to pursue the strategy.
It follows that the company wasn't able to make the numbers work for the larger craft breweries that saw growth with the bottles. "They quickly outgrew us," he says. "We were kind of drowning in our own success."
ALeco pivoted in late 2015 and "did an Alt-Control-Delete," says Coors. The company discontinued its 12- and 16-ounce bottles in favor of a higher-margin 750-milliliter aluminum product for spirits and wines -- featuring screw tops or crownable corks -- and an aluminum 22-ouncer for craft breweries. The company is also developing a "Grolsch-type," flip-top aluminum bottle, says Coors.
While ALeco just started marketing the 750-mL bottle, Coors says, "We're very encouraged. Nobody has ever produced and aluminum spirits bottle that we know of. It's not on anybody's radar because it's never been available."
Product differentiation is the key feature, he adds. "Everybody's looking for a way to stand out on the shelves."
The eco-friendliness of aluminum is another selling point. So are the minimums -- essentially one. "That's where we really shine," says Coors. "I can change graphics on the fly."
ALeco's full-color, CMYK printing process involves a $200 setup fee, then there are minimal volume discounts. "To do a big run isn't necessarily saving us any money."
But the company still has to fight a consumer hesitancy that dates back to the tin can. "It's a perception thing," says Coors. "The lining is just as good as glass."
Aluminum runs in the family blood. Coors Brewing pioneered the aluminum can when it introduced it in 1959, and Scott's father, Bill Coors, was at the forefront of the push. "My dad is credited with the commercialization of the aluminum can," Scott says.
The 3,500-square foot ALeco facility was built to fill a niche, he adds: "It's tiny and it's the only thing like it." The size and laser focus on craft helps keep the company "off the radar of Ball," says Coors. "We don't want Ball to consider us a competitor. We want to dovetail into Ball, not compete with them."
Favorite beers: Coors is partial to porters and stouts, and names Left Hand Milk Stout as a go-to dark. ALeco's neighbor, Odyssey Beerwerks, is a hangout for ALeco employees. "We love going over there," he says.
But he's also true to his name. He has lunch with his 99-year-old father on a weekly basis, and they always order two Coors Banquets. "My dad and I share one over lunch every Thursday."
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge is getting operational efficiencies improved so the line is operating continuously and reducing our scrap," says Coors.
Shipping is another challenge. "If it's a less dense load, they charge you more," he explains.
Opportunities: Growth in "higher-end beverage products," says Coors, whether it's spirits, beers, or wines.
Needs: Capital. "We're in the market for investors to build a larger line and help get the price down," says Coors.
"Second is building awareness of who we are and what our capabilities are," he adds. "We're playing in a world that's not used to having aluminum as an alternative. "