By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 22, 2021 at 10:30 AM

Craft Beverage Warehouse, a Milwaukee‐based beverage packaging distributor founded by Kyle Stephens and Michael DeGrave, has announced that it will build on its investment in Milwaukee’s Century City Business Park, where it opened 18 months ago.

The project, which required CBW to double its footprint at the North Side site, will bring digital print-to-aluminum technology, helping to make the craft beer and other beverage sectors more eco friendly.

Details on the specific equipment will be announced at a later date, says Stephens.

“Our goal is to make beverage packaging more sustainable among small to mid-sized beverage producers,” Stephens says. “In many cases, based on the small quantities of these orders, their only options are either pressure sensitive (sticker) labels or plastic shrink sleeves.

“We will be an alternative option. Our pricing model will be competitive with plastic shrink sleeve labels from day one and we hope to be able to win on price as we scale.”

As I noted in this post earlier in the year, sticker labels and plastic shrink sleeves must be removed from cans or the containers are not recyclable.

Stephens says that while CBW has customers in soda, canned cocktail, wine and, “a variety of new health-conscious non-alcoholic beverage brands,” the majority of the company’s business comes from the craft beer market.

It has customers in 49 states and Canada.

Craft brewers typically use sticker labels and plastic sleeves because many beverage can manufacturers require minimum orders that are much larger than craft brewers can handle in terms of cost and storage.

Recently, Ball Canning, the nation’s largest can manufacturer upped its minimum orders even more.

“Our plan is to allow for minimum orders of a half pallet (several thousand cans) for beverage producers and potentially as few as two hundred cans for special events,” Stephens says. “Because this is digital printing technology, we will conceivably be able to print an order of as little as one can without losing much efficiency.”

The market for cans has been under pressure lately as many breweries shift to cans, which are believed to be better containers for beer and because of shortages of glass bottles.

In 2020, can shortages also affected brewers of all sizes, but especially in the craft sector. Stephens says that’s expected to continue.

“Industry publications have projected that can shortages will likely remain an issue through at least 2025 due to pandemic pressures, supply chain issues and more beverages moving to aluminum cans,” he says. “Can manufacturers are taking steps to mitigate problems with efficiencies, such as increasing minimum order quantities.

“We are less affected by such increases due to our ability to order millions of bland (brite) cans, then print on them. We've also developed a multi-tiered supplier network and invested additional working capital in holding an inventory buffer.”

The company’s Century City facility has grown from 9,000 square feet to 18,000 square feet to accommodate the new technology and CBW expects to hire 5 to 10 new employees in the next year.

“We're very happy with the Century City Business Park and all of the support the City of Milwaukee and surrounding neighborhoods have provided,” says Stephens. “We are partnering with community organizations to the the majority of our hiring in 2022. The hope is that many of these jobs will be the best kind – that our employees can walk to.

“This real estate project is going to be lead by entrepreneurs and small businesses, but at some point the business park will need a larger organization to move in to really give it the 'jolt' in the right direction.”

He says being located in the same business park as one of his customers is also a benefit.

“There are definitely synergies to having businesses in the same industry so close,” Stephens says. “Good City is a customer of ours, which helps them control inventory levels. I drive the forklift across the parking lot to deliver their goods just in time, and just in time is pretty much unheard of right now.

“There could be similar synergies and scale-of-purchasing power if more beer or beverage tenants move to the area. I'm most excited about any food and beverage or packaging companies moving to the Century City Business Park because there are other fun ways we can collaborate ... and I just love to learn about their projects.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.