Tuatara’s move to cans for all their packaged beer, along with a rationalisation of their core six-pack offering, is a good indicator of where the craft beer market is headed.

Tuatara dabbled in cans last year but finally took the full aluminum plunge in August — and it’s a big move for a brand that had a lot of its identity wrapped up in the bespoke ribbed bottles designed to look and feel like a tuatara’s skin (not that I’ve ever touched a tuatara, but you know what I mean).

To cut those bottles out of the equation wouldn’t have been an easy decision, but given the brand is ultimately owned by Heineken, you also know they have a lot of data on consumer habits.

“The iconic Tuatara bottle has been part of brand identity and something we wanted to hold on to,” says Sam Forrest, senior marketing manager for DB’s domestic brands, “but consumer demand for cans has grown and grown to the point where it was no longer worth putting the beer in bottles.”

Forrest says 70% of all “boutique” craft is in cans. “And cans are growing at double digits and bottle products are in decline to the point where it was a disadvantage to be in bottles compared to our competitors.”

Plus, the bespoke Tuatara bottles were heavy compared with normal bottles and cans are 17 times lighter.

In re-skinning the range, Tuatara have also streamlined their six-pack offering to just five beers — all of them hoppy, three of them hazy — and a mixed six featuring the same beers. Their well-loved APA is keg-only.

Tuatara’s Regenerate Pilsner won a gold medal at the 2023 NZ Beer awards

It doesn’t mean that’s all Tuatara will brew, with Forrest saying they will continue to experiment with on-premise releases, some of which, if successful, will find their way into 440ml cans.

But it begs the question: is this the future of supermarket shelves — an wall of hop-driven six-packs sitting with a scattering of novel 440ml cans?

(Well at least that will be the case in New World and PakN’Save supermarkets, the preferred destination of good beer shoppers. Countdown don’t have the capability to rotate 440ml cans like their rivals so you won’t find new products there at all.)

Forrest says, again, that’s where the market is taking them. “There’s a macro-trend globally, across the whole alcohol category, to fruit-forward offerings.”

In beer, fruit-forward equals hazy and that’s what’s bringing people into craft.

Forrest notes that young consumers coming into beer don’t have to “learn to appreciate” the taste of beer and go through the journey that older consumers did. “When you have so much choice outside of beer now it’s the easier-drinking styles that bring people into beer.”

While you can fit more cans on a shelf, the shelf space is still finite and it’s inevitable that well-priced six-packs (around $25) will dominate the available space — or rather, both brewers and retailers only want to put out what they know will sell, and in high-volume buys that comes down to two things: price and hoppiness.

“The proliferation of brands and products means space is limited. We are trying to consolidate our six pack to those styles we know will drive higher volume and free us up to drive more innovation in on-premise and the 440ml single can format.”

So will shelves be totally owned by “big” craft brands that can make that price? The likes of Garage Project, Tuatara, Panhead, Emersons, Parrotdog, Behemoth, Cassels, Good George…?

“I hope not,” says Forrest. “Competition is good but we are seeing craft reach maturity and market share has levelled out at around 20 per cent. There will likely be some consolidation of styles and formats, like the six-pack range.

“Craft in New Zealand, despite the recent cost increases, is in a really health place and you will see Innovation and interest coming on-premise and in the 440ml can format.”

Another intriguing fact about Tuatara’s retail offering is they don’t have a lager or pale ale in their core range. One of the reasons for that is that DB has Monteith’s for those styles, which are regarded as “an entry point into craft” and the hope is new-to-craft consumers will start with something like Monteith’s Tight Lines Pale Ale and progress to something from Tuatara.

“We look at how we use both Monteith’s and Tuatara together in a portfolio to meet the needs and taste profiles within craft. Pale ale and lager are more entry point which Monteith’s can fulfil and as they progress through and want more flavour and variety, we offer that through Tuatara.”