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Business

For companies that rely on bottles, the glass right now is half-empty

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Gino Fanelli/CITY
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FIZ co-owner Joe Petix.

Visit local bars, restaurants, and coffee shops and you’re likely to find Katboocha’s distinctive, cylindrical bottles of fermented tea. At least for now.

Katboocha is one of many local businesses feeling the squeeze of a global shortage in glass bottles and jars.

“My business is stuck, and our wholesale business, which is pretty much exclusively bottles, had come roaring back” from the pandemic, said Katboocha owner Katarina Schwarz. “To be out of them is a dangerous situation.”

Schwarz said her supplier, Chicago-based Berlin Packaging, began scaling back production last summer, and that its next shipment to Katboocha isn’t due until next year. Even then, she said, she’s been told not to get her hopes up.

To compensate, Schwarz partnered with Buffalo’s Bootleg Bucha for bottling, though the containers will be different. She also renewed her calls on social media for customers to return their bottles for recycling to her Boocha Bar on Railroad Street.

She had always done that, but said the need for Katboocha drinkers to heed her call is more pressing than ever.

“When I made my last order from my distributor, she told me I may have an issue come October, so this is a little sooner than I expected,” Schwarz said. “It was kind of a shock that it was absolutely no bottles.”

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Credit Gino Fanelli/CITY
Katarina Schwarz of Katboocha pours a cup of pine needle kombucha.

Katboocha is not alone. Around the world and across industries, the supply of glass bottles has been stifled, hitting businesses both large and small.

The shortage is so acute that Anheuser-Busch this month has reportedly begun packaging more Budweiser in cans. News outlets from around the world have reported similar shortages in glass containers, from blood vials to liquor bottles.

“It’s a crapshoot, really,” Joe Petix, the co-owner of College Club Beverages, which makes the popular local soft drink, FIZ, said of procuring glass bottles.

On Tuesday morning, Petix was busy on the warehouse floor, loading FIZ into the car trunks of customers who had come to his operation on Grape Street looking for a fill-up of the company’s vibrant-colored pop in clear bottles. The company is to celebrate its centennial anniversary next year.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that the supplies come through, or we better start looking at other places for glass,” Petix said.

The pandemic has caused global shortages in all kinds of materials, but Paul Guglielmo, owner of Guglielmo Sauce, said he cannot seem to pinpoint the root cause of the problem.

“I ask the question every single time they call me and tell me the prices are going up or a certain bottle is unavailable,” Guglielmo said. “Some people blame freight, some people blame a labor shortage, some people blame other suppliers.”

Guglielmo said it isn’t just glass jars he’s having a hard time getting. He said he was told he would have to wait until March for a new shipment of jar lids. Everything he needs to run his business, he said, is either in short supply, commanding higher prices, or both.

“We have about 100 different ingredients we use in all of the different sauces we make, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s got to be 70-80 percent of them are higher than they were a year ago,” Guglielmo said.

Reluctant to raise prices on his product, Guglielmo said he has absorbed most of the additional costs to date. Like glass though, everything has a breaking point.

“I think if we get to 2022 and things are still the same, we’re going to have to start taking a real hard look around,” Guglielmo said.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.