Keeping everyone happy

Profiles in brew: Keith Atkins of 5280PKG

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Sampler/mixed packs
5280PKG

We take on everybody,” Keith Atkins, operations and logistics manager of 5280PKG says. “If a customer needs us to mix 50 cases … no problem. We’ll bring ’em in and get ’em out.”

Atkins doesn’t brew beer or package it, but if you’ve ever picked up a mixed pack of beer from Upslope Brewing Company, Wibby Brewing, Finkel & Garf Brewing Co., or plenty more, then you’ve enjoyed his handiwork. His company is the one that takes the packaged beer from each brewery, breaks it down, parcels it out into the sampler packs, and sends it out for distribution to grocery and liquor stores. And 5280PKG does it fast. As Atkins puts it: “It comes in cold, goes back out cold.”

Atkins’ business is bumping. While the coronavirus pandemic has effectively cut on-premise consumption at bars and breweries off at the knees, it’s made an entire industry pivot overnight to packaging and distribution. That’s put 5280PKG in a unique position as it sells aluminum cans, glass bottles, boxes, trays and carriers (six- and four-packs) for breweries, soda and kombucha companies.

And though the pandemic’s reach has affected just about everyone and everything, beer has been hit in a particularly vulnerable spot. One of the brewing industry’s hallmarks revolves around brewers brewing myriad beers in hopes of engaging drinkers of all types. That’s where the sampler comes in, a bridge between at-home consumption and the brewery experience of trying four different beers. According to Atkins, 90% of every sampler box you see at the store is mixed by hand.

“We have a group of about 20 employees that work with us doing the mixed boxes,” Atkins says. “We’re a family business.”

Atkins started doing mixing packs for Breckenridge Brewery 15 years ago. His competitor at the time, Tim Roberts, was playing in the same sandbox — Roberts’ emphasis was cardboard — and they often found themselves calling on the same customers.

“We struck up a good relationship,” Atkins says with a chuckle. “I was buying from Tim at one point. He was buying with me. We, eventually, came together.”

Located at 11333 E. 55th Ave. in Denver, Atkins and Roberts formed 5280PKG in 2015, back when almost everyone was packaging in glass bottles. Then, two years ago, the industry changed overnight.

“Across the whole country, everyone hit the switch and went from bottles to cans,” Atkins says. “That created, as you can imagine, a major headache for the can manufacturers, because they couldn’t produce fast enough. So there were some people who were left out of getting cans, and there’s still some people that are finding it very difficult to get cans.”

Especially since breweries that never before considered packaging beer have had little choice in hopes of supplementing the loss from on-premise sales — the increase in demand has exceeded aluminum can manufacture supplies, causing companies like Ball to explore new avenues in search of more raw materials. In the meantime: “Our crews have been going strong, following all the guidelines, and just doing what we have to do to take care of our customers,” Atkins says. He loves working with the brewing industry — “It’s hard to meet an unhappy brewer.” And if Atkins can keep the brewery owners happy, then the beer drinker will stay happy too.