Interview with the UK’s first mobile canning companies: Part 1

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The independent canned beer market is growing rapidly in the UK, so we thought the time was right to speak to two of the market’s facilitators: WeCan Solutions (launched Dec 2014 ) and ThemThatCan (launched Q1 2015). Both companies offer affordable, short run mobile canning lines to brewers in the UK, something that was unheard of just twelve months ago.

There was somuch we wanted to ask each of them, so first of all, we turned our interviewing mic to Andy Hughes, founder of WeCan Solutions

You were the very first mobile canning line to start in the UK, why did you decide to go into canning and, more specifically, why mobile canning?
Through experience in the industry we saw how the growth in the independent breweries could be supported by low volume canning facilities. Mobile seemed to make so much sense and had a range of environmental benefits (it’s much easier to move the equipment to the beer!!) but it also meant that passionate brewers could retain control over their product.

What was your first indication that a canned beer revolution was on its way (or under way)?
We work with a team of advisors. Together we visited a range of breweries along with wholesalers, retailers and beer drinkers. It was very evident that there was demand for ‘craft’ beer in cans – the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

What kind of reception have you had so far?
It’s been crazy! Breweries are selling the cans as fast as we can make them. The feedback from the head brewers is so positive and repeat orders have exceeded expectations

Have you had to dispel some myths in order to gain business? What and how?
Surprisingly less than we thought. We see the ‘craft’ canned beer drinker as someone who is very willing to try something new without pre-judging. The question that we thought we’d face was whether the beer would be tainted by the can – it seems like most people know that this is simply not an issue and the question is rarely asked.

Do you have to be a large brewer to get into cans?
Well, we canned for a local producer recently and filled 700 cans – that’s surely a world 1st for the smallest ever contract canning… Seriously though, our minimum order is usually 10 barrels. We can print direct to can for 50,000 (and that’s a yearly commitment so these don’t need to be filed all at once). It’s not even 10 barrels of the same beer. We can visit and fill 5 barrels of each product.

We have also had some recent success with canned conditioned beer. As we don’t need to cold fill, for can-conditioned beer our minimum volumes go down to just 800 litres. This makes canning an option for the smallest of breweries.

How has your business developed?
We have exciting news to announce shortly. Until then, what I can say is that we have grown rapidly and are now responsible for filling 80% of craft brewers new to the canned beer market in the UK. We have also developed a condition capacity where we accept ‘rough beer’ condition, filter and carbonate prior to canning.

Do you see opportunities in the CSD market and, if so, where?
This is another area where we have developed. We have had many enquiries and have joined up with a Soft Drinks company to provide a mixing and canning service for Soft Drinks.

Why would a brewer choose to mobile can rather than contract can? What’s the difference?
The main one is the small volumes that mobile canning can manage. This means special / one-off brews can also be canned. The brewer sees exactly what’s going on and there is less wastage (<1%) meaning more cans can be produced for sale. There is also less time spent moving beer and ‘doing admin’ than in traditional contract canning. Moving beer twice seems like such an odd thing to do now, with mobile canning we travel to the beer – it just makes sense.

What are the benefits? E.g. what kind of things can you help with?
There are three key things I believe:

  • Brewers retain control over their product.
  • Labelling solutions are really incredible – designers are having a field day at the moment and we’re seeing some incredible designs
  • Removing the hassle: Mobile canning takes away so much trouble from breweries. Micro-canning is much more than simply buying a canning line. We take ownership of all of the issues meaning that brewers only have to book a date. No breakdowns, poor seam quality, storage issues, administration / duty issues, training, spare parts – the list is endless, and we take all of this hassle allowing breweries to focus on what they do well.

As other canners enter the market – will you have a USP?
Absolutely: experience and quality. Brewers need confidence in the way people handle their beer and we give them that.
Mobile canning is not easy. We may not always be the only operational mobile canning unit in the UK but we will always be the most experienced. One thing that the micro-canners need to understand is that this emerging market cannot be compromised by poor quality. This is why we have invested heavily in equipment and training to ensure excellent quality at all times.

Are you noticing any trends in the market?
Labelling is the big one – this has really taken on a life of its own. Some the labels we are seeing are fantastic and I think this will develop even more. We are also seeing more canned conditioned beers as mentioned earlier.

Anything to add?
We have just launched the CraftCanDirectory.com – a directory of all of the craft canned beers in the UK. As part of this we will review beers, offer a beer club (cans only), personalised labels and a shop – all dedicated to the craft canned beer in the UK.

How can brewers find out more?
They can visit http://www.wecan.solutions/  or email andy@wecan.solutions

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