September 11-15, 2017
Category: Plant / Production

Cans on Wheels

Borrowing a page from the wine industry, a new crop of mobile canning companies has appeared on the scene in recent months. Their mission: to provide smaller craft brewers a turnkey canning solution.

The trend comes at a time when there are more than 2,000 craft breweries in the United States, with more than 1,200 in the planning stages. For many of these new brewers, it does not yet make sense to invest in a canning line of their own. So some are turning to the likes of the San Francisco area-based The Can Van, or the Longmont, Colo.-based MobileCanning.

The service these companies provide is similar to what has been available to wineries for quite some time. Explains Roger Walz, beer ambassador for Wild Goose Engineering, the Boulder, Colo. firm that built the mobile canning lines for these two companies:  “A lot of vineyards aren’t big enough to purchase an actual bottling line, so there are semis that drive around vineyards whether it be in Oregon or northern California, etc. and they’ll stay sometimes for a week and just bottle the amount of wine that needs to be bottled.”

The Can Van started as a school project in San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School. “It came out of a desire to help small business and the small craft brewing industry,” says Lindsey Herrema, COO, The Can Van. “We’re home brewers and have been avid connoisseurs of local small-batch beer and wanted to do something to help local businesses and when we started interviewing breweries it was such a welcoming community. They were all so eager to help us out and share tips and things like that.”

The Can Van’s canning line is taken via a trailer to the breweries where it is then rolled right into the brewery in order to get as close to the brite tank as possible to better control temperature, foaming and other variables. 

The company charges by the case, providing the brewers with case boxes, the cans and the ends. The cans are then topped off with PakTech four and six-pack carriers.

“One of the problems we identified really early on with small breweries was the large minimum orders of pre-printed cans,” says Herrema. “So we have some storage space and purchased blank cans. And we use a small pressure sensitive label applicator so we’re getting labels made with the brewery’s individual branding.”

She continues, “I think our customers most like how hands-off they can be with it and they don’t have to bother about manpower to run the equipment, a place to put it, knowing how to work it, all of that.”

Pat Hartman founded MobileCanning in Colorado with his partner Ron Popma. They currently can for nine breweries in Colorado, including Boulder Beer Co., Crabtree Brewery, Bonfire Brewing and Renegade Brewing, 

“We’re truly mobile,” he says. “We have a box truck and we pull all the equipment off the truck into the brewery. We install the line right there at the brewery and we can until we’ve reached our numbers and then we pack everything up and move on down the road to the next place.”

Currently, they are utilizing a two head filler from Wild Goose that can run about a case a minute. They plan to upgrade to a four head to get into the 36 to 40 cans per minute range.

“We come with our crew that handles pretty much the canning line, making sure the cans are sanitized as we begin to fill them. The brewery staff often works on labeling and also on packaging,” he says.

For most of his customers the appeal is the amount of money they can save. “Some of these smaller breweries are only maybe producing 200 to 1,000 barrels a year, so for them to purchase a canning line, put up the capital outlay and maybe only can once a month, maybe only can once every other week—it’s an idle piece of asset just sitting there, sitting on their books that they’re not taking advantage of,” he says. 

Like The Can Van, MobileCanning can supply the cans as well. “When you’re looking at ordering printed cans you can be looking at 200,000 at a time, a truckload basically. So we can get a lot less minimums and the storage for the sleeves is just a couple of boxes on your shelf,” he says.

With so many new craft breweries opening, it could be that MobileCanning and The Can Van will be traveling a profitable road for some time to come.  

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