By: Gerald Dlubala
The canned and ready-to-drink beverage markets have shown to be the current lifeblood for many craft producers. More mobile canners are adapting to their needs, helping them get their product to market without the expense of purchasing a canning line. But what is mobile canning all about? What should you look for in a mobile canning service? What should you expect when a mobile canning service comes through your door? And how do you choose?
Invest In Your Product
“Mobile canning is an investment, and like any investment, when you decide to jump into it, it’s best to go with experience and expertise,” said John Culp, owner of Beer Dudes Mobile Canning. “Canning lines are costly. They can run you $150,000, and if a brewer or distiller is only using their canning line on a minimal basis, they are wasting way too much of both their product and their overall resources. We believe that the cutoff, or magic production number, for actually benefitting from owning a canning line is right around the 2,000 cases a month mark. If you’re seeing this kind of production on a year-round basis, then you might look into taking ownership of a canning line. Otherwise, it’s better to put your resources and capital into buying more tanks and increasing capacity. Do more of what you do best, and we’ll get it canned for you.”
Beer Dudes Mobile Canning is a full-service mobile canning company offering expertise and experience in on-site canning of carbonated and non-carbonated products, including beer, wine, spirits, sports drinks, energy drinks and seltzers. They currently offer two complete Wild Goose canning lines with SKA Fab depalletizers and a third line in the works. The canning lines are contained and transported in box trucks or trailers equipped with ramps or rail gates that eliminate the need for a brewery or distillery to have a loading dock.
“As a mobile canner, we’ve got a history of filling over 10 million cans, so we have the experience and expertise. We do it daily, consistently metering key elements like dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide while monitoring and performing can seaming inspections and adhering to regular maintenance of our quality machinery with parts on hand to repair them if needed,” said Culp. “There really is no difference in our service when canning different types of beverages. We use the same canning lines but with different parts. Part of the benefit of partnering with Beer Dudes Mobile Canning service is that we have a lot of money and expertise tied up in the unique parts, changeover equipment and specialized tools necessary for different canning services and needed changeovers. Our employees can react quickly and confidently to any situation that arises while the average craft brewer or distiller likely wouldn’t have the resources to do so. We have everything at hand ready to use, including premium printers.”
Culp told Beverage Master Magazine that the canning systems are assembled on-site, usually taking about an hour. The client should provide two 110v GFCI power sources for the depalletizing, canning and seaming equipment, and possibly an air source if needed with at least 90psi and 15cfm. They do have helper compressors available or can bring a complete system when necessary, and that would require a 230v 15- or 20-amp service.
“Give us a 10- by 26-foot space to operate in, and we’re in business,” said Culp. “Our employees depalletize and feed the cans while the client company supplies the necessary personnel (usually 2 or 3 workers) to handle the product post-filling. They can expect an average rate of 40 to 44 cases per minute stacked on 80 to 100 case pallets.”
Beer Dudes charges a daily rate based on an eight-hour workday and consists of a one-hour setup and sanitization, six-hours of run time, and then another final hour of cleanup and breakdown. Pricing is a tier-based cost system, with lower rates as the amount of product to can rises.
“As part of our service, we can provide anything that relates to the distributor, vendor or marketing function,” said Culp. “Our resources run the gamut and feature anything related that the producer would need, including the cans and ends, sleeves, the ability to do white labeling, etc. We have the expertise and ability to can from brite tank or keg and offer nitro dosing for nitro brews or wine filling.”
Culp said that Beer Dudes always tries to help out the brewers that call in with an emergency, but it can be challenging because of many factors, including the can shortages that have affected the industry. While they have the necessary cans for their recurring customers, it can sometimes take six to eight weeks to source cans for a new customer.
“The best way to combat that situation is for beverage producers to consistently plan ahead,” said Culp. “We generally look for lead times of four weeks, but those lead times are inherently dependent on the specific customer’s needs. We always recommend that a brewer or distiller adhere to a canning schedule and then regularly get on our calendar so that they always have a set appointment.
Another issue is getting the client’s artwork ahead of time. We can offer guidance and consult, but the initial artwork requires Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade approval. It’s also helpful if the brewer adheres to our recommendations regarding temperature and carbonation levels for their products. By following these recommendations, we can immediately limit the amount of waste and product loss and get to canning faster.
“The bottom line is we’re in the business of supporting craft beverage producers,” said Culp. “We help them remain effective and competitive while getting their product out to market. A trend under current market conditions is for some craft brewers and distillers to operate within a smaller footprint, so we will soon offer a smaller canning unit that will be able to roll right through their standard front door. Other producers may have the resources and capability to produce a great product, but they don’t have the equipment or knowledge as to how to get those products packaged and ready for market. Beer Dudes is, like most mobile canning businesses, a regionally based operation, but will soon be adding the title of regional co-packer to their business as well.”
Beer Dudes already holds all the licensing needed to be considered a manufacturing winery, distillery and brewery. Customers will soon be able to manufacture their beverage and then can it right at their co-packing facility in Denton, Texas. With the exception of transporting craft beer because of Texas law, they can transport a client’s beverages to their facility to be canned, or buy larger quantities of product, like wine, from a larger producer for the purpose of packaging and selling it in smaller quantities or lots under different labels.
Choose Knowledge And Experience
Before Sean Kingston started WilCraft Can, a provider of mobile canning solutions for the brewing and distilling industries, he amassed 13 years of chemical and aerosol engineering experience at SC Johnson. He fully understands the process of maintaining quality regarding the liquid filling of pressurized products. He and his like-minded team bring that critical engineering mentality and knowledge to WilCraft Can.
“Look, canning lines aren’t cheap, so a craft brewer needs to ask themselves a few questions and then answer honestly,” said Kingston, owner and Chief Operating Officer of WilCraft Can. “Are you consistently canning at least 1000 cases a week? Can you afford the valuable floor space you’ll be giving up to a permanent canning line? Can you afford the training and retraining of employees to stay up to date and remain efficient with the canning line and potential maintenance issues? What tasks aren’t getting done because your employees are busy canning your product.”
“As a brewer or distiller, your first and foremost task is to produce the best product you can,” said Kingston. “If you’re ready to expand, then use any available extra resources to expand production rather than jump into the packaging business. Do more of what you do best, and we’ll use our expertise to complement that with our seamless process to can and package your product to your specifications, even down to specific carbonations levels. We can suggest temperature levels, but your beer is your beer, and we’ll adjust our equipment to keep it that way.”
WilCraft Can willingly works with any contact and supplier you prefer. Still, their experienced team comes prepared with all of the quality contacts needed for filling and packaging your product, including the availability of quality aluminum cans.
“All we really need to know is the size of can you need and two to three weeks advance notice of the artwork you want on your cans, and we can do the rest,” said Kingston. “The producer supplies one or two people along with a three-phase power supply, compressed air and a CO2 supply and space for us to set up. We use premier Codi Counter Pressure Fillers, SKA Fab depalletizers and pressure-sensitive labelers to produce a fresh, consistent and customer appreciated canned product, all essential qualities for a craft beverage producer.”
Kingston believes that by using a mobile canning business, beverage producers can see how their business is doing regarding base profitability and best-selling products. They can then make adjustments and decisions to grow their business better.
“Packaging and canning expertise is even more critical in today’s market conditions,” said Kingston. “Craft producers should always look for credentialed quality and exceptional customer service in a mobile canner. It can be easy for mobile canners to get grouped into the inexperienced market category, but we at WilCraft Can have years of packaging and canning experience behind us. That experience allows us to fill a critical need in the craft beverage market by offering a well-informed and knowledgeable mobile canning business. We understand the entire process, start to finish. If a canner doesn’t ask you what the final gravity of your product is or make accommodations for variances in cans and can manufacturers that affect target fill weight, you may want to look elsewhere.”
“Additionally, quality customer service is always crucial,” said Kingston. “Delivering on a promise is critical, and we do what we say we’re going to do. We respond to emergencies as best as we can, and our record of nearly 400 runs without a miss is something we are extremely proud of. On that same note, brewers can help themselves out by thinking ahead and planning at least four weeks in advance. They know that they’re going to have to can their product, so plan ahead and guarantee the time and necessary resources.”
Kingston told Beverage Master Magazine that he believes that the specific guidelines and benchmarks for manufacturing set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology will eventually be coming to mobile canning.
“WilCraft Can is already prepared for that move. We have them implemented and adhere to them daily, including critical documentation practices. The saying goes that if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen, so continuous documenting of specific practices is mandatory.”
WilCraft Can stays focused on the canning process with an eye on supply and keeping adequate inventory. They pride themselves on reacting to the marketplace with confidence in having an adequate supply of materials to meet their customer’s needs. They also have a growth plan of supplying cans at minimums far below current market demands that they will directly print on, eliminating the need to use sleeves or labels.