Creative Economy

As the market grows mobile canners help get small batches to consumers

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As the market grows mobile canners help get small batches to consumers

It seems like everyone is making their own beer these days, but not all of the producers have access to the the kind of expensive machinery required to package and sell their small batch products. That’s where ‘mobile canneries’ come in, and they’re growing with the industry. Just call a local a traveling canning operation, they pull up to your door and voila your beer is being pumped into hundreds of of cans. Tim Dorward, owner of the Mobile Can Man, based out of Trumansburg, just north of Ithaca reaches all corners of New York State. “We cover east to west, north to south.” Dorward says. From the Paradox Brewery in Lake George to the Woodcock Brothers Brewery just north of Buffalo–and all the places in between. These microbreweries are growing fast and the canners need to keep up with the demand of their services.

“We’re definitely on the upswing with the industry,” Dorward said. Craft beverages in general (not just beer, but cider too) have helped increase work orders in the new assumingly lucrative mobile canning racket. As for business, Dorward seems to be enjoying the recent trend–“It’s been great. In 2014 we started taking deliveries and it was slow. Last year in 2016, we did over 1 million cans.”

According to the Brewer’s Association, as of 2016, “There are now 5,005 breweries in the US compared to 10,000 wineries. Almost all of these breweries are small and independent craft breweries.” The amount of independent breweries grew by 8 percent, and the rate of craft exports internationally increased 16.3 percent. With a market trend like this, there must be other industry keeping with the trend.

Mobile canning services offer microbrewers a chance to get some much deserved exposure of their own. Ensuring the ‘little guys’ get their boozy masterpieces out onto the free market, so that gingham-shirt wearing, khaki-pant cuffing chap can have something to pair with his free-range something-or-other on a pretzel bun. And also people that like to drink beer, of course.

The reality is—these operations just don’t have the means of mass producing their product by themselves. This is where Dorward, and other mobile canners, fill an unlikely niche. “We help them [breweries] out because it’s expensive to buy canning systems; we help them get their brand out there.” Dorward said. It is expensive indeed.

Depending on what machine best fits the operation of the brewers, and of course their budget—It can run them at least $30,000 for the base model. This buys you a two fill-head; manual lid placement machine, turning out 8-12 cans per minute. The more illustrious machines can have up to eight-fill heads, automatic seating and retention of the lids, costing around $160,000–This beauty can rapidly fire almost 90 cans per minute. These figures, however, don’t take into account the cost of materials, adding at least another couple thousand dollars. The costs of cans, the lids, molds, prints, etc.

Bottom line is, it may not be worthwhile for some of these microbreweries to invest, or even monetarily possible. For mobile options, the cost can be as low as a couple of thousand dollars per filling, and if the brewery only fills a few times a year, their own cannery just isn’t conducive to their business model. So breweries will use the mobile cannery.

In a day, Dorward will roll up in his 20-foot box truck rigged with his filler line. He and one other person will set-up the line that takes about seven feet by 30 feet of space to be operated properly—and the job lasts anywhere from an hour to a whole work day (depending on the brewery’s barrel count). These canning machines on wheels can run a typical “tenbarrel” operation in an hour or hour and a half. A fun fact, breweries are actually defined by the size of their operation. So being a ten-barrel brewery–makes you a microbrewery. (Well, any one brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels annually, is a microbrewery). Single barrels will yield about 31 gallons of beer—making 310 gallons of that particular brew–or for the entire operation.

In order to shed the microbrewery moniker, they’ll need to run a nearly five hundred-barrel enterprise. The mobile canners don’t just provide the canning, lidding, and ensure there is limited oxygen making its way into the can; they’ll provide their clients with a pallet to hold their canned merchandise for the much needed saving of space. For ten-barrel operations, the space in which they operate can be limiting, which is another complication for small brewers. The entirety of the product is packaged, labeled, and ready to be sold by the end of the process. “We can do about 100 cases an hour, depending on the size.” Dorward says. And the daily average for the canning maestro is 350 to 400 cases—not too shabby, considering it’s a two man-run operation.

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