Canny business: the company that cans Irish craft beer
Mobile canning service Irish Craft Canning goes to the brewery to can and brand in one
Ciarán Gorman of Irish Craft Canning. Photograph: Martina Regan
Irish Craft Canning was founded by Ciarán Gorman and Darren Fenton in 2016 to provide a bespoke canning service to the burgeoning Irish craft beverages sector. It was a well-spotted niche, as many of the 100-odd small producers here either bottle their product (which is easier than canning but restricts their export potential) or send it overseas to be canned. This adds to the cost and also raises issues about traceability and provenance. Setting up in-house canning is not feasible for most due to the heavy investment required.
Irish Craft Canning is now offering these small brewers an alternative option, and in an interesting, convenient way: the canners come right to the brewery door. At the agreed time, one of the company’s mobile units rolls up and doesn’t leave until the production is canned, put on pallets and made ready for distribution.
“Simply put, if you are a beverage producer anywhere on this island and want to reach new markets we will source cans to your specification and then brand, store and transport them to your facility along with all the necessary equipment, labour and know-how. This dramatically reduces the cost of getting a new canned product to market,” says Ciarán Gorman.
The founders are both from Mullingar. Gorman worked as an accountant in Dublin for eight years, while Fenton emigrated to Australia and then moved to Japan, where he worked in the craft beverage industry and became fluent in Japanese.
“While living in Japan, Fenton noticed an increasingly high volume of canned craft beer imports from the US, often from very small production facilities. This was surprising given the high traditional barriers to entry for packaging in a canned format,” Gorman says. “It sparked our interest so we did a bit of research and discovered two new business models emerging in the US: mobile canning operators dotted across the country and a network of can branding companies. We believed a similar model could work in Europe, where at that time there were no equivalent operators.”
The founders spent two years improving and adapting the US model to suit local needs. This included combining the branding and filling elements in one operation. Companies pay per can filled, and the higher the volume, the lower the unit cost.
Irish Craft Canning went into commercial production in June 2016 and now employs nine people. The company is based in Mullingar, which fulfils the founders’ wish to do something for their hometown. “For many years we had wanted to establish a business in Mullingar as despite having a central location, being well connected to the motorway grid and having a solid base of high-quality manufacturing, Mullingar suffered from the recession and the continued challenge of competing with nearby Dublin for FDI,” Gorman says.
Investment in the business to date has been more than €500,000, with another €1 million-€2 million required to fund development over the next two to three years. This includes moving into overseas markets and setting up an operating base in Europe. Irish Craft Canning has been funded from personal resources, borrowings and support from the Local Enterprise Office Westmeath.
In its first two years Irish Craft Canning processed more than 1.7 million cans, and in a single day it can take up to 7,500 litres of a given beverage and make it ready for customers.
“We are one of the first mobile operators to market in Europe and are still at the forefront of the development of mobile canning in terms of automation and process improvement,” says Gorman. “Cans are substantially easier and cheaper to export, and the availability of a local canning service has opened up new markets for Irish producers such as Russia, China and the US. In the context of Brexit, developing new markets for Irish exports is now more important than ever.”