We’ve all used those products and services that make you wonder why they didn’t exist sooner. Their brilliance in simplicity begs the question, ‘why didn’t I think of this?’ In today’s ‘we want quality, we want it now and we want to take it with us’ world, The Can Van delivers convenience in a can.
The barely year old, female owned company marries a product we love for its portability with the art of craft beer.
There are now more than 20 microbreweries currently offering canned beers and that number only continues to rise. But not all breweries are able to offer this sustainable and convenient version of craft beer. Whether due to costs or convenience, Northern California breweries are turning to The Can Van. I spoke with the ladies (Jenn Coyle & Lindsey Herrema) of the mobile canning service.
1. How long has The Can Van been in existence?
We are just about to reach the one year anniversary of our first canned beer! We got our equipment in January of last year, though we had been working on our business plan, talking with breweries, and gathering supporters for several months before that.
2. So, five of you met in graduate school and all have a passion for craft beer and sustainability. Tell me how this idea came to fruition. Was it the five of you that worked on the business plan together that last semester at school?
Yeah, we met during our Sustainable MBA program at Presidio Graduate School, so sustainability was already wrapped up in what we all wanted to do. Jenn brought this idea to the other four of us, and being craft beer lovers we jumped on it. We all researched and incubated the business plan as our final MBA project. Though our discussions with craft brewers, we found that the industry needed something like this, so we decided to launch.
3. You’re based in San Francisco. Are your canning services good for northern California craft breweries?
The San Francisco Bay Area has more small and medium breweries than any other location we were considering. And as a plus, we all lived here! But we found that in this area in particular, where rent is at such a premium, breweries don’t have the space storage of cans or any extra pieces of equipment. Our service sets up for the day and then gets out of the way.
We’re focusing on serving the Northern California region, but we’ve had interest from all over the state. We’re looking into how we can start serving Southern California this year as well.
4. So, The Can Van is able to print the labels and affix them on the cans, instead of having the design printed directly on the aluminum. Was that the big hurdle in making it so you can fulfill smaller orders for breweries?
Labeling small batches was definitely one of the big hurdles we saw keeping small and medium breweries from canning for themselves. The minimum orders of pre-printed cans are so large that upfront cost and storage space for all the cans is enough to prohibit local breweries from canning. We order large quantities of blank cans and split them between our customers. We offer a full wrap-around label option which looks really sharp in full color. It is still cheaper in the long-run for breweries to go pre-printed, and we have some customers moving in that direction. But the labeling service is what really makes canning accessible quickly and for small batches.
On a canning day we start pretty early, loading the trailer, driving to the brewery, setting up, wrangling cans, then canning, labeling, packing, and palletizing finished product, and finally cleaning up before we head home. Its a lot of hard work, but it’s very satisfying to see great beer going into cans, ready for market. On days when we are not canning, there’s equipment maintenance, inventory management, admin, and talking to brewers about upcoming jobs. We spend a lot of time planning logistics and helping our customers get their artwork and labels ready.
6. Any plans to expand The Can Van to The Can Vans?
We’ve been exploring the possibility of Can Van So-Cal. So any breweries out there in Southern California who want to expand into cans, give us a call.
7. How far does The Can Van travel? What’s geographic areas do you cover?
Northern California is our primary market, but we will plan trips to further locations for big jobs or if we can get a few breweries lined up in the same trip. We’ve been talking with breweries up in the far north part of California as well as Tahoe, the Central Coast, LA, and San Diego.
8. Do you all prefer drinking out of cans rather than bottles?
Ultimately, all craft beer is best enjoyed poured and enjoyed out of a glass. As for the medium used to get that beer to your glass, cans keep beer protected from light and oxygen and help maintain the aroma and the fresh-from-the-tank taste. Most of the brewers we work with choose to can just for this reason, because of the way cans preserve the beer so it tastes the way the brewer intended.
Any local beer in a can is always a favorite, but while we are trying to get more of those on the shelves, some of our personal favorites from a little further away include Sun King from Indiana, Santa Fe Brewing, and Big Sky.
10. What craft beers would you love to see canned?
There are so many brewers in the Bay Area making the transition from garage production to commercial brewing right now. Cans would be a great way for them to break onto the market and take advantage of the parallel upswing in beer drinkers discovering and moving into the world of local craft beer.
Right now the most popular canned beer style is IPA. We’d love to see more of our personal favorite up and coming styles in cans, like saisons, sours, and really good craft lager. (it’s so much better than the watered down stuff!)
11. Who are some of your customers?
The easiest ones to find in stores currently are Devil’s Canyon Brewing, out of Belmont, CA., and Ruhstaller out of Sacramento. Their 16oz cans are available in Whole Foods and other specialty markets in the North Bay and San Francisco. Devil’s Canyon also has distribution in Southern California.
12. Three of the five of you (CEO, COO & CMO) are women. Was that planned or just a happy coincidence?
A happy coincidence, although the women on the team realized we shared an interest in beer while at an informal ladies-only homebrewing lesson hosted by one of our grad-school professors Maggie Windslow, aka “The Brewess.”
13. Have you found that this has helped getting breweries to sign on, given you are part of the craft beer female market?
Hm…thats an interesting thought. I don’t think so, though. Most breweries are just happy that someone is finally offering this service. And since its a new type of business, maybe they just take it in stride that it’s a new type of person operating in their industry. We have had a really welcoming response from everyone we’ve worked with.
14. What’s your take on the craft beer female market and how its landscape is changing?
We are definitely evangelizing to all of our friends, so maybe we have a skewed perspective. But I think that the trend of making craft beers as hoppy as possible is finally starting to be complemented by other types of beers. Many of these styles are more approachable to women exploring craft beer. The more diversity we have in beer, the more opportunities there are for women to find the type of beer they like: types that pair well with food, have a more complex flavor, are drinkable in more situations, etc.
15. What’s the smallest batch you’ve canned so far?
About 4 cases. But that was a special instance where we just ran a few samples while we were set up for another canning run. Our usual minimum is 7-10 barrels.
16. What are your goals for 2013?
2013 will hopefully be a really big year for us now that we have our fledgling first year out of the way. We have several new customers that have been in the planning stages for the past few months, so it will be great to finally see them come to fruition. We will also continue to streamline our operations getting faster and more efficient, and like we said earlier, we are toying with some expansion ideas. Most of all, we are excited to get more local craft beer in cans on the shelf for people to enjoy!
To some discerning craft beer drinkers, the mere thought of good beer in a can used to be downright blasphemous. The days where canned beer is drunk solely by college kids or hipsters are long gone.
More and more microbreweries are offering tasty and complex craft beers in cans. It just makes sense. Aluminum is eco-friendly & infinitely recyclable. And because cans are made of aluminum, they actually protect beer from light and oxygen, the main culprits of skunky beer. All of this and cans also chill quicker than bottles, supporting the ‘we want it now’ life we live. If you think the best beers are only available in bottles, think again.
The Can Van, where convenience meets craft.