Mobile canning company is running near capacity


Michigan Mobile Canning sets up shop at a different brewery every day of the week, five days a week. Photo by Pat Evans

Andrew McLean has put more than 43,000 miles on his new Chevy pickup truck since February.

Towing a 22-foot trailer and a beverage canning line, McLean and his Michigan Mobile Canning team crisscross the state, including trips to Cheboygan every other week, to act as a packaging line for many of the state’s microbreweries.

Since starting up two years ago, the business founded by McLean and partner Scott Richards has seen a lot of growth. This fall, Michigan Mobile Canning expects to see its 3 millionth can run through the line.

“The millionth can, we expected and were waiting for it, grabbed it and signed it — all the fun, goofy stuff,” McLean said on a drive to Cheboygan Brewing Co.

“The next thing we knew, we were at 2.2 million and completely missed it.”

The cans still are running fast. When stories about the company started popping up in 2013, one hit the Associated Press wire, and Michigan Mobile Canning began fielding calls from across the country. Despite the fact there are other affiliates of Colorado’s Mobile Canning Systems around the country, many states still lack the presence of a mobile canning company.

But driving to California or New York for jobs wasn’t in the picture, McLean said.

“There was a lot of explaining that it just wasn’t feasible,” he said. “Then we got a few calls from Indianapolis.”

With Indianapolis being closer to the company’s home base of Kalamazoo than Cheboygan, the team decided to make it work. Before long, there was a large enough collection of clients in the Hoosier State to warrant a second mobile canning operation stationed in Indianapolis.

The team thought about changing the name of the company to better suit the fact it was working in both Indiana and Michigan, but opted to start a separate entity: Indiana Mobile Canning.

Both lines are running at near capacity.

Michigan Mobile Canning sets up shop at a different brewery every day of the week, five days a week. Indiana Mobile Canning runs three to four times a week, often making trips up to the Mitten when there’s a big job or a double booking.

McLean said business is going well, and it’s not only growing in the number of breweries it serves, but also because breweries are canning more products. Many clients receive multiple visits a month.

Having a company come in with canning machinery is a relatively risk-free way for breweries to test out the packaging waters without diving too deeply into their pockets. The only major investment is the cans. Then Michigan Mobile Canning comes in and packages the product, with prices based on a tiered-system.

“The more you do, the less per can it will cost,” McLean said. “Obviously, 80 barrels of beer will cost less (per can) than seven barrels to can. Plus, you add in how often we’re there and several other variables. There's a lot of price fluctuation."

Canning lines can cost upward of $200,000 and take up precious space in production facilities that might be better used to house more production equipment. Because of those two factors, some breweries may never get to the point where it makes sense to purchase their own packaging line.

Other breweries, such as Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery, outgrow the services of Michigan Mobile Canning and move on to purchase their own canning lines. Right Brain did this after nearly two years of working with McLean.

“They were able to use us, build their brand and confirm that they wanted to use cans in the future,” McLean said. “They didn’t surprise us, but some might.”

While the company expects it will lose clients here and there, it’s still growing at a rate faster than expected, something that pleases a risk-adverse McLean.

With business booming, the company is looking at introducing a third canning line to the company to ease the schedule of the two current crews. Right now, the company deals exclusively with beer and cider canning, but with the new system, McLean said he expects to invest in the equipment necessary to package beverages such as coffee, soda and others.

The main concern will be to continue to satisfy the growing demand of breweries looking to see their products on shelves instead of in taps.

McLean said he enjoys getting to know people who recognize him across the state and share his passion for beer.

“We never wanted to say no to a customer, but that’s a lot easier to say when you have zero clients,” he said. “We’re growing and we don’t see these smaller breweries going away.”

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