Duncan O’Brien, Founder of Dalston Cola says:
Tell us about Dalston’s, yourselves and your ethos?
We think it’s the perfect time to offer craft soda in cans. Our range of premium canned soft drinks are made from carefully sourced ingredients – blended with the adult palate in mind – using fruit and spring water, as well as ingredients such as Sicilian lemons and oranges, cola nuts and a blend of spices.
We’re chefs that make drinks, and consider ourselves drinks makers rather than drinks marketers. First and foremost, our drinks are honestly made. Our training was all about taking the best ingredients and presenting them simply rather than messing around with them too much. By sourcing excellent, high quality ingredients, less sugar is needed. There’s a great deal of public consciousness and confusion around sugar right now, so this is an ideal time to offer premium soft drinks that contain less sugar. We’re proud to be the first of a new generation of ‘craft soda’ producers.
It’s all about ensuring that our ingredients are carefully sourced. We have good relationships with our suppliers and have kept a tight control of the supply chain – which is particularly important as the supply chain for soda can be complicated – sourcing ingredients from various parts of the world.
Why, when and how did you get into making soda?
The idea for Dalston’s was hatched in an East London club five years ago. I was working as a chef and in food sustainability and met another chef who had this idea of making craft cola. So, we teamed up to make craft cola into a business, and things grew from there. Our range of premium drinks in cans now features orangeade, lemonade and cola.
We’d seen what was happening across the new wave of premium foods and drinks and felt soda was rather neglected. We wanted to bring about a revolution in taste and quality, so we got busy and built a company from the ground up – working with growers & suppliers to source excellent quality, honest ingredients that transform the taste of soda drinks.
What makes your drinks special?
Right from the start, we’ve set-about developing drinks and flavours that will appeal to the adult palate – moving away from soda pop-style drinks to authentic sodas made from carefully sourced, high quality ingredients.
Who buys your canned soda? Where do you sell it?
Adults buy our canned drinks in cafes, bars and restaurants – mainly in London but this is starting to spread out to other towns now. Ocado will be selling our sodas very soon and Waitrose is stocking them from late June.
How did you first get into canning and how are you currently canning your soda?
The big push to put our soda in cans came from our Managing Director, Dan Broughton, who was inspired by the success of craft beer in cans, so knew there was a fantastic opportunity. Also, our premises were originally next to Beavertown Brewery so we witnessed first-hand what this craft brewery was doing with cans.
There are such fantastic design options available for can labels now, and we particularly like the matt finish. Designers can have plenty of fun with the can’s branding and packaging, which is great news for our soda range. We work closely with the canner Cott Beverages.
What are the biggest benefits of canning your soda?
There are so many benefits when canning. They chill down quicker and cans are more compact, plus they don’t break. Distribution is easier too, and cans are easier for people to carry around with them. Then there’s the sustainable quality of cans as they are completely recyclable – taking less energy than glass to be recycled.
Any advice for other soda/soft drink makers wanting to get into canning?
It’s important to allow plenty of lead time if you’re planning to work with any of the larger canners, as there’s a great deal of preparation and paperwork involved, especially during the set-up period. We managed to do this in just three months from initial meeting to first production run, and were very lucky that Cott Beverages could work with us in such a short timeframe.
What’s been your proudest moment at Dalston’s?
The proudest moment has been watching our team develop professionally as we scale-up the business. We’ve trained our people throughout this process, with many of the team being with us since we started out, and some of these long-standing colleagues are now running our new-look logistics & supply chain.
What’s next for Dalston’s?
Well, we have plenty of new drinks to develop, and are busy visiting new fruit farms to look-into the possibility of sourcing some more soft fruits. We want to focus on growing in the UK, and are already exporting to Benelux, so who knows where we might go from here…
Josh White, Marketing Director at CanOWater, says:
Tell us about CanOWater, yourselves and your ethos?
CanOWater started when three best friends decided to change the way people drink water. We wanted to create an alternative to plastic, as we’re incredibly concerned about the damage being caused to our oceans. Our water targets 18-30 year olds who care about the environment and their health. They are also more open to changing the way they drink water.
We’re a young, disruptive company; forward-thinking entrepreneurs on a mission to change people’s perception about drinking water. We’re finding that talking to consumers at events is a great way to achieve this. We’re continually striving to improve the brand as well as finding different ways to get the environmental message across. Whilst the focus is firmly on producing great tasting water, the main purpose of CanOWater is centred on solving the huge issue of protecting our planet.
Why, when and how did you get into canning water?
Putting our water into aluminium cans has so many advantages – the main one being that it’s so much better for the environment, plus our water stays fresher for longer as it’s protected from light and air. Our big break came once we talked to Selfridges who are forward thinking and enthusiastic supporters of the can. This amazing opportunity happened before we’d even started producing CanOWater. Since then the demand has spiralled and having a big corporation stocking our water has helped enormously.
What makes your water different/special?
CanOWater is the first cool-looking canned mineral water available from a craft brand, and it’s infinitely recyclable. A resealable tab also makes it refillable and resealable. There’s no other water on the market that looks quite like ours.
We’ve sourced the best quality water we could find, whose taste is further enhanced by its high 7.9 PH level together with the sterile pipes used for the water’s journey from source to the manufacturer. The choice of pipes is particularly crucial when you’re dealing with mineral water, to avoid any tainting that could result.
Who buys your water? Where do you sell it?
Our brand appeals to young, environmentally conscious adults (18-30 year olds). It also appeals to 14-16 year olds – mainly because teenagers want to look particularly cool and, as CanOWater has an Apple-esque feel, this fits nicely into their minimalist ‘iPhone look’.
CanOWater is available in Selfridges, Whole Foods, As Nature Intended, Ocado and Sourced Market (Kings Cross Station). We also sell in boutique hotels & independent cafes, a few hairdressers, event spaces and media houses.
We’ve recently partnered with Fraser Yachts too, an integral part of the yachting community who share our commitment to protecting the oceans. So, we’re now also their official water when transporting people, in style, around the world.
Gyms are a new focus, having just installed a big, cool CanOWater fridge at 1Rebel, as part of its campaign to ‘Can the Bottle’, whilst also encouraging other gyms to start using canned water. And it doesn’t stop there…we’re about to launch at 3,500 Watsons pharmacy stores across China.
What are the biggest benefits of canning?
The biggest advantage of using aluminium cans has to be around their recyclability, with metal having the potential to be recycled over and over again infinitely without losing its quality. Almost 75% of metal packaging is recycled in Europe, making the can the most recycled pack type out there. Metal cans also save on raw materials, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. So, they are altogether a lot smarter as well as futuristic – which appeals to our audience.
What’s been your greatest challenge during the canning process?
The only real issue we’ve had is around can colour. Originally, we wanted a bright white but printing white on aluminium isn’t an easy thing to achieve. We’ve now gone down the HD/base printing route to get our bright white, which is more of matt finish and looks great.
What’s been your proudest moment?
There have been many proud moments, but I guess the one that stands out is when the three of us were sitting with the head buyer at Selfridges and they told us they wanted our water. It was such an incredible feeling.
What’s next for CanOWater? …
CanOWater is very much an umbrella for different brands, flavours and sizes, so we’ll be exploring some new options which you’ll see launching very soon. We’re also looking to produce some metal flasks to carry drinks around in.
Any advice for other soft drink makers wanting to get into canning?
Like many others, we’ve learned the hard way, especially with regards to using middle men. If you know the right people, you can be resourceful, get better deals, and handle everything yourself, which is usually far more cost-effective. The best piece of advice I can give is that once you’ve got a great idea – just run with it and never look back…
In 2014, Dan Bonner, owner of microbrewery, Concrete Cow, entered his beer, Dirty Cow, into the Indie Beer Can Festival. Chosen as one of twelve finalists, from more than 100 entries, Dan began to explore canning as a long-term option shortly after the event. He is now the proud owner of the title ‘smallest canning brewery in the UK’. We catch up with him here to find out how he’s doing.
Tell us about Concrete Cow
Concrete Cow Brewery was set up eight years ago following five homebrew kit efforts, the first of which was a Christmas present. We are based in Milton Keynes which has two prominent features … loads of roundabouts and the “infamous” Concrete Cows. ‘Roundabout Brewery’ just didn’t have the same ring to it so it had to be named after the cows! I wanted to create an iconic signature beer from my town that I and other people would enjoy and feel proud of. It had to be ‘true craft’ which for me means unfiltered and unpasteurised as a true craftsman wouldn’t want to compromise his or her product just for the sake of increased sales and longevity.
When did you start canning and why?
MK IPA was first brewed in July 2015 specifically for cans … I made the decision after reaching the finals of the inaugural Indie Beer Can Festival the year before with another of the Concrete Cow brews. Having seen my beer packaged in cans for the occasion, there was with a heart thumping realisation a few months on, and after looking into it, that it was actually possible for me to can my own beer. After seeing big brand beer packaged in cans since I can remember, it was literally the most exciting moment of my working life.
Once you’d decided to go ahead and can, what was your next step?
The deposit was placed for the canning machine on Christmas Eve 2014 … I’d decided that craft beer had a big future in cans and I wanted to be part of it. Craft beer compliments cans, and cans compliment craft beer. Six months of anticipation and excitement followed. In that time my preparations for canning were made; I bought a new fermenting vessel and many other necessary bits of equipment … I even tracked my new machine across the Atlantic using a marine vessel tracking website.
What’s the reception been like to your canned beer?
The reception to my first canned beer, MK IPA has been nothing short of my dream response. The beer itself has had the best feedback I could have imagined, and the fact that it is in cans has been welcomed and accepted by so many customers. It has completely endorsed my decision to go down the canning route. Within the first four months of canning, MK IPA is almost brewed in equal quantity to all my other beers added together. It was the best business decision I ever made … and you can quote me on that!
Has it opened up any new opportunities for you?
Most of the new opportunities for MK IPA are still to be opened I think. Having established the beer very successfully on a local basis, and with the cans repeatedly selling in specialist and national outlets close to the brewery, I’ve now just started to look further afield. The early signs are outstanding. I think for MK IPA the door is only just beginning to open.
What have been the key benefits of canning for Dirty Cow?
The key benefit, from a business point of view, is that I now have a clearer defined direction for my product to go in, one that I’m convinced from early signs is craved by craft beer enthusiasts. Quality craft beer is screaming to be put into can and punters are right behind it. I feel that I’ve identified early on how people increasingly like their beer to be packaged in a can. Getting involved in the movement early on is a major benefit because I’m giving my customers what they want.
What comes next?
Next year will see the growth of Concrete Cow canned beers with a second brand on the horizon and a new member of the Concrete Cow brewing team starting in January. After that, who knows what the limits are?
Tell us about Beavertown
We started in the back of Duke’s Brew and Que in Haggerston, though at the beginning ‘we’ were just Logan plus whoever arrived at the door with enough enthusiasm to help with the brews! Eventually Logan was joined by James and from there we started adding to the original range (Smog Rocket, Neck oil and 8 Ball) created to pair with the BBQ food at Duke’s.
Growing involved a lot of trials, testing and experimenting; and a lot of feedback! Luckily we have had a consistently incredible brewing team, eager to learn from the get-go.
Now Beavertown is well known for its artwork, but back then we were a blank slate. James approached me and offered the opportunity to design the first couple of bottle labels, (that eventually led to designing cans) and I accepted, not realising where it would take not only me, but Beavertown in general.
Why did you start canning?
There were a number of reasons, but first and foremost it was because of the incredible quality benefits our beer enjoys as a result of being in a can.
Previous to canning we were hand bottling, hand labeling and bottle conditioning the beer ourselves. When the beer was first ready it tasted fantastic, but we were finding it was a different beer two weeks down the line. This was due to light penetration and oxygen getting into the bottle. Using a can alleviated both of these issues for us; the consistency we get from canning means that when we release a beer we deem great, it stays great all the way to its final destination.
It’s also great to have an item to put artwork all over; the scope for design is much greater with a can
We take cues from the American craft beer world. Logan is regularly over in the USA, chatting to breweries like Oskar Blues which are almost 100% canned, learning as much as possible from them and bringing his knowledge home. We also had a lot of advice from Camden who started canning just before us – we are lucky to exist within an incredible community of craft breweries.
What have the toughest challenges been?
Maintaining the perception people had of us when we were still 8 people, sharing couches as work spaces and working across a totally-non-health-and-safety-compliant mezzanine in Hackney Wick. It’s a perception that ties to the workd ‘craft’.
Unfortunately, as you grow people assume your quality will dip – which is not unheard of, so the attitude is understandable. For us craft is about keeping everything in-house and communicating everything to everyone. Twitter has been great for that. They were baffled at the canning factory when I wanted to show the world our prototypes via Twitter, but being inclusive is proving the way forward. We would never try to ostracise or be exclusive to anybody.
What has been your biggest highlight?
Honestly, they have been so frequent it’s hard to pin point one. Every time we can a new beer it’s like our village hero has returned from a successful conquest. We’ve won a few awards which is very rewarding… but I just have to go the cheesy route and say that every day something pretty great happens.
What lessons have you learned?
Far too many to list; hopefully our learnings show in the consistency and quality of the beer we create. In general I think one of the biggest lessons we can share is that when things go wrong, put your hands up and sort it out the best way that you can. People are so incredibly supportive when you are honest, but can grow defensive, quickly, if they think you are being evasive.
What advice would you give to start-up breweries?
Again, be as honest as you can.
If you are in charge of something / heavily involved in a project, then speak up when you don’t like something. There has to be a balance and you need to demonstrate your personality in everything you do, not just ask yourself what other people want. More often than not, people will sense and gravitate towards the more personal choice.