The Case for Cans

Yesterday we published a Guest Posting by Gary Leigh, the founder of GO Kombucha The Risks of Packaging Kombucha in Aluminium Cans. This article, reprinted from the Fall 2021 edition of SYMBIOSIS Magazine, features a few of the many brands who have chosen to sell canned kombucha. We are interested in hearing the views of other companies that have chosen cans and encourage them to post comments (below).

Doing the Can-Can

Cans are environmentally friendly, recyclable, and acceptable in venues that don’t allow glass. Many eco-conscious brands encourage consumers to recycle glass. However, for some consumers and fermentation purists, concerns about leaching from liners mean they are unwilling to consider this option. Can kombucha in cans win over consumers? Here are some brands that believe they can.

Kombucha Town, Bellingham, Washington 

Kombucha Town was among the first to sell kombucha in cans. Founder Chris McCoy notes that: “Newer kombucha consumers are more accepting of beverages in cans. They understand the need to have a stable, conditioned product that does not continue to ferment in the can. They’ve seen a growing acceptance of kombucha in cans but acknowledge there is a strong bias among established kombucha consumers for glass. They look for ways to carry refreshments to picnics, beaches, and outdoor venues where cans are easier to transport.” McCoy had to overcome the challenge of can shortages resulting from the pandemic as major soda and beer brands’ demand skyrocketed. He had independent labs run extensive tests on his product to ensure the can lining does not leach into acidic liquids. He’s satisfied that the linings designated BPA Non-intent (BPANI) developed by the can manufacturing industry certifies the material does not contain any BPA and are safe for consumers. Kombucha Town also supplies kegs to consumers who consume larger quantities at events.

Spring Branch Kombucha, Springfield, Missouri 

Jessica and Chris Ollis started Spring Branch Kombucha as a draft-only business in 2018, selling to distributors in kegs. However, the pandemic significantly accelerated the move into cans, and they have been shipping and selling in cans for the past year. 

Chris notes that “The drawback with glass bottles is that they are not suitable for more active lifestyles where consumers want to enjoy kombucha around a pool or need lighter weight for backpacking trips. Logistically, packing bottles for a road trip can be more challenging than stacking a couple of 4-packs into a cooler. Plus, a single serving 12 oz can is just the right amount for many situations and much less expensive when shipping directly to consumers from our e-commerce store.”

Consumers seem to be more likely to recycle aluminum than glass. Chris also noted the influence of the craft beer industry, where many high-end brewers moved into cans for premium beverages without losing credibility or consumers.

In the reopening, keg sales have recovered, and they are pleased to offer both environmentally friendly packaging options. Many customers enjoy the product on draft. So having both options provides for maximum flexibility and choice.

Whalebird Kombucha, San Luis Obispo, California 

Whalebird founder Mike Durighello started distributing hard kombucha in cans at the end of 2020. Before the pandemic, most of their business was with large offices on draft. Their primary distribution of kegs to hundreds of offices evaporated overnight. They pivoted to hard kombucha differentiated by not having the “yeasty and bready” taste typical of much hard kombucha. They chose to ferment a clean tasting drink which dovetailed with a move into cans. They’ve supplemented their three flavors of hard kombucha and five classic flavors with a new line-up of hard seltzers. They anticipate a resurgence in kegs as offices reopen.

Further growth of draft kombucha faces the challenge of securing tap space for typical one-sixth five-gallon kegs compared to the half-barrels of beer that bars prefer. Mike recommends smaller brands get into grocery stores where the ‘planogram’ schematic (a visual representation of products on display) enables growing shelf space as sales numbers justify space at each quarterly reset.

Nunc Living Jun, Buckingham, England

Sustainability drove Nunc’s decision to use cans. However, canning is expensive compared to bottling. While purchasing a bottle capping machine costs less than £100, a can seamer is at least £600. Given the expense of canning, Nunc used a beer gun to fill cans in the beginning. But this manual approach was not scalable. When Nunc outgrew it, they purchased a four-head can-filling machine for £4,000 (the equivalent bottling machine is half the price). Co-founder Andrew Mills says, “Our next step is a semi-automatic canning line, which will cost at least £20,000, so we may have to outsource canning to a third party.” He adds that “While the decision to use cans over bottles is expensive, offsetting this is lower ongoing operational costs. It costs less to send out orders, cans are cheaper, and they have reduced storage costs. Our customers have responded favorably due to the environmental benefits.”

Pros and Cons

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 edition of SYMBIOSIS – the Official Journal of Kombucha Brewers International. Both print-on-demand and electronic versions of the magazine are available for purchase.

Symbiosis Magazine - Fall 2021

KBI PUBLIC Magazines: Symbiosis Magazine – Fall 2021

SYMBIOSIS Magazine is the official Journal of Kombucha Brewers International. Enjoy brewing tips and techniques, equipment reviews, industry stats and information to improve your business. Plus well researched scientific articles on the health benefits, brewery member profiles, food pairings, and…

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3 Responses

  1. the_editor says:

    Update: Andrew Mills of Nunc Living Jun weighs in on the debate about the risks of aluminum cans:

    The study referred to in the article states “This study investigates and evaluates the performance and quality of two well-known energy and soft drinks brands, Green Cola and Red Bull. Recent health hazards and concerns have been associated with aluminium leakage and bisphenol A (BPA) dissociation from the can’s internal protective coating”. It has long been known that the primary concern with cans leaching was the use of BPA in the linings, and this study confirms the findings of other studies. However, most can producers no longer use BPA (in 2019, 96% of cans produced globally were BPA free), and the linings that are being used today are far less likely to leach harmful substances.

    And if you really want to be picky, there is also the chance of leaching from glass – certain coloured glass bottles can contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium, and it is possible in acidic conditions over a long period of time for there to be leaching of silica or other elements.

    All materials that come into contact with food/beverages are subject to stringent testing globally (the FDA in USA, FSA in UK, etc), and this testing is based on the latest scientific research.

    Further, there are numerous other beverages (for example, soft drinks and fruit juices) with high acidity that have long been packaged in cans without any widespread health issues linked to the packaging. Coca Cola has a pH of between 2.3 and 2.7 and was first packaged in cans in 1955.

    It is in all Kombucha brewers best interests to ensure their drinks are the best they can be, which includes ensuring the cans they use are BPA free.

    I think it is safe to say that the risk of cans leaching is overestimated in the context of kombucha.

    Meanwhile, the benefits of cans outweighs glass and any fear of leaching. Aluminium cans are infinitely recyclable, there are fewer emissions when transporting cans compared to bottles. They protect the contents from UV light, which definitely degrades the quality of the contents, and more.

  2. the_editor says:

    This April 2019 roundtable discussion hosted by The Kombucha Hunter featured seven brands that make the case for cans.

    It featured:

    Notable comments:

    BETTER BOOCH: I think for most people who fear cans, it has to do with the idea that harmful chemicals can leach into the drink due to kombucha’s naturally acidic properties. It’s funny, people have no issue drinking coffee out of a can or plastic bottle, or soda, both of which are much more acidic than kombucha, but seem to still fear kombucha in a can. The truth is, leaching in packaging of any kind only happens at oven-hot temperatures, and even then, it’s got to sit for a very long time at that high temperature. Our kombucha is not pasteurized, so we bottle and ship at a cold temperature. An argument can be made that canning actually preserves the product more effectively—a tighter seal, no UV rays, etcetera.

    KOMBUCHA TOWN: There is a big difference between home brewing and the level of scrutiny that goes into packing and production on the commercial scale. Cans have been considered safe for human consumption by the Department of Health, the FDA, the Canadian Health Agency as well as the European healthy agencies for decades. Also as of fall 2017, all domestic can manufactures were required to certify that no BPA is used in the production of their cans.

    GREEN BELT: Craft beer saw the same can revolution 5 years ago and very few craft can beer haters still exist in that category because they have seen the benefits of cans. Cans have some very distinct advantages over glass without comprising flavor at all. Cans allow for us to deliver our premium kombucha at a more affordable price due the package being lighter, one serving size, and less material per ounce of kombucha.

    ROOT WILD: Cans do not leach contaminants into the kombucha, and they do not kill the culture. Our kombucha is very much alive and very happy in the cans, and we are very happy with the way our kombucha tastes in the can! Dealing with bottle conditioning created a variable that we wanted to avoid. By using brite tanks we significantly slow down the fermentation process and really capture the kombucha’s freshness. We use a mobile canning unit, which means an outside party brings their giant/expensive/technical piece of machinery into our space, packages the product very efficiently and leaves. This piece of equipment takes up almost half of our facility and cost three times as much as our entire operation. Owning one is not an option and, as far as I know, a mobile bottling line is also not an option. Hence, cans!

  3. the_editor says:

    Hard kombucha maker Flying Embers posted May 2024 update on Canned Kombucha & Why Canned Is Better:

    When you think of kombucha, you might visualize the tangy drink lined up on grocery store shelves in glass bottles. We hate to break it to you, but you might want to adjust that fantasy.

    Why? While you might be used to seeing kombucha in glass bottles, aluminum cans are becoming the new preferred packaging. With its preservation abilities and reduced environmental impacts, the future of booch is canned.
    Why Drink Kombucha From a Can? 6 Reasons

    1: The Impact of Bottles on the Environment

    Glass might be recyclable, but it poses a significant threat to the environment — possibly even more than plastic. Both plastic and glass take hundreds of years to decompose and can harm wildlife if they end up in nature.

    Glass is made from a combination of raw materials, all of which have to be mined. Mining is not an eco-friendly process, harming wildlife, ecosystems, water, and air along the way. The extraction of raw materials also uses a lot of energy, leaving behind a slew of pollution in its wake.

    Turning raw materials into glass isn’t energy-efficient either. Glass is made by heating the mined materials to volcanic-level temperatures — we’re talking up to 1,700 degrees celsius. Once heated, the mixture is cooled back down to get glass. The heating and cooling process requires a lot of energy and can further contribute to pollution.

    On top of that, glass is heavy and breakable, making its transportation another energy-eating hassle, but we’ll get more into that later.

    2: Cans Are Easier To Recycle

    We’ve all heard that we should reduce, reuse, and recycle. When it comes to our kombucha, we want to make sure that all our packaging is recyclable and, better yet, easy to recycle. That’s why we use aluminum cans for all of our drinks.

    Aluminum is easily recycled; in fact, we can recycle 100% of an aluminum can and reuse it for new cans. Because it’s so easy to reuse aluminum, less aluminum has to be mined, reducing the destructive effects of mining on the earth.

    Unlike glass, aluminum won’t shatter or break easily, so it’s more likely to end up in a new product than broken into thousands of shards somewhere. This property is a huge contributor to why aluminum cans are the most recycled item on the planet.

    3: Cans Cost Less To Ship Worldwide

    We’ve all had to pay shipping and handling fees at some point — and it’s not always cheap. To cut down on our costs (and yours), we use aluminum cans over glass bottles.

    What makes aluminum cheaper to transport? It’s the same thing that makes aluminum easier to recycle — aluminum doesn’t break as easily. Aluminum cans can be packed closely together, so more cans can be transported at once.

    Glass, on the other hand, requires more cushioning between bottles in case the delivery truck hits a bump in the road. Bottles have to be more spaced out, so fewer bottles can be transported in a single delivery.

    And if something breaks, the kombucha spills out and has to be brewed, packaged, and transported all over again, using more energy in the process. On top of that, glass is heavy and requires more overall energy to transport, furthering its carbon footprint.

    Shipping aside, more lightweight packaging makes all transport easier. Whether carrying cans into your house from your car or packing them for a picnic, the lightweight, space-saving nature of cans makes them the obvious choice for any adventure.

    4: Cans Preserve Kombucha’s Refreshing Taste

    Another reason we love cans? They’re the best for keeping our booch tasting fresh and flavorful. We want every drop of our kombucha to taste just as fresh as it does when we finish fermenting, and cans are the best option for preserving our unique, innovative flavors.

    How do cans preserve flavor better? Well, one reason is that, unlike transparent glass bottles, aluminum cans don’t allow any light near the liquid inside. We love extra vitamin D on our shoulders, but not near our booch — light can actually alter the taste.

    Another enemy to perfect flavors? Air. Bottles with lids may let in more air than the pop-top tabs of cans, which adds more risk of excess air affecting tastes.

    5: Glass Is a Fast-Depleting Resource

    Glass might seem like a common material, but it doesn’t grow on trees. Glass is actually made from sand, soda ash, and limestone, and, well, they don’t grow on trees either. These materials must be mined, and the process isn’t too kind to the environment.

    Mines can disrupt ecosystems for plants and animals with noise pollution, water pollution, and developing the land to a point where it’s unlivable for wildlife.

    Both mining and the glassmaking process use a lot of energy, further straining the environment. When the sand, soda ash, and limestone are heated up and melted back down to turn them into glass, a lot of energy is used in the process.

    The worst part? The materials that make up glass are nonrenewable — once we run out, we’re out. Glass can be recycled and reused, but it doesn’t recycle as easily as aluminum. When it comes to sustainability, it makes more sense to use cans over glass.

    6: Learning From the Craft Beer Can Revolution

    One of the best things about beverages is that there are so many different drinks to try. Drinking is an adventurous experience, and the surge in craft beers’ popularity proves that people love trying new drink experiences. And one of the easiest ways to enhance a unique drink is with an equally memorable can.

    Unlike big beer producers, craft beers tend to lean towards cans over glass bottles. You might’ve walked through a craft beer section of a store and noticed the shelves dotted with brightly colored cans with eye-catching artwork. With craft beers, the drink experience starts with the visual exterior to set the tone.

    While we’re more into hard kombucha than craft beer, we share the same desire to create drinks that are carefully crafted to enhance simple pleasures. We put our own twist on colorful cans so that the exterior of our drinks reflects all the goodness waiting inside. You might not want to judge a book by its cover, but judging our kombucha by our vibrant, lively cans is okay with us.

    Canned Hard Kombuchas You Have To Try

    Suddenly craving a can of hard kombucha in your hand? Us too. Here are a few recommendations of some of our favorite brews to lighten your mood and liberate your spirits.

    >Orange Passion Mimosa: Bright, Smooth, and Juicy

    Never had hard kombucha before? Totally okay. If you’re just getting into kombucha, why not start off with a familiar flavor?

    Our Orange Passion Mimosa has the juicy orange flavor of a traditional mimosa, complemented by the tangy taste of kombucha. We’ve added notes of passionfruit and guava for an additional tropical twist.

    >Grapefruit Thyme: Tangy, Aromatic, and Fruity

    Kombucha is known for its refreshing, tangy taste, and we’ve created a drink to perfectly complement those qualities. Our Grapefruit Thyme hard kombucha starts with the spirited, aromatic flavors of pink grapefruit that reflect the characteristic tang of kombucha. It’s followed by a crisp hint of thyme for a refreshingly finish.

    If you need some new Instagram content, look no further. All the goodness is wrapped up in a white can with grapefruit pink accents.

    >Pineapple Chili: Bold, Bright, and Tropical

    If you’re feeling extra adventurous, reach for a can of our Pineapple Chili hard kombucha. This drink starts with the boldly sweet flavor of pineapple, gracefully interrupted by the heat of spiced chili for a blissfully balanced brew.

    Canned Kombucha Is Here To Stay

    As the world moves forward on the path to sustainability, canned kombucha will continue as the most eco-friendly way to package your favorite booch or beverage. And since aluminum cans can be recycled over and over, you can enjoy all the kombucha you want without adding to your carbon footprint.

    Sources:

    Glass Bottles Have a Larger Environmental Impact Than Plastic Bottles- Study | Earth.Org

    Let’s Compare: Cans vs. Glass vs. Plastic Bottles | Greenpop

    Plastic vs. Aluminum vs. Glass: Which Packaging Should You Choose? | RecycleNation

    Why Canned Beer Is Way Better Than Bottled Beer | Business Insider

    Is glass harmful to the environment? | The Waste Management & Recycling Blog

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