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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1 Response

  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.

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