Westmeath

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Bevcraft Group

Facts at a glance

 

Entrepreneurs: Ciarán Gorman and Darren Fenton

Employees: 18

Famous for: The first company in Europe to offer bespoke beverage canning solutions to craft producers.

LEO Supports: Priming, employment and capital grants, business training, Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur programme, Trading Online Voucher, Technical Assistance Micro Exporters grant.

Set-up: 2016

Location: Mullingar, County Westmeath, with additional operations in the UK and the Netherlands.

 

 

Tell us about Bevcraft and what you do….

Bevcraft Group provides beverage canning solutions to ‘craft’ beverage producers. It was the first to offer many of these solutions in Europe and today operates bases in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands.

At the core of the business is a fleet of 12 specialist bespoke mobile canning lines which are deployed across the market.

We provide cans to a clients specification, brand them with a label / sleeve / print, transport them along with our canning line and experienced crew to the client’s facility and in a single day convert a few thousand litres from their tanks into pallets of multipack cans all coded, tested and ready for distribution. This opens up retail, direct sales and crucially, export opportunities.

As producers scale up we unbundle the service to provide whatever element suits them most such as line leasing, maintenance & support, material supply, can decoration or any combination of these.

Across our divisions and markets we are on track to handle over 50m cans this year. We are fortunate to now have clients spread out from Kinsale to Belfast, from Cornwall to Orkney and from Spain to Norway.

bevcraft logo photo 3 


What can you tell us about the early days and how it all started?

Bevcraft was established in Mullingar by Darren Fenton & Ciarán Gorman in 2016 after several years of research. Although both were from Mullingar, Darren was living in Osaka, Japan and Ciarán was working in Dublin. They both harboured an ambition to set up a business in their hometown to create local employment and industry.

When looking at opportunities they wanted to provide something genuinely new to the market that could have a wider impact. The impact of the crash on their hometown and other regions across Ireland was still a fresh memory and this shaped their thinking about business. At this point it was clear that there had been a big increase in the number of local microbreweries across Ireland which, aside from being an interesting sector; represented a great example of regional development as virtually every county had seen a brewery open and even the smallest village could see the potential for a dozen jobs. The key to unlocking this potential lay in getting product to more markets and canning was a big part of that story.

 

What were the high points and low points when you were a start-up?

Seeing the business gain traction in the UK represented a real step change as it validated everything we were trying to do in a bigger market. This growth means that we are on the cusp of having the majority of group turnover coming from outside Ireland.

In terms of a low point the initial few years exhibited huge seasonality so we can both remember the fear that accompanied a quiet January and how that could quickly turn into intense pressure to meet demand in the summer particularly in the early years when the business had fewer lines and people. We both worked enormous hours to keep things moving.

 

What was your big ‘break-through’ moment?

In 2018 we completely reimagined the service we were offering to entirely unbundle it. So rather than rigidly saying here is our canning service; we moved to a position of saying ‘whatever stage of the cycle you are at, pick the part of our offering that best suits your needs’. This opened the doors to working with a much greater range of producers – both much bigger and much smaller than before.

 

Local Enterprise Office Westmeath has supported your business. Tell us about these supports and what impact they have had?

Like many start-ups, we bootstrapped the business at the start with a mixture of putting our lifesavings in, family loans, bank startup loans, zero director wages, selling a home to free up equity and of course start-up grant assistance from the LEO. If any element of this finance mixture had been missing we would have found it extremely hard to reach the initial funding requirements to get going.

At this stage the business has invested several million in equipment, stocks and working capital and at many crucial times the LEO assistance has been the key piece to get an expansion across the line as well as signal to the bank that someone else has validated what we are doing.

(*Bevcraft were named runners up in the Best Start up Category of ‘Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur’ in 2018. The competition, which is supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Enterprise Ireland and run by the 31 Local Enterprise Offices, attracted entries from over 1,800 18-to-35-year-olds, showcasing some of the country’s best and brightest business talent.

Bevcraft secured a priming start up grant in 2016 towards the purchasing of key capital equipment, they received further employment and capital grants as their business expanded in 2018 & 2019.

They have completed business training with the Local enterprise Office and availed of a Trading on Line Voucher to improve their website and Technical Assistance Micro Exports grants when they began to explore their export potential.)

bevcraft logo photo 2 


How have COVID and Brexit affected your company?

When the first lockdown occurred, immediately after the Taoiseach’s address; myself and Darren drove straight to our offices that night to try and figure out what we would do Monday morning. At that point it was unclear which businesses would be able to continue to operate or not. Ultimately we were categorised as an essential part of the food and beverage manufacturing supply chain so we could continue to operate; however significant precautions had to be implemented including sending extra vehicles on runs to facilitate social distancing of our team.

Since then, trade has found a ‘new normal’; however the practical impacts have been huge – for example in 2019 we had travelled to the UK/EU nearly every single week as part of our international expansion whereas since Covid we have effectively ceased all international travel. This has undoubtedly slowed our growth in both the UK and EU markets.

Furthermore, Covid has caused huge damage to the hospitality and tourism sectors here in Ireland which had up until now made up the majority of craft breweries turnover, so we are very conscious that our clients have all taken a huge hit on that side of their businesses.

In relation to Brexit, aluminium sheet metal is manufactured in the EU and converted into cans for the Irish market in the UK. There are no can making plants in Ireland and prior to Brexit the haulage cost from a continental plant to Ireland compared to a UK plant was double the cost. For this reason the Irish supply chain is very dependent on the UK and although we stocked up hugely prior to 1st January; we’ve already seen huge delays on haulage between the two countries.

Prior to Brexit the range of inputs and finished goods we handled on the UK/EU corridor was very broad as links were so efficient and access was unfettered. Since Brexit we have been much more rigid on which orders can be fulfilled between the jurisdictions and where our non-can inputs come from. I can’t see any way the situation can improve as long as the UK remains outside the EU and as it stands the new barriers to trade are hurting both sides and will continue to do so.

 

What’s next on the business agenda for your company?

In June 2021 it will be 5 years since we first trekked over to the wonderful Reel Deel in Crossmolina, Mayo for our very first canning run. We could never have imagined the way our offering would evolve in the intervening years. The lesson to date has been to keep investing in technology, processes, people and professionalism as its clear that the old school ‘man in a van’ model – be it in canning or any other sector - can’t provide the reliability, flexibility and efficiency business needs.

Over the coming year we will open our 4th and 5th facilities which will greatly expand our can decoration capabilities, the range of products and formats we can package and boost overall capacity. We expect our total headcount to jump from 16 to closer to 25-30 across the business in the coming 12 - 18mts.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about running a business?

We are fortunate that we have a really grounded worldview that was instilled in us by our parents from an early age focused on practicality, hard work and cutting through the ‘noise’.

Time and again real expertise and advice comes from people who have worked in a functional discipline each and every day until they master it – on one hand that might be a long serving team member or on the other, an external consultant who did a decade stint in a key discipline like finance, operations or engineering.

Real expertise is worth its weight in gold but it usually comes from experts grounded in practical experience and more often than not those people are already in your team, you just need to listen to them!

 

Bevcraft Group has been named overall winner of the National Enterprise Awards 2021.

Speaking following their win, Ciaran and Darren said: ‘This isn’t about us, it’s the incredible story of the Irish craft beer sector where we now have world class breweries in every corner of Ireland including a host of breweries in the midlands including St Mels in Longford, Dead Centre in Athlone, Wide Street in Ballymahon and 12 Acres & Ballykilcavan in Laois”

 

“Five years ago we had not canned a single drop; today we employ 18 people with 12 canning lines and facilities in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands; this wouldn’t have happened without the support of so many people including the Local Enterprise Office”

 

Congratulating Bevcraft on their win, Christine Charlton, Head of Enterprise at LEO Westmeath, said she was very proud to see a Westmeath company bring home the title.

 

‘Bevcraft have achieved so much since they first approached the LEO in 2016 when starting their journey. They had identified a gap in the Irish market previously not served, and have since evolved to include a comprehensive range of solutions for craft beverage producers wishing to package their product – I look forward to following their progress in the years ahead.’

Visit the Bevcraft Group website at www.bevcraft.ie