Good first impressions aren’t about handshakes or eye contact or a certain look; they’re about tone. It’s all about good vibrations (think The Beach Boys or Marky Mark featuring the Funky Bunch). When Matt Leslie and his business partner Kevin Pederson launched their business back in 2014, they weren’t only tasked with setting the tone in British Columbia where new craft breweries were – and still are – popping-up every month; they were starting something that would quickly resonate coast-to- coast. West Coast Canning was Canada’s first mobile canning endeavour but Matt would be the first person to tell you that being the first out of the gate wasn’t the most crucial element to reaching 90-plus customers throughout BC and Alberta.

“People are leaving their jobs; they’re re-mortgaging their homes to start these craft breweries,” he explained. “That’s why people look for a company like us when they’re ready to can their product. They want someone who cares as much about the business and about craft beer as they do – and that’s us. They’re basically giving us their “baby” and asking us to wrap it up.” Kevin’s andMatt’s attention to detail has even earned both of them nicknames in the craft beer industry: they’re widely known as Mr. 473ml andMr. 355 ml, respectively. Spotlight on Business had the opportunity to chat with Mr. 473ml in late 2017 and it turns out that their reputations have earned thema lot more than nicknames. A little over a year agoWest Coast Canningmerged with Canada’s secondmobile canning company, Sessions Craft Canning out of Toronto, to become the nation’s foremost full servicemobile packaging solution for craft breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries.

By David MacDonald H ow is it that West Coast Canning was the first to the punch in the mobile canning game, Matt? ML: Kevin, my business partner, had the idea back in 2012. Kevin’s the guy who’s always looking for the new thing. He’s the guy who saw it all coming down the pipe. We were watching the US market and there were a lot of guys down in Colorado doing well servicing the craft beer market. A couple of years later craft beer really started to take off in BC. Breweries like Brassneck, 33 Acres, and Parallel 49 were doing really well so Kevin and I started to revisit the whole idea. I was in Victoria at the time; he was in Prince George. We started pre-selling the idea and people were really into it. Cans were a bit of a novelty – and difficult to get into – but we decided to go ahead. We purchased the equip- ment, got the truck, did some training and went to work. A year later, over 20 breweries opened in the province and we really started to get busy – now there’s over one hundred in BC alone. That was more or less how the whole thing started. And I understand that West Coast Canning has a birthday coming up – is that right? ML: In March of 2018 we’ll be four years old. We have clients we’re working with now who we were working with three years ago or even longer. We’re working at a much higher capacity now and so are most of them. We see some of these brewers once a week now. It’s been wild to see these guys grow. If it wasn’t for riding their coat tails we wouldn’t be where we are today. They get busier and then as a col-

lective we get busier. It’s been really neat to be a part of it and to see the industry grow as whole.

There are breweries we work with that I wouldn’t even put in the category of clients; they’re friends. These are people we text, we see on weekends, we see around our neigh- bourhoods. It’s pretty darn cool; it’s a really cool industry for that sort of thing. Matt, what does 90-plus clients and four years in business look like in cans? ML: I actually just checked with someone in accounting and it’s actually up to 9.5 million cans now – we’ve done over 700,000 since filling out the research questions for your magazine. We’ll be close to 10 million by the end of 2017. What that- computed to over the summer with the summer months being our busiest time was about 25,000 cans a day between our three canning lines in BC and Alberta. It was a fair bit. Six to 8 months down the road we brought in the shrink- sleever. We realized that the barrier to entry was not just the packaging equipment but also the can itself. We were outsourcing cans at the time in the shrink-sleeve can format – and they were expensive. So we decided to bring that in-house and we saved the breweries we worked with a fair amount of money – and we made some more money on our Originally we started with just the one canning line in 2014.



What is the packaging process like, Matt, and what are the advantages for craft brewers? ML: All of our packaging is done on-site at the client’s brewery – that’s where we do all of the actual canning. We do all the shrink-sleeving at our 25,000 square feet facility, which is what takes up most of the room, and the rest of the process is mobile. We take the finished product, the sleeve can, load it into the truck with our mobile canning line with our day coder, our dissolved oxygen tester, and two of our guys will roll up to the brewery then set-up and sanitize. They’ll then hook-up to the tank where the beer has been conditioned and cooled and then we go to town. They’ll perform quality control throughout the canning run to ensure that everything is packaged to the highest industry standards. When the order is done we shut it down, clean it up, load it back on the truck and get ready for the next day’s run. The canning process always has the potential to go horribly wrong. You can ruin a whole batch of beer that had nothing wrong with it to begin with. That’s why we’ve continually worked on bringing in people, partners, who care as much as we do. We want people working with us who find it just as fulfilling as we do every day, no pun intended. If they’re out there and they’re not enjoying it, it’s not fair to them or to the people who own the brewery. We’ve had some busy summers where our staff has worked some really long hours so you really have to enjoy it! Another important thing to consider is that whole mobile approach allows breweries to maintain their footprint without having to invest in bigger space for their own canning line; it allows them to invest more money in more equipment to brew more beer, which is what most craft breweries need to be doing in the initial stages especially. Investing in an expensive piece of equipment that you’re only going to use once a month doesn’t make a lot of sense – it restricts growth. Speaking of partners and growth, do you care to share with the readers any details about your latest big move in the industry? ML : Just over a year ago we did a merger with Jeff

side. Just one year after we opened we brought in our second canning line and we brought in the third in late 2017 and the fourth this year with our operation in Calgary. We also upgraded our shrink sleever last year and we have a brand new one coming in mid-February that will have a much higher output. Beer isn’t your only speciality at West Coast Canning is it? ML: Beer is probably 98 percent of what we do. Cider is next. Craft cider is a market that’s growing quickly in terms of volume and demand but it has a long way to go to catch up to beer. “They want someone who cares as much about the business and about craft beer as they do – and that’s us. They’re basically giving us their “baby” and asking us to wrap it up.” We’ve done a few types of RTD, ready-to- drink beverag- es like a Palm Bay sort of mixture, and we’ve done some cold brew coffees. These sorts of volumes are usually quite small and we can package them in about 20 minutes.

Rogowsky and Sessions Craft Canning in Ontario. They were the second company in Canada to get into mobile canning about eight or nine months after us. Jeff came out to see us in Victoria on our first or second canning run and it was great and they started up in Toronto after that. We’ve since rolled into one company and we took what we had already created in BC and really tried to work with what they had going on in Ontario. We’re trying to fill the gap in a market that goes from big out West to enormous in Ontario. We really wanted to help and be a part of what is going on out there. They’re a sister company and a holding company owns both. It allows us to continue to provide a better service across the board and to continue to drive our price down so that breweries are paying less for their products to get on the shelves for consumers – that’s been the goal since day one. We’re continuing to grow organically, which is what we want. We’ve never had to take on any equity partners and we’ve been continually able to service our debt. It was towards the end of 2016 that myself, Kevin, and Mitch who is another partner – and Jeff at Sessions – recognized that there is a tremendous demand for this. There was a gaping hole in the supply chain and we wanted to be the ones to fill it because we felt we were the best to do so. It was then that we raised some capital and decided to move into the new facility. “It’s been wild to see these guys grow. If it wasn’t for riding their coat tails we wouldn’t be where we are today.” We’re really excited to see where it goes and we’re also excited to see up-and- comers come in and make contribu- tions to innovation and quality. We always want to stay on the top of the game and be leaders in volume and quality. Having a brand that’s cross-country is really cool, too.

to home for you and Kevin and that you both stepped-up and kept a promise that you made to yourselves years back. In the beginning Kevin and I didn’t pay ourselves. We did what we needed to do to grow the business. We knew that once we became profitable that we wanted to give back. We’re now in that position. Kevin and I are both from Northern BC and with the wild fires there this past summer we really wanted to help. In the month of July we kicked- in a penny for every can we filled and that month we filled 500,000 cans, which allowed us to give five grand to the Red Cross. We’re also a predominantly male company so the month of November was a big deal for us with Movember. We are working on bringing in more women at West Coast Canning, but that’s an important cause for us. We grew the moustaches and raised a lot of awareness about prostate cancer along with $8,000. It was really cool. The moustach- es we posted on social media were pretty great. I’ve got to say that being a part of this industry is definitely something that has changed all of our lives. Are the rumours true, Matt? Are you guys bringing back CAN CITY in 2018? CANCITY, as it was, will not be back in the same form for 2018……but…….we do have something great planned coming down the pipe!

Matt, I understand that the devastating wild fires last summer in Northern British Columbia really touched close

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8250 Borden Street, Vancouver, BC V5P 3E7 877.959.CANS (2267)

as spotlighted in the FEBRUARY 2018 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE

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