Orkney-based Swannay Brewery has made a major commitment to its future by investing in a canning line.

Being a predominantly on-trade weighted business — before covid-19, more than 70% of sales came from pubs and bars — the pandemic has forced the brewery to rapidly pivot to cater more to the off-sales business model.

With the enforced closure of pubs and bars in March 2020, the brewery saw its sales plummet to nearly zero overnight. At the same time, website sales increased by more than 2,000%, so over the course of lockdown production was focused on smallpack (bottled and canned beer) to cater to the changed customer base, all of which had to be sent south for packaging.

The brewery was nearing completion on a £1m-plus expansion project when covid took hold. One of the funders of the project, the Scottish government, via the Food Processing and Marketing Co-operation Scheme (FPMC), agreed to vary the terms of its grant support to include the canning line.

A report in 2019 showed that packaging beer on-site, as opposed to shipping it to the Scottish mainland, could save up to 167.9 tonnes of C02 annually, based on 2019 production levels.

As well as being better for the environment, canning the beer where it’s made will reduce wasted beer associated with transferring between sites, as well as improving beer quality by reducing the opportunities for oxygen pickup when the beer is being transferred between brewery and transport tanks. The brewery also intends to take on at least one more employee, once volume is built up.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Clydesdale Bank are both invested parties in the project to date, and the brewery is hopeful of further support from both in order to complete the project to be ready to open a world-class visitor centre in early 2021. The canning equipment was sourced from UK manufacturer Micro Can Ltd, in Bolton.

While the expansion project is currently on hold, pending securement of further funding, the brewery is focusing its sales efforts on its website and also bottle and can shops, both of which the canning line will complement.

A one-off brew called Double Down has been brewed to mark the start of canning. Packaged in 440ml cans (existing Swannay cans are 330ml), it will be available only via the brewery website.

Brewery manager, Lewis Hill, said the investment in a canning line was exciting and daunting in equal measure: “It was always a dream of ours to be able to package our beer where it’s brewed; our changed business model due to coronavirus has made the benefit of packaging the beer where it’s made even greater, so we took the plunge and made the investment.

“Even with the support of the FPMC scheme, it’s still a bold move, but one we are confident will pay dividends, for the business, our beer, and the environment, well into the future.”

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