Celebrating the win in the National Enterprise Awards, (from left) Pat Gallagher, Westmeath County Council CEO; Bevcraft founders Ciarán Gorman and Darren Fenton; and Christine Charlton, Westmeath Local Enterprise Office.

Bevcraft team pack serious potential

The top award at this year’s National Enterprise Awards, which took place on Thursday February 11, live from the Mansion House in Dublin, was a Mullingar firm, Bevcraft Group.

Founders Ciarán Gorman and Darren Fenton, who started Bevcraft five years ago, were among 30 entrepreneurs selected for the awards but their phenomenal growth meant they were an obvious choice.

The Bevcraft Group, which is located in Mullingar Business Park, provides mobile canning and related ‘craft can’ products and services to craft beverage producers. Already the largest such business in Europe, Bevcraft now works with more than 250 brands to can their produce using their mobile canning technology. It is operating in five European countries and in 2021 aims to handle more than 50 million cans.

At the ceremony, Westmeath Local Enterprise boss, Christine Charlton said the judges had described the firm as “one to watch”.

“The company has had spectacular growth in a short period of time and Bevcraft innovates using cutting edge technology,” she stated, adding that the firm had a highly ambitious business plan and significant potential to achieve on a global scale.

Interviewed live via a webcam, Ciarán and Darren said that the firm has 12 canning lines and that this year it will handle 50 million cans across Ireland the UK and the Netherlands.

They said the firm’s success was partly down to the fact that the craft beer sector was “a wonderful industry”. “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 – St Mel’s in Longford, Dead Centre in Athlone, Wide Street in Ballymahon and 12 Acres and Ballykilcavan Brewing Company in Laois.

“The industry that we work in has just gone from essentially a standing start 10 years ago to maybe close to 1,000 people employed across the island at this stage.”

The two paid tribute to all those who played a part in the company’s success: “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.

“No business is here just because of the founders,” they told the interviewer.

“Essentially it’s a team effort; there’s a lot of people involved. In our case it’s Westmeath Local Enterprise Office; it’s AIB; there’s a wonderful team that works with us; there’s our families and of course the wonderful clients that we have enjoyed working with across the country.”

Congratulating Bevcraft on their win, Ms Charlton said she was proud to see a Westmeath company take 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.”

The announcement that the overall award winner was Bevcraft was made on the night by the Minister of State with responsibility for Employment Affairs and Retail Businesses, Damien English TD, who quipped that “two of my ministerial colleagues will be very happy”.

The citation stated that in addition to demonstrating exceptional results in other categories, the overall winners had shown leadership in management and team capability, growth and employment potential, as well as strategic focus.

The award, the citation continued, recognised the entrepreneurial skills of founders with vision, drive and commitment, who have also made a clear contribution to local employment and the economy.

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Bevcraft: yes they can!

In June this year, it will be five years since Darren Fenton and Ciarán Gorman of Bevcraft Group trekked over to Reel Deel in Crossmolina, Mayo for their first canning run. The pair say they could never have imagined the way their offering would evolve. The Mullingar company provides canning to craft beverage producers, the first in Europe to offer many of these solutions, and today operates in Ireland, the UK and Netherlands. At its core is a fleet of 12 mobile canning lines.

THE BEVCRAFT JOURNEY

Bevcraft was established by Darren and Ciarán in 2016. Both are from Mullingar, and Darren was living in Osaka, Japan, and Ciarán was working in Dublin. Both harboured ambitions to set up a business at home. Darren said: “We wanted to provide something genuinely new that could have a wider impact.”

The impact of the economic crash was still a fresh memory, and that shaped their business thinking. There had been an increase in the number of microbreweries in Ireland, and they represented a great example of regional development. The key to unlocking their potential lay in getting products to more markets, and canning was a big part of that.

Ciarán said: “We provide cans to a client’s specification, brand them with a label, sleeve or 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 multi-pack cans, all coded, tested and ready for distribution. This opens up retail, direct sales and crucially, export opportunities.

“We are fortunate to now have clients from Kinsale to Belfast, from Cornwall to Orkney and from Spain to Norway.”

MAKING IT HAPPEN WITH LEO WESTMEATH

Like many start-up business people, Ciarán and Darren invested their savings, used family and bank start-up loans, zero director wages, sold a home – and had start-up grant assistance from LEO Westmeath.

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

Bevcraft secured a start-up grant from LEO Westmeath in 2016 for the purchase of equipment, and further employment and capital grants in 2018 and 2019.

The company was runner-up in the Best Start up Category of ‘Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur’ in 2018. The duo have completed business training with the LEO and availed of a Trading Online Voucher to improve their website, and Technical Assistance Micro Exports grants when they began to explore their export potential.

CHALLENGES: COVID AND BREXIT

The majority of businesses in Ireland are either in the process of recovery or formulating new strategies as a result of Covid-19, and Brexit. Ciarán and Darren say the practical impacts have been huge. In 2019, they had travelled to the UK and EU nearly every week as part of their expansion plans, but due to coronavirus, they have ceased travel for now.

Furthermore, Covid-19 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’ turnovers.

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.

Darren says: “The Irish supply chain is dependent on the UK and although we stocked up hugely prior to January, we’ve already seen delays on haulage between the two countries.”

Darren and Ciarán are optimistic about the future: “Over the coming year we will open our fourth and fifth facilities, and we expect our total headcount to jump from 16 to 25-30 in the coming 12 to 18 months,” Ciarán says.

LOCAL ENTERPRISE OFFICE WESTMEATH

The Local Enterprise Office is a one-stop shop for businesses at any stage – from pre-start to the growth stage. The office offers a variety of training opportunities, mentoring, and financial supports to eligible businesses across most sectors.

If you’d like to grow your small business, get in touch by emailing localenterprise@west-meathcoco.ie or call 044 933 8945.

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