How Tap Hopper Canning Helps NC Breweries Reach Their Customers

How Tap Hopper Canning Helps NC Breweries Reach Their Customers

There’s nothing quite like cracking open a frosty can of beer. The *kssk* sound and the bit of foam that rushes out bring the promise of tasty libations in the immediate future. If you’ve enjoyed that experience with a beer from one of your favorite North Carolina microbreweries, you likely have Patrick Sanecki and his company, Tap Hopper Canning, to thank.

Tap Hopper is a mobile beverage canning company from Greensboro. They travel from brewery to brewery canning their beers and getting them ready for distribution. After starting just a few years ago, they’ve become the preferred canner for a large portion of the breweries in the Tar Heel State.

If you’ve sipped a North Carolina microbrew out of a can in the last three years, there’s a good chance that Tap Hopper put it there.

Rolling Off the Line

Because Tap Hopper plays such a big role in the North Carolina brewery scene, it might surprise you to know that the company didn’t start out in canning.

“Our company started four years ago, and we started as a brewery tour company,” said Sanecki. It’d first been called Taphopper Tours. “My first partner and I visited different cities every year just for fun. We found the brewery scene to be growing, just as everybody else did. So once Greensboro got to a certain capacity — six or seven places — we went ahead and started a tour company.”

Tap Hopper Canning owner and CEO Patrick Sanecki.
Patrick Sanecki, Owner & CEO of Tap Hopper Canning.
Image courtesy of David Straughan.

“Then a year or so later, I started noticing more and more cans popping up,” he said. “But these breweries didn’t have canning capabilities. So I asked them, ‘Who did you use?’ And they would say, ‘Well we use someone out of Raleigh or out in Asheville, and we don’t really like them too much because they’re just a big national chain. It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s our only option.’ So it got us thinking, ‘well, we can do this.'”

And so they did. Taphopper Tours launched Tap Hopper Canning in the fall of 2017. Soon after, they were traveling around the state, canning some of North Carolina’s favorite beers.

Sanecki says that they originally planned to service breweries in the Triad. However, the company started getting calls from breweries in other parts of the state almost immediately. Now they’re covering pretty much everywhere in the state.

“We dove into it almost three years ago to the day,” he said. “We go to Virginia now, we go to South Carolina. [We go] all the way out to Morehead City, Beaufort and all the way out to Asheville. Basically, anywhere that’s within four hours of Greensboro, we’ll travel to.”

How Tap Hopper Canning Found Its Niche

Tap Hopper isn’t the only mobile canning operation, and it wasn’t the first, either. However, before, most canning operations were run by larger companies. These companies often have high minimum order quantities, making it cost-prohibitive for smaller breweries.

“We identified that early and said, ‘No, we’ll allow you to do small amounts,’ because we know that most businesses that are successful grow,” said Sanecki. “They’re grateful that we make it easy for them because they’re not overcommitting on products. We cater to exactly what their needs are. And all they’re left with is the finished product, which is why they love it.”

Empty cans and packaging lie ready at Tap Hopper Canning.
Image courtesy of David Straughan.

Cans offer advantages over glass bottles, which were the standard vessel for microbrewed beer until recently. Unlike bottles, cans don’t let light into the beer, which could spoil it. Aluminum is also infinitely recyclable, meaning there’s no lost material in the recycling process.

However, the biggest difference between cans and bottles comes when it’s time for shipping. Cans don’t shatter and bring lost product and safety hazards. In addition, one pallet of glass bottles weighs 10 times as much as the same amount of cans. This difference translates into greatly reduced fuel costs for distributors and a higher likelihood that a beer ends up on the shelf.

One of the trailers Tap Hopper Canning uses to transport its equipment.
Image courtesy of David Straughan.

By identifying the needs of a small but developing market, Tap Hopper found a comfortable niche. They also made it easier for breweries around the state to get their beer to people outside their cities.

That kind of empathetic approach is part of the plan, says Sanecki.

“It’s just kind of grown into this thing,” he said. “We all have hospitality backgrounds — food, beverage, restaurants, and hotels — so we bring that service aspect to what we do. Which is different from being a regular old contractor. We make things as simple and easy for the breweries as we possibly can.”

Growing Against a Changing Market

While many businesses struggled with low demand in 2020, Tap Hopper had the opposite problem.

“This year has been our biggest growth because of coronavirus but also our biggest challenge because we’re growing so fast,” said Sanecki. “We have to make sure we’re still doing things right.”

Image courtesy of David Straughan.

Sanecki says that as the microbrew market shifted towards take-home beers, demand for cans skyrocketed. While it’s been a boom for business, such a dramatic increase in demand could spell trouble.

“Now the can supply is becoming a concern,” said Sanecki. “Reports came out last week that there’s a 10-billion can shortage for 2021. That means there are overorders by 10 billion cans.”

However, Sanecki said he and his partners at Tap Hopper aren’t too concerned.

“We have our sources and supply,” he said. “We’re fairly confident for the size of our business that we’re able to meet the needs of our customers and still grow.”

Expanding and Integrating

This August, Tap Hopper moved into a new facility in Greensboro. The additional space will help the company expand its capacity.

“Our big plan is increasing our wholesale capability,” said Sanecki. “We have up to seven million 12-ounce cans to sell next year. And we have about three to four million 16-ounce cans to sell next year. That would be up almost 200-300% from this year.”

Image courtesy of David Straughan.

In addition, the move allows Tap Hopper to integrate one step of the supply chain into its own business. Rather than outsource can printing, Tap Hopper will offer breweries its own shrink-wrapped cans that are wrapped in-house. The new style of can wraps offers several advantages over printed cans: more design freedom, the ability to use brighter colors, and significantly shorter waiting times.

Tap Hopper Canning Brings Operations Home to Greensboro

The move to vertically integrate gives the business more control over its supply in the future. In times when the supply chain could become unpredictable, that control would help Tap Hopper maintain their steep growth. It also allows them to localize that link in their supply chain and offer new jobs in Greensboro.

“The sleeve cans will actually be printed and made here in North Carolina,” said Sanecki. “They will be sleeved and applied here in Greensboro.”

Image courtesy of David Straughan.

Greensboro, says Sanecki, has been instrumental to Tap Hopper’s success. For him, “The Gate City” has lived up to its moniker.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’ve done so well,” said Sanecki. “We love Greensboro because it is centrally located to the rest of the state. Everything is three hours away. Asheville is three hours away. Wilmington is three hours away. Charlotte’s an hour and a half. Raleigh’s an hour and a half.”

“So we can do everything on a simple day trip or a simple overnight trip and touch pretty much the whole state,” he continued. “If we were in Raleigh or in Wilmington, our outreach wouldn’t be as complete. That’s why FedEx is here, and Honda Aircraft Company is here, and all these other hubs are here. It’s a really great location to get pretty much anywhere.”

Looking for the Tar Heel State’s best fall beers? How about the best breweries in Raleigh? Stay tuned to North Carolina News Daily for more Lifestyle news and updates.