Business Leaders: Take 5 – Conall Low and Jack Low, Wasted Degrees

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Expansion into Europe may not have been at the forefront of Conall Low’s mind when, in 2017, he left his recently acquired degree behind to launch Wasted Degrees Brewing with fellow craft beer enthusiast, John Thompson.

However, a lot of beer has flowed since then and this autumn will see the Highland Perthshire brewery take its first steps into exporting in a move that is predicted to elevate its liquid output 20% ahead of its 2022 growth forecast.

In the five years since it launched, the company has scaled several times. Most significantly, moving from Conall’s parents’ garage in 2019 to a fully operational site in Blair Atholl. It is now on target to produce around 225,000 litres of beer by 2026 giving a 66% compound annual growth rate over five years.

2021 saw a 125% growth in production output and increasing amounts of beer being shipped across the UK. This allowed the team at Wasted Degrees to grow and in November last year Conall’s brother, Jack Low, acquired John’s share of the business. Jack’s background as the International Business Development Manager for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society brought experience in commercial development to the business.

Although continuously evolving in all areas, Wasted Degrees continues to brew its core range and an ever-changing line-up of small- batch, limited edition beers. Underpinned by a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility, along with its fully electric renewables-powered brewhouse, Wasted Degrees makes a consistent effort to support local agriculture by brewing with Perthshire – grown ingredients whenever possible.

In March 2022, Conall and Jack successfully secured funding via the Council’s Green Recovery Capital Development Grant to enable the purchase of a canning line and labelling machine, both of which are designed and manufactured in the UK by Bolton-based Microcan.

Conall commented: “The acquisition of a canning line has been transformational for Wasted Degrees and will likely represent the largest single investment of the next five years.

As a business that began in a garage – a hobby running out of control – we’re now brewing back-to-back up to six days a week and preparing to launch into Europe this autumn.”

What challenges were you facing as a business that led you to apply for capital funding?

JACK: “Frustratingly, our plans for acquiring capital assets had been delayed due to the various challenges posed by Covid-19, particularly the reduced economic momentum which had led to fewer opportunities to grow our cash reserves.

“Whilst we’d grown significantly since 2017, the brewery was not in a position to fully fund the acquisition of the canning line from its own reserves – a cost of £45,000 plus VAT.

“Our packaging operation and staff base was operating at full capacity and we had no means of automating the process. 1,200- litre batches of beer would take us four days to bottle and label by hand. This had led to sizeable inefficiencies and, combined with the lockdown closure of pubs and consumers pivoting to e-commerce, it had proven detrimental to the growth of the business.”

CONALL: “Our business thrives because it’s orientated to supporting the circular and local economy and our old bottling operations just didn’t align with our wider values. Our recipes aim to limit carbon creation and reduce both food waste and food miles, while championing the region’s produce – for example, we’ve brewed with delicious- but-blemished Perthshire raspberries that are rejected by supermarkets – and yet we were being held back in terms of production, growth and environmental impact.”

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How does the new canning line improve your environmental footprint?

CONALL: “Cans are infinitely more recyclable; according to Stanford University, when it comes to the five most recycled household materials, recycling aluminium is the most energy efficient by a significant margin. And interestingly, recycling glass is the least energy efficient.

three white and black coloured can of lager.

“Aluminium cans also create less carbon during their overall lifecycle of production, transport to the brewery, filling, and transport to consumer, simply because they weigh so much less than glass.”

JACK: “It’s worth adding that we are positioned in a postcode that also suffers from inflated ‘Highlands and Islands’ shipping charges; the weight of the glass bottles was an issue in this respect too. We weren’t content with creating economic and environmental gains through our use of local raw materials only to erode those gains through sub-optimal packaging solutions. We needed the canning line to enable targeted and sustainable growth.”

How has the investment benefited Wasted Degrees in the first six months?

CONALL: “The grant award – 50% funding – made buying a canning line and labelling machine an immediate option which in turn allowed us to move to the next level of production. It’s that simple. The fact that we could source such high-quality kit designed and manufactured in the UK just made this even sweeter.

“We were at a point where we were struggling to keep up with demand and the canning line has enabled us to scale in a sustainable, responsible, and carbon-conscious manner. It has turned that four-day job into a four- hour job, instantly delivering operational efficiencies and environmental savings, as well as enhancing our speed to market.”

“Although it’s early days, the sales run rate of cans is around 40% greater than that of bottles”

JACK: “In addition, we’re now producing a product that appeals more to the drinker and trade customer. In our experience, cans lend themselves better to shelf space optimisation and improve the average order value via multi-unit purchases.

“Although it’s early days, the sales run rate of cans is around 40% greater than that of bottles. However, the largest ongoing impact commercially must be realising the potential to sell our product both in and beyond Scotland.”

What are your plans for exploiting that beyond-Scotland potential?

JACK: “We’re on the cusp of signing a deal to export 15,000 units to Amsterdam later this year, our first export deal! This is new territory for us, and we have a lot to learn, but it will be the foundation that we need to further leverage the canning line investment and spread our Perthshire message further.”

CONALL: “Beyond this deal, we’re in conversations with buyers in France and Hong Kong. The capability to fulfil large orders efficiently is a confidence boost; the canning line is an enabler for us to better compete, to chase opportunities that had previously been out of reach.”

Visit Wasted Degrees

The brewery shop is open all year Monday to Friday, whilst the Wasted Degrees Taproom opens on Saturdays from April to September, serving up pizzas, stews, and BBQ alongside up to 12 draught beers and cider.

14 November 2022 By Oliver Johnstone