FALMOUTH — A new Maine company is launching an innovative product in two of the state’s largest industries: forest products and craft beer. Maine Coasters & Bio-Boards, founded by Falmouth native Kai Smith, is developing beverage coasters made from Maine softwood pulps as well as leftover or “spent” grain from local breweries.
The company was recently awarded a $25,000 seed grant from the Maine Technology Institute to manufacture prototypes at the University of Maine Process Development Center – the state’s leading forestry lab located in Orono.
Maine Coasters is Smith’s second company. His first business, the Portland-based gift card startup Buoy Local, was acquired by Bangor Savings Bank in 2016. He co-founded that company with Sean Sullivan of the Maine Brewers’ Guild. Smith is currently working with a small group of advisors including Sullivan, Heather Sanborn, Co-owner of Rising Tide Brewing, and Charlotte Mace, Executive Director at Bio-Based Maine.
Upwards of 6 billion coasters are manufactured each year and rough estimates put the size of the market at around $500 million, with American craft beer representing the fastest growing segment. For comparison, Maine’s entire forest products industry is around $8.5 billion.
“This is a great way to think about reinventing a product that’s commonly used in marketing for breweries like ours,” said Sanborn. “It’s also very encouraging that we continue to see new types of businesses emerging in relation to the beer industry.”
Smith added that art plays an obvious role in marketing for breweries and he hopes to use the coasters as a way to further showcase this side of Maine beer. At their Portland tasting room, Oxbow Brewing is currently hosting work from internationally-renown breweries such as Mikkeller in Copenhagen, and Omnipollo in Stockholm. It’s a sampling of what’s seen in the vibrant, mural-covered, tasting rooms of small and large breweries across the world. The work will be on display through the end of March.
Smith expects the company’s prototypes to be released to breweries this spring or summer. Initial distribution will be provided at no cost in exchange for participation in two surveys to help conduct a market study. Additional information can be found on the company’s website: www.mainebeercoasters.com