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Omaha Magazine

Sales in the Can

Sep 21, 2023 03:48PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
omaha! Campfire Cooking Tool Rustles Up Big Profits for Nebraska Inventor

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Photographs of Rascal Flatts, Jelly Roll, KISS, and other notable personalities line the walls of a stairwell in an unassuming warehouse in Fremont. The photos showcase the eclectic mix of celebrities with whom Nebraska resident Seth McGinn, creator of the Can Cooker, has shared his unique invention.

“The year he put it into (Rascal Flatts lead vocalist) Gary LeVox’s hands, the group was No. 1…,” said J.T. Harden of Carthage, Missouri. Harden is the owner of F-3 Media and a good friend of McGinn’s. Like many Can Cooker aficionados, Harden was introduced to the product, and McGinn, at a trade show for outdoorsmen.

“He sat there and explained how it (Can Cooker) got started,” Harden said. “We just took it home.”

“It” had humble beginnings. McGinn took a tool used for prairie cooking—something he’d learned from his days on his grandfather’s ranch—and turned it into a multi-million-dollar business. His product is modeled after a cream can, a container used to store fresh milk. McGinn was amazed that not everyone knew how to cook in one. 

“Being from Nebraska, we understood the cream-can supper,” McGinn said of the one-pot, campfire-cooking method of throwing vegetables and meat into a cream can with liquid, then allowing the vessel to heat the meal for several hours. “I didn’t realize it was a regional thing.” 

As he began using the cooking method to avoid spending hours behind the grill, friends and family became intrigued, requesting cream cans of their own for Christmas gifts. 

McGinn originally used stainless steel to create the 4-gallon cream cans, thinking that it would work well since many people use stainless steel pots in their kitchens.

“I knew very little about properties of metal,” he said. “Then someone said ‘why don’t you make it out of something that transfers heat better?’” He switched to making cans out of aluminum, which reduced the average cooking time from six hours to about one hour.

McGinn began commercially selling the Can Cooker in 2009, operating out of a storage unit, and sales quickly picked up steam. He sponsored television shows on the Outdoor Channel, including “Bone Collector,” which, in 2009, reached 908,000 unique households, according to the Nielsen ratings. By 2014, McGinn was selling over 50,000 Can Cookers a year, and had outgrown a 17,000-square-foot space that employed 10 people. 

Today, his product sells “tens of thousands of units” annually in major retail stores, including Cabela’s/Bass Pro Shops, Scheels, and Walmart. 

The Discovery Channel show “Naked and Afraid” showcases the Can Cooker, used by its survivalist competitors. (The can is spray-painted black to hide the brand, but McGinn said the exposure is still good.)

The business employs a staff of four and at least 15 sales representatives; it manufacturers, packages, and ships out of a facility in Fremont, Nebraska.

McGinn continues tweaking his product and expanding his product line. He’s created a 2-gallon “junior” size can, as well as one with a non-stick coating. He also developed an entire line of companion products, such as cutting boards and cookbooks.

“He never stops,” Harden said. “He’s constantly thinking” of new versions or features to add.

“I’m not going to put out anything that’s not quality,” McGinn said. “We turn down more than we put out.” 

At heart, McGinn is a people-person and while sitting around perfecting a product appeals to him, his favorite moments in this business are when he spends time at trade shows and nonprofit events showing people his product; and that has led to several of the photos lining the stairwell of that humble office in Fremont. 

“He’s the life of the party,” Harden said. “He’s quick on his feet and funny. People are naturally drawn to him.”

Being drawn to him and his product, has consequently led to sales and recognition, well beyond the Omaha area. 

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This article originally appeared in the October/November 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
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