Alternative Packaging – Cardboard and Compostable Can Holders for the Craft Brewer
The social media posts were simple but eye catching. Familiar cans of Heady Topper, the flagship beer of The Alchemist, in a group of four, and bounded together by a plant-based can holder.
For the Vermont brewery, the switch to compostable packaging from the familiar plastic snap-on holders signaled yet another step in the company’s sustainability efforts. As brewers continue to think about the effects of climate change, waste, and renewable resources, they are looking for alternatives to the norm.
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The plant-based holders are not new in the brewing industry. E6PR is a company that has been producing these biodegradable ring holders for years now and has seen steady growth in willing customers. The company says the rings are made from a “proprietary mix of bio-based by-product waste from the food and beverage industry, as well as other organic materials.”
Once conditions are met following use, the company says it can compost within 200 days.
That was one of the considerations that Joel Hartman, COO, at The Alchemist said the company took into considerations. The brewery has long tried to innovate and bring sustainable products into all aspects of the brewer’s production stream.
“We’re always keeping an eagle eye out for anything new that develops in the industry that can steer us towards sustainability,” he said. “We started looking at this option a year and a half ago.”
One hold up, Hartman said, was the machinery needed to pack the beer. There were only two options available, one for small breweries doing 4-packs at a time and then larger machines that could handle hundreds of packs in minutes, best suited for the largest breweries.
For a brewery the size of The Alchemist, indeed a large swath of American breweries that fall in the middle, they needed the technology to catch up with the packaging.
While that was coming together the brewery put the holders through the paces, dropping and rough handling packs, wetting them, and having them spend extended time in coolers. The brewery was pleased with the results, and as the packaging began to roll out this month Hartman said the brewery is waiting on reports from distributors.
“Customer reaction at the brewery is positive,” he said. “Folks who are interested in our beers and are interested in watching our sustainability practices come together, and it’s a real talking point for our staff in the retail room and we’ve had great feedback this way.”
For now, the brewery will continue to also use PakTech at their other facility, but plan to transition into the biodegradable options as time and equipment allows.
Hartman said that there have been trade-offs, like how the biodegradable packs don’t allow for sticker placement, but that he expects printing on the holders to be available shortly.
As for any cost differential, he said there are always adjustments in time and materials when switching to more sustainable products or initiatives, but that eventually everything shakes out and the good feelings about doing right by the planet completely justify the change.