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The craft beverage industry is frequently touted as being an advocate for sustainability. Programs focusing on waste reduction and fuel alternatives are already a focus for larger production breweries with wide distribution areas. There are obviously endless areas for industry improvement, especially in packaging, where every choice matters.
Glass bottles have long been the classic package for craft beer, and while they are technically recyclable, many cities don’t have a program for glass retrieval. As a result, a huge amount of bottles end up in landfills. More easily recyclable cans now occupy a huge space on the craft retail shelf. While both cans and bottles are recyclable, growlers are reusable, making them a much more sustainable package. And not just environmentally sustainable–the cost benefits to growlers are sustainable from a business point of view as well. Packaging is not cheap–in fact, it’s one of the most costly areas of the production process. There’s the large inventory of supplies (cans, bottles, caps, lids, labels, holders and cases), labor, water, cleaning and sanitizing chemicals, and either an in-house packaging line or the rent of a mobile unit. For far-reaching distribution, bottles and cans are clearly the best choice. But for onsite or local consumption, growlers win from a cost of goods and labor analysis.
Growlers also provide benefits from a customer engagement perspective. They are large packages with a brewery’s name attached (built-in marketing!) and encourage the drinker to return to the brewery for refills. It’s hard to overlook the supplier-to-customer interaction element in this scenario which just isn’t attainable at separate retail establishments. For business owners, it’s a valuable chance for customer involvement. Promotions are another option–frequent growler fill punch cards, or monthly subscriptions similar to wine club memberships. Participants become social stakeholders, often feeling more connected to supporting local businesses. And at 64 ounces, growlers are usually shared with other fans or potential customers. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing, and beer in mouth is even better.
A final major benefit to growlers is of product freshness. Cans and bottles often sit longer in stores or at distributor warehouses than brewery owners would prefer, resulting in stale or lightstruck beer. As long as growlers are clean, properly filled and the consumer understands it’s not a long-term storage vessel, the beer will be truer to form than in bottles or cans. These are all stipulations that the brewery has control over–they can help educate their customers, thoroughly wash returning growlers, and utilize a variety of filling technologies from the basic tap-extending hose to BeerGuns™ and counterpressure fillers.
With all the potential benefits, growlers continue to evolve as a great choice for the craft beverage community–for business owners hoping to reduce their environmental impact and offset some of their production costs, but also to consumers. Craft beverage enthusiasts feel more connected locally and get to drink a fresh and often cheap product. It’s a mutual beneficial situation that makes for healthy and successful business.