The previous generation of PET beer bottles were no more than standard carbonated soft drink bottles, with round shoulders, straight bodies and short necks. David Drew, Boxmore’s chief commercial officer discusses the company’s new range of PET beer bottles, designed specifically for the African beer market.
Boxmore doesn’t believe that premium beers will always be bottled in glass because of the supposed
“image of quality”. ‘We would rather focus on current research, which indicates that it’s the colour of the packaging more than the material that determines the perception that a beer is premium,’ Drew explains.
The PET industry has long seen beer as the next great challenge and opportunity. Having already converted most of the soft drinks’ market away from the more traditional glass and can formats, the next major drinks category to conquer is beer.
Boxmore recently launched the first PET bottle range designed specifically for beer. ‘There is a lot of beer already bottled in PET, but not to the extent that we would like to see it yet. In Zimbabwe, Chibuku is doing very well. The beverage was initially supplied in cartons and HDP. SAB experimented with a slight change to the recipe, carbonating and clarifying the product slightly so it is not as lumpy and bottling in PET bottles of 500ml and 1.25 litre bottles.
‘The concept has taken off and there are now modular PET bottling sites at “super” Chibuku breweries. The first was commissioned in Ndola, with Lusaka and Harare following. The volume of beer sold in Zimbabwe is substantial. It is critical to get the volume versus cost right. Another benefit of PET is its flexibility,’ Drew enthuses.
Creating a niche product for craft beers
There is growing acceptance of PET within southern Africa’s emerging microbrewer industry.
‘In time, microbrewers will build the acceptance of PET as a format and create opportunities in the mainstream market.’
PET is the ideal format for artisanal beer and the emerging brewer. One of the biggest traditional barriers to using PET for beer is that most mainstream beer is pasteurised after filling, and although this is possible with specially-made PET bottles, pasteurisation before filling is difficult and costly. Artisanal beer, on the other hand, is generally not pasteurised.
From an equipment point of view for many emerging microbreweries, starting out and growing in PET is much easier and cheaper than in glass. In contrast, most of the big brewers are already invested both in glass filling equipment and returnable glass bottles, so a change to PET could be extremely costly. PET beer bottles are also attractive for microbreweries as unit costs are lower and the bottle is lighter. In transport, there are savings to and from the factory. There is also less breakage.