On June 12, 2020
It’s clear that there will be many long-lasting impacts and changes to the way we live our everyday lives, especially post-COVID-19 pandemic.
This concept of the “new normal” during COVID times expands past the very important health precautions being implemented. The pandemic is also revealing in so many ways how interdependent we are as individuals in our communities, and bringing to light a new social awareness regarding how our actions impact others and the world around us.
Related to this expanded social awareness during COVID, one major change we can expect in the consumer packaged goods and spirit industry is a deeper consciousness for the environment and the sustainability of the products we consume.
Many consumers will be looking to and putting trust in their local producers to lead the way in sustainability practices, and we predict sustainability will be a larger driver of purchase intent than in the past.
Enter an important consideration and prominent opportunity for the future of the distilling industry: Consumers want a sustainability mission they can toast to at the end of the day.
Below we outline some major considerations your distillery can explore to maximize resource and energy utilization, from larger planning and investments to practices that can be implemented in the everyday distilling process.
Reduction of Single-Use Products and Packaging
Before coronavirus, we saw massive efforts in the past few years to reduce single-use products and plastics. The craft spirits industry now has an opportunity to get even more creative in its sustainability efforts to reduce glass through the use of recycled packaging materials, eco-pouches, and repurposed bottles.
Another way to reduce glass is the use of bulk alternatives for refilling glass bottles in bars, taprooms, and restaurants (think: recyclable spirit kegs). By moving toward bulk practices, local distilleries could set up refill programs to reduce packaging waste as well as to encourage cost and loyalty incentives for consumers, not to mention increasing regular traffic into taprooms.
Many consumers look to their local distilleries as being more mindful and less wasteful than the bigger spirit brands.
It’s an optimal time to check in with your distillery’s current resource utilization practices and to look at your distillery’s partnerships, in terms of where your waste bi-products are going. In addition to recycling is the concept of upcycling, or repurposing common food waste into animal feed, or even innovative food products. The brewing and coffee industry are beginning to use their bi-products in creative ways. For example, Rise Products is taking the spent grains from the beer production process and turning it into a nutrient-rich flour. Snack companies, like Regrained, are upcycling spent brewer’s grains for use in delicious snack bars, puffs, and more.
Lastly, distillers have the opportunity to look at their waste-water re-utilization. Water bi-products from distillation can also be reclaimed and reused in irrigation for new crops or cleaning facilities.
The earth is breathing a little easier with significantly fewer cars on the road. In the long-run, there is also an opportunity to take a look at how your products are transported, and maximize efficiencies by increasing truck fill and spatial utilization where possible, as well as using natural gas fuels to reduce carbon emissions.
As you know, the distillation process itself demands a lot of energy and resources. To reduce the carbon footprint of your distillery, many distilleries are evaluating how your electricity is generated and used daily. Making the shift to natural renewable energy sources like hydro-electric, wind, and solar power, as well as making long-term investments in energy-saving equipment and technology have the potential to make a large impact on your brand’s sustainability efforts. In addition to repurposing bi-products, using anaerobic digesters may be a prudent solution to turn distillation waste into green energy or to create bio-fuel.
For longer-term vision-planning, we recommend looking into the crop and ingredient innovations that are available and potentially more sustainable in the long-run. For instance, we recently heard about “pea gin” as a carbon-neutral crop alternative. Staying ahead of the crop and ingredient trends could be a great way to set your distillery apart and offer something unique, as well as pave the way for the industry in sustainability efforts.