Changing Face of the German Beer Bottle
Will New Beer Bottle Designs Fundamentally Change the Industry in Germany?
Every time you buy a beer bottle in a German supermarket you pay a little bit extra (8 – 25 cents) so that you are encouraged to return it, just like many states in the U.S. After you have inserted all your bottles in a space age-looking returns machine, it prints out a receipt with the amount deducted off your final shopping bill at the checkout or returned in cash.
The German Pfandflaschensystem has been the envy of many countries but recent changes in how beer is marketed in Germany have led to some concerns in the industry, particularly among smaller breweries according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine.
In Germany, approximately 99% of beer bottles are reusable deposit bottles. At any given time, an estimated 2 billion beer bottles are in circulation in Germany, each of which sees an average of 36 reuses. The Euro bottle was the main shape in use until the 1980s, when many breweries began to switch over to NRW and Longneck bottles, both of which are available as 330ml and 500ml bottles. The current market leader is the NRW bottle followed by the Longneck. Many smaller, traditional breweries have retained the Euro bottle as part of their corporate identity.
In recent years, several large German breweries have produced their own individual bottles to differentiate themselves from the competition, in which the brand name is embossed as a relief (raised lettering) on the bottle. Veltins began the trend of individual bottle designs when it brought its own bottles onto the German market in 2003. Four years later came Radeberger, then Bitburger, Hasseröder, Köstritzer and Carlsberg. Now Germany’s market leader Krombacher has finally introduced its own bottles with embossed lettering on the bottle neck.
Previously the empty bottles, which accumulated at the local wholesaler, were simply refilled by the nearest brewery. In many cases today, the bottle has to return to its own brewery. Today, when someone drinks a Bitburger in Berlin, the bottle has to go back to Bitburg in the Eifel – a 440 mile journey across Germany. Similarly a Radeberger, drunk in the Eifel, has to return to Radeberg located over 400 miles away.
If the trend continues in the long term, there is concern that it could put pressure on the many smaller breweries in Germany. They often cannot afford their own bottle designs, particularly due to the high transport costs this would incur, and are dependent on the current returns system as part of their business model. Some of the larger breweries though, such as Warsteiner and Oettinger, are still continuing to use the traditional brown regular bottle. One should not forget though that “der Kunde ist König”, and it will be interesting to see how this story develops over the coming months and years.