The popularity of wine is unbroken. Among private consumers, in the events industry, bars and the hospitality sector, wine sales account for a high proportion of turnover. For unrestricted enjoyment of any wine’s flavour, the right packaging has a decisive role to play. Traditionally, consumers buy wine in bottles. In production, trade and commerce, however, large containers are quite usual. In fact, small barrels known as KEGs are increasingly becoming the preferred choice. There are many good reasons for putting wine in stainless steel KEGs. Stainless steel is tasteless and is not affected by fruit acids. Evaporation and the resulting concentration of the beverage inside is impossible. If the storage and serving temperature specific to the wine is maintained, the sensory sensitivity remains unchanged over the entire shelf life. Besides taste neutrality, further decisive criteria, such as circular economy, hygiene, transportability and storability, often make stainless steel KEGs the best choice not only economically but also ecologically.
The tradition and history of KEGs is indisputably linked to beer. The idea that stainless steel KEGs are also suitable packaging for other beverages is slowly but surely gaining acceptance. By adapting the propellant gas to a nitrogen mixture that does not carbonate the contents, KEGs can now also be used for both still alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. In Germany, wine is the second most popular beverage in the hospitality sector, after beer, while in France and Luxembourg, for example, wine is preferred choice. In the UK, the consumption of beer and wine is more or less even.
At the end of 2019, Borough Wines in London became the first supplier of wine in returnable KEGs to focus on wholesale, selling a range of sustainable wines. With the quality and environmental benefits of Wine-on-Tap, the company aims to spark a refill revolution. Their declared goal is to save tons of glass bottles, plastic and cardboard from bag-in-box and other non-refillable containers.
The wine is delivered in reusable bulk containers from sustainably minded, independent winegrowers. The wine is bottled at Borough Wines in containers suitable for distribution. Many of the wine specialities stocked are certified as organic and vegan, with "natural" and biodynamic wines being given a high priority. Behind this entire approach is a genuine commitment to sustainability, which Borough Wines says has become an indicator for great wines.
In their search for innovation, Borough Wines have devised the value creation chain “SustainableWineSolutions” to meet the trade’s sustainable wine needs. A key link to the market, of course, is the product packaging. For this, the company has invested in a new bottling and cleaning facility in Greenwich Peninsula, which allows them to close the cycle in the bottling process and establish their own returnable system.
In 2020, the wholesaler introduced the Zero Waste wine range. Each participating winemaker has committed to minimising their waste and using only environmentally sustainable techniques for growing and making wine. Labels such as Artisan, Women Winemakers & Organic denote winemakers who are committed to balance, quality and sustainability throughout their entire production and distribution processes. The range is diverse: from high-quality house wine from the Bistro range to a premium Bordeaux in the 225 range from Damien Barton.
Consequently, the team at Borough Wines opted for the stackable Junior PLUS KEG from SCHÄFER Container Systems for serving red wine in barrels in restaurants and wine bars, thus replacing bottles. The selected 20.5-litre slimline container is characterised by a low tare weight of less than four kilograms, with easy-to-handle external dimensions for the staff.
Indeed, catering and hospitality in particular benefit from the advantages of these small barrels. Landlords and restaurant owners can switch from bottles to dispensing systems with little effort. More accurate portioning and therefore better billing is possible by using the right type of system with an integrated counting function. There are also logistical benefits: stainless steel KEGs protect their contents from light and sunlight, providing 100 percent UV protection. The insensitivity of stainless steel KEGs to transport damage is unique. Glass breakage is eliminated completely and the design of some KEGs even has a shock absorber effect that protects the KEG from impact if it falls or is dropped.
Barrels can also be stored more efficiently than bottles, as they optimise the utilization of space - in terms of volume per cubic metre - in the warehouse and during transport. Storage space optimisation also benefits restaurateurs: the small amount of space needed enables a greater variety of beverages to be offered at the point of sale.
If the beverage containers are fitted with barcodes, NFC transponders or RFID tags, as provided by SCHÄFER, container traceability becomes much easier. Filling data can also be checked on standard mobile devices and inventories can be carried out much more quickly.
One aspect that is generally gaining in importance is sustainability in wine marketing. If they are handled properly and complete six cycles a year, stainless steel KEGs have an average lifespan of 30 years. A 20-litre KEG replaces 27 0.75-litre bottles. This means every KEG filling cuts out 17 kilos of waste glass. Consequently, the circular economy generates demonstrably lower CO2 emissions than the production of new disposable containers, such as wine bottles.
Over a period of 20 years, a KEG’s CO2 footprint is 96 per cent lower than that of glass bottles. In absolute terms, that’s the equivalent of 28 trees. And over the same period, one single reusable KEG prevents more than a tonne of waste, especially as many stainless steel KEGs are 100 per cent recyclable. The waste savings over 20 years of using one KEG with eight cycles per year is shown in the figure.
Waste saving over 20 years from one KEG with eight cycles per year:
For a case study, Borough Wines assumes an average UK restaurant will serve their guests the equivalent amount of 350 bottles of wine per week: 100 litres in wine KEGs, 90 litres in returnable bottles with a return rate of 80 per cent, and an additional 60 litres in traditional non-returnable wine bottles. Over the course of a year, this container mix results in savings of five tons of used glass and half a ton of cardboard, compared to non-returnable bottles. Projected onto 100 restaurants, Borough Wines calculates savings of 380 tons of CO2 per year.
Sustainability is also one of the reasons why SCHÄFER Container Systems always manufactures all its KEGs with a stainless steel liner. In the PLUS KEG product range, this is covered by a robust polyurethane jacket (PU jacket). The PU jacket has a shock-absorbing effect which goes hand in hand with low-noise handling. The KEGs are available fully or partially coated and are compatible with all standard neck and fitting types.
The colours can be chosen individually. With the addition of a logo, the KEG design supports the wine supplier’s brand message and image. There are hardly any limits to the scope of individual branding possibilities. Robust in-mould labelling, for instance, is particularly popular. So this too is a key criterion in the marketing of wines.
With a nitrogen mixture as the dispensing gas, PLUS KEGs offer ideal conditions for red and white wines. The wine remains fresh at the prescribed storage and serving temperature until the KEG is completely empty. The complete exclusion of oxygen means any wine left inside is safely stored, with no risk of unwanted oxidation.
Because a nitrogen mixture especially for wine is used as the dispensing gas, carbonation is not necessary. Consequently, the original sensory characteristics at the time of filling remain unchanged. The same equipment can also be used for sparkling wines. In these cases, however, other propellants are used; carbon dioxide being a very popular choice here.
Stainless steel KEGs can also be cleaned completely from the inside as well as the outside. The removal of wine scale is easy and using the temperature shock method is a very ecological approach. Here, the stainless steel KEG is cleaned with steamed and then rinsed with cold water. The temperature difference creates tension in the wine scale, which then cracks and detaches itself from the stainless steel. Stainless steel containers are completely unaffected by the process, in contrast to wooden barrels, which suffered regular damage.
Reusable KEGs made of stainless steel are a decisive competitive advantage for the wine trade and the hospitality industry. They have many benefits over containers made of plastic, glass or wood. What make them so outstanding is their consistently high-quality standards, practicability and branding potential, as well as their sustainability through decades of multiple use and complete recycling at the end of their life time. Consequently, it has become difficult to image wine marketing without the practical benefits and economic advantages of multi-purpose KEGs.