Back to Basics: Keeping an eye on your kegs

Related tags Beer orders Kegs Supply chain Brewing Beer

Twenty years ago there was no such thing as the Beer Orders and the pub world was a very different place. The beer tie was just a bit more popular...

Twenty years ago there was no such thing as the Beer Orders and the pub world was a very different place.

The beer tie was just a bit more popular than it came to be two decades down the line. Pub food was more likely to be the name of a racehorse than the basis of your income, and anyone wandering in suggesting a smoking ban would more than likely have got barred.

And if you were a brewer you could pretty much rely on the fact that all the beer kegs you sent out on the road to pubs would be returned. How times have changed.

When the major brewers owned the majority of pubs, they also owned the supply chain. The sledgehammer that was the Beer Orders split the industry into a thousand parts - and although it is coming back together, it is doing so in quite a mutated form.

These days the distribution of beer is run quite separately from the

production of it. We have distribution by third parties and brewers supplying rival brewers' beers to pubs through their separate distribution networks.

Keg crisis

And one result of this has been a keg crisis. With the massive change in distribution, kegs are being either lost, stolen for scrap, or being left to stand idle. It is currently estimated that this costs the brewing industry £60m a year. And it is a cost that, in some cases, is passed on all the way down the line to the licensee.

Last April The Publican reported that a series of raids in the Midlands recovered 32,000 stolen kegs with a value of £2.5m. It led to the arrest of 17 people. Keg theft is a very current and active problem.

As a result, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has teamed up with the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) to try and improve what is rather formally called "good practice container repatriation".

They want to promote ways of licensees helping brewers to keep kegs in the supply chain. And this has to be a good idea - the industry can ill afford yet another drain on its resources.

The BBPA has produced a document - Technical Circular 418 - for its members outlining some key best practice. It is aiming to:

• Improve the control of containers within the trade and within the supply chain

• Reduce the risk of misappropriation

• Improve the speed and efficiency of containers moving through the supply chain, particularly when empty

• Clarify and define the responsibilities of participants in the large pack supply chain.

What can the licensee do?

The bulk of the instructions and recommendations are for brewers and wholesalers.

However, licensees have an important role to play in ensuring this situation improves and that the new guidelines are adhered to closely. But it is important to note that first and foremost the document is not intended to be regarded as an edict - simply as a reference document for all interested parties.

Here are some points relevant to licensees to help them play their part in tackling the keg crisis:

• The supplier - be that brewer or wholesaler - is responsible for both delivery of goods but also the

collection of all casks and kegs when empty.

• The key is to create a close, collaborative working relationship between all interested parties - brewery, wholesaler and licensee.

• As a licensee you need to ensure you keep a well-ordered and up-to-date report on the balance of your containers - in other words all kegs going in and all being picked up by the drays.

• When the brewery dray arrives at your pub it is vital to discuss the 'empties' situation. Therefore discussions with the supplier regarding how many containers are to be taken away must be had prior to the dray arriving at your pub. Then they can arrange for the right amount of space to be available in the drays. There have been countless examples where the drays turn up and remove only what they have been instructed to at head office; leaving you with a stack of empty kegs, which could end up "stranded".

• The supplier is responsible for removing all containers previously delivered by them. This includes any containers classified as "stranded" - meaning not claimed back - one month after the end of their best before date.

• On a change of supplier, the new supplier must ensure the containers delivered by the outgoing supplier are returned to their owners. As a licensee it is vital you are part of these discussions, to ensure that old kegs are not left behind and simply stand idle outside your pub.

• Containers with orange SIBA stickers should only be collected by SIBA members, not by other parties such as wholesalers.

• If you find you are in possession of idle kegs call Keg Watch - 0808 100 1945 - which will arrange for their collection.

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