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    Beer in cans – a winning formula for export

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    22. February 2022
    6:35 min.
    The Belgian brewery De Brabandere has strengthened its export business by commissioning a canning line from Krones.
    • The brewery views the can as an important packaging alternative to glass containers, especially for export.
    • At present, the canning line fills four proprietary beer brands into 0.33-liter cans.

    The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a rethink at De Brabandere. To offset the loss of in-restaurant sales, the privately owned Belgian brewery sought out new sales channels, in retail and, especially, in export. And so, existing plans to install a new canning line from Krones seemed all the more appropriate.

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    De Brabandere, headquartered in Bavikhove, in West Flanders, is one of Belgium’s larger independent, family-owned breweries. Albert De Brabandere, who took over the brewery from his father in 2017 and is now the fifth generation to lead it, has undertaken a rigorous capital expenditure program from the beginning.

    • In his first year at the helm, he had Krones install a new, 35,000-bph returnable-glass line. The new line features a Varioline packaging system to accommodate the growing diversity of packaging. 
    • In early 2020, he invested in five additional cylindroconical fermenting and maturation tanks, which increased the brewery’s capacity to 300,000 hectoliters.
    • And then, in mid-2020, De Brabandere commissioned a turnkey canning line from Krones. Because the new line was to be installed in an existing warehouse, a new 1,500-square-meter warehouse for filled and packaged products had to be constructed in parallel – no easy task under pandemic restrictions. 
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    De Brabandere is one of Belgium’s larger independent, family-owned breweries. Image credits: De Brabandere

    New canning line

    The line fills 15,000 0.33-liter cans per hour. It includes                               

    “Investing in a canning line was the right decision” 

    With this line, De Brabandere has entered new territory: It is the first time the company has operated its own canning equipment. Previously, the brewery had all of its canning done on a contract basis. De Brabandere had many reasons for making this investment:

    • It was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain slots for contract filling small batches of specialty beers.
    • Customers in the US were explicitly demanding wrap-around cartons, which the previous co-packer couldn’t deliver.
    • The co-packers’ unit price was higher than the comparative cost for production on their own line.
    • The brewery preferred to be in charge of quality assurance itself, particularly for the filling of non-pasteurized Pilsners.

    “But the real decisive factor was this: We believe the can is the best beer packaging for the future,” explains Yves Benoit, Automation, Maintenance and Facility Manager at De Brabandere and responsible for new capital investments. “It makes no ecological sense to ship heavy glass bottles to Asia or the USA. During the pandemic, it became quite apparent that weight is money. Prices for shipping by sea container went through the roof. Cans are lightweight. They’re impervious to light, which protects the contents. And they’re recyclable. All of that makes them ideal for exporting beer, even with respect to our carbon footprint.”

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    We believe the can is the best beer packaging for the future,” explains Yves Benoit, Automation, Maintenance & Facility Manager at De Brabandere.

    Craftmate was the logical choice

    One critical aspect of filling beer into cans is oxygen pickup. “So, we didn’t want to buy a filler from just anybody. We only wanted to work with a quality machinery manufacturer who has experience with that. That made Krones Craftmate the logical choice. It’s capacity – 15,000 cans per hour – fits the size of our brewery perfectly,” emphasizes Yves Benoit. “We also splurged and bought a dissolved oxygen meter that wasn’t exactly cheap but allows us to determine the TPO after filling. In our case, it’s 60 to 70 ppb, which is very, very good,” he adds.

    The second most important machine in the new line after the Craftmate filler is the packer. The Variopac Pro WT can produce cartons of 4, 6, 12, and 24 cans each. The sleek black 24-can carton is exclusively for the Russian market. The 12- and 24-pack cartons have an integrated handle that is easy for consumers to unfold and makes it more convenient carrying. Tray packs are also an option, though they are currently still produced manually. “Right now, we’re focusing on cartons as our end-of-the-line packaging. We don’t plan to use films – we’d like to work without plastics if at all possible. We see cartons as more eco-friendly and better looking,” says Yves Benoit. “We may add a second Variopac later on to support an even wider range of packaging once we have the space available.”

    Export initiative

    The brewery views the can as an important packaging alternative to glass containers, especially for export. De Brabandere uses the line to fill both classics and specialty beers:

    • Bavik Super Pils, which won the World Beer Award for Best Pilsner in Belgium in 2021 
    • The top-fermented wheat beer Bavik Superwit
    • Kwaremont 0.3, a non-alcoholic, top-fermented blond 
    • Red by Petrus, a Kriek beer that also earned a World Beer Award as Belgium’s best fruit beer 
    • A variety of beers brewed on contract

    The most important markets for the canned beers are Russia and the USA, but this container type is also popular at home in Belgium. A local supermarket chain has listed Bavik Super Pils in cans and distributes it nationwide. 
     

    Flexible use of the pasteurizer 

    The brewery believes the secret to the success of its hoppy Bavik Super Pils lies, in part, in the fact that it isn’t pasteurized. So the full flavor and delicate bitterness of the hops remain fully intact. 

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    The brewery believes the secret to the success of its hoppy Bavik Super Pils lies, in part, in the fact that it isn’t pasteurized.

    However, the new line is equipped with a pasteurizer, which the brewery uses in a targeted manner: “We use the LinaFlex Compact to pasteurize our fruit beers (Kriek), non-alcoholic, and wheat beers and when we’re co-packing for other breweries. When we produce Bavik Super Pils, the LinaFlex simply serves as a can warmer to prevent condensation forming on the cans and soaking the cartons,” explains Yves Benoit, who is happy to report that “The LinaFlex offers us tremendous flexibility.”

    New sales opportunities in cans

    “Of course, investing right before the pandemic started meant that it would take a few more years for the new line to pay for itself. We were a brewery that primarily delivered to hotels and restaurants – and both of those markets were hit hard by the pandemic,” explains Yves Benoit. 
    But this development also turned out to be an opportunity that opened new doors for De Brabandere. As the brewery sought out additional sales channels, they discovered great potential in exports, driving explosive growth in demand for Bavik Super Pils. Today, this beer accounts for around half of the company’s sales volume. “We are confident that our beers will find their way into the markets, primarily the international markets. Crisis or no, we see the can as a great opportunity for further expansion,” concurs the brewery’s owner Albert De Brabandere, adding, “Consumers outside Belgium have long since come to accept specialty beers in cans, even in bars and pubs. The can has become synonymous with quality beer in an eco-friendly package.”

    “The can has become synonymous with quality beer in an eco-friendly package.” Albert De BrabandereOwner of the brewery

    Although De Brabandere now appears to be well equipped, the brewery’s investments are not yet complete with the installation of the new canning line. “We’re going to keep at it, and we have a number of projects in the pipeline,” explains Albert De Brabandere.

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    The brewery is especially famous for its sour beers, which are traditionally fermented and matured in 220-hectoliter conical wooden barrels called foeders.

    Brewing as art

    Apart from the bottom-fermented Bavik Super Pilsner and the somewhat lighter Bavik Export, De Brabandere produces a whole range of specialty beers. That’s because the brewery views its craft as an art. It is especially famous for its sour beers, which are traditionally fermented and matured in 220-hectoliter conical wooden barrels called foeders.
    The wood from which the foeders are made offers a favorable environment for microorganisms to grow, which convert the residual sugars in the finished beer into acids, higher alcohol content, and esters after the initial fermentation. In the first year, the pH drops and the beer takes on a sourness, which is rounded out by a fresh, fruity aroma in the second year.

    22. February 2022
    6:35 min.

    You can easily send a request for a non-binding quotation in our Krones.shop. 

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