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    The beer can opens up new markets for small breweries

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    20. September 2023
    7:20 min.

    The Rittmayer brewery is expanding its contract filling operations to include a canning line with a Craftmate C filler from Krones. The compact filler is specially designed to handle low volumes with the highest possible quality. And using cans makes it easier for craft breweries to sell their beers further from home.

    Deep in Franconia’s beer country, a tradition-steeped brewery has recently added a canning line to its co-packing operations. Why, you might ask, would a brewery even consider putting its beer in cans, in this region of beer connoisseurs, where some 200 small and mid-sized breweries produce beers in the finest of craft traditions and then fill them into kegs or bottles? “Precisely because of the great diversity of beers that consumers are looking for across the region and around the world., we need a package that allows these small operations to export their product,” stresses Georg Rittmayer, head of the Rittmayer Hallerndorf brewery and filling center. He firmly believes that, “For sales outside our region, the can is the best packaging.” The current trend supports his view. Even in Germany, where consumers must pay a deposit on beverage cans, the can is making a comeback. And in the rest of the world, it’s already widely used.

    Glass for local sales, cans for the wider market

    Here we are in Hallerndorf, in the Upper Franconia region of northern Bavaria: It’s home to about 4,000 residents, seven breweries and countless beer cellars, all of which can be reached on an easy day hike over gently rolling hills. In the midst of all that stands the 600-year-old Brauerei Rittmayer, one of the oldest family-run breweries in Germany. The company brews roughly 30,000 hectoliters of artisanal beer annually and also serves as one of the region’s biggest contract fillers. Its state-of-the-art filling center processes up to 100,000 hectoliters and nine different bottles for some 30 local breweries, most of which qualify as microbreweries. Some larger breweries outsource the handling of specialty products like swing-stopper bottles to Rittmayer or turn to them to manage bottlenecks in their own operations.

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    Focusing on sustainability: Rittmayer generates most of its own power on site, for instance using a photovoltaic system.

    Sustainability is a top priority for Rittmayer, as evidenced by a fleet of brand-new electric fork lifts that can be seen flitting around the grounds. The power used to charge them is generated by a biogas system that is fed by the company’s own wastewater treatment facility or by the photovoltaic panels installed on the brewery’s roof. The buildings are heated using wood chips – and the already-sustainable heating concept is slated for further improvement in the near future. So, how does a canning line fit into the company’s sustainability concept? Georg Rittmayer poses the question rhetorically, hinting at critics of the beverage can and his investment in it. For him, the many customers and merchants who are asking for cans make the case clear: Cans are lightweight and completely recyclable, and they offer the best protection when it comes to maintaining the quality of his and his clients’ beer over long distances or long storage periods.

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    Glass for local sales, cans for the wider market – for managing director Georg Rittmayer, it’s the way forward.

    “Glass for local sales, cans for the wider market,” is how Rittmayer sees the future. That’s not only because transporting the far heavier returnable bottles over long distances can have a major impact on environmental performance but also because breweries lose money for every crate of bottles that doesn’t come back to their plants. The deposit on returnables isn’t nearly enough to cover the cost of replacing them – not by a long shot – and the rising price of glass in general is making that disparity even starker. As Rittmayer explains, “The many tourists who visit our region want to take local beer home with them. But even if they do turn in our returnable crates at home, those crates and bottles will never make their way back to us.” From his perspective, recyclable, non-returnable packaging is the best solution in terms of sustainability: “I buy cans made of 100 percent recycled material. I’ve verified that on site at the manufacturer myself.” And because they are opaque and airtight, cans also retain the beer’s full flavor better than glass bottles over longer periods of storage. “That is crucial,” says Rittmayer. “The quality of our beer is of paramount importance.”

    Production runs as small as 15 hectoliters

    Beer quality was the single most important factor when choosing the can filler. “As a co-packer, we have to use the best equipment. Our plant has to be always available and offer better quality than our clients could achieve on their own equipment,” he explains. Of course, Krones was not entirely new to him. A Krones bottling line has been serving his brewery for 23 years now. And he knew of the Craftmate C's capabilities from a partner brewery in Canada.

    The Craftmate C marks a milestone development from Krones that can be very impactful for small and mid-tier breweries. Erwin HächlGeorg RittmayerManaging director

    Rittmayer had two key requirements for the new canning line: First, it had to minimize oxygen pickup, to ensure that the beer’s full flavor could be retained even over a long period of storage or transport. This is a critical aspect of filling beer into cans. Second, it had to be capable of warm filling: “From an energy perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to cool beer before filling only to then have to dry the sweating cans before labeling and packing them.” The Krones Craftmate C was the only filler in its class able to meet both of these criteria – warm filling and extremely low oxygen pickup.

    Another reason why Rittmayer chose the Craftmate C is its ability to process very small batches. “The canning line is supposed to enable us small and mid-sized breweries to sell some of our beer on the export market or at festivals,” he explains. “For that, I need a line that keeps waste to an absolute minimum. Otherwise, it doesn’t make financial sense.” The Craftmate C does just that with a comparatively small supply volume and product feed into the filler from above. The smallest batch that Rittmayer fills is 15 hectoliters. The many different beers coming in from different customers also mean that the line handles a wide variety of can sizes and formats, including 0.33, 0.44, 0.5, 0.9 and 1-liter cans. So, quick changeovers are essential. “For the 1-liter can, it was a challenge to make the switch work without changing out the handling parts. Krones really put in a tremendous effort and it’s working,” he says.

    Krones designed the Craftmate C specifically for smaller production sizes, to give craft breweries the same excellent fill quality as high-speed machines. The compact filler is a great match for Rittmayer: “This machine is perfect for us – in terms of its small footprint, in terms of its capabilities and most importantly, in terms of the partner behind it. The Craftmate C marks a milestone development from Krones that can be very impactful for many breweries.”

    Craftmate C – Big-brewery technology for the craft segment

    • Starting at 12,000 containers per hour
    • Various can sizes and formats 
    • Beer, CSDs and wine
    • High fill quality/low oxygen pickup
    • Small footprint
    • Product temperature from two degrees Celsius to 16 degrees Celsius
    • Hygienic design from Krones
    • Fast product and container changeovers
    • Minimized product losses at product changeover

    Pressure-sensitive paper labels

    The filling of small batches for many different customers is also the reason why the company uses blank cans – and paper labels instead of plastic film for sustainability. If pre-printed cans are used, they simply bypass the labeler. That machine, incidentally, is supplied by Krones’ subsidiary Gernep, which specializes in smaller-scale labeling between 2,000 and 35,000 containers per hour. The Soluta 12-720 1SK is the latest-generation labeler, which made its market debut at drinktec 2022. It applies pressure-sensitive wrap-around labels at a rate of 12,500 containers per hour. Changeovers to different cans are easy and require no tools. The machine handles 0.33, 0.5, 0.44, 0.9, and 1-liter cans and has been working just as it should ever since its commissioning. Says Rittmayer: “I am very satisfied with my decision to go with Gernep. The machine works great. So far, everything has been labeled perfectly.” 

    Very pleased with the investment

    Rittmayer’s new canning line went online at the end of April. And although he had initially intended to use a much smaller system, he’s quite happy he got the size he did: “I had actually thought about running just a few thousand cans per hour. But I wouldn’t have been able to do it at this level of quality. The factory planning engineer, Reinhard Mühlbauer – we’ve known each other for years – encouraged me to build a proper plant. The decision wasn’t easy, but when I look at the inquiries we’re getting now, I am very happy with this plant.” The line is not running at full capacity all the time yet, and production benefits from the Craftmate C’s flexibility as its speed is infinitely variable. Cola mix drinks and other carbonated beverages have already been filled, to Rittmayer’s full satisfaction: “The line is running great, commissioning went incredibly quickly, there were really excellent people from Krones here on site.” The fact that Krones is the world market leader and nevertheless so approachable was a huge plus for Rittmayer: “I sometimes can’t quite comprehend how the company is so big and yet so incredibly responsive. With Krones, we’ve truly got a reliable partner right nearby. That gives me the assurance I need as a service provider.”

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    “Krones may be big but it’s very approachable. I sometimes can’t quite comprehend how the company is so big and yet so incredibly responsive,” says managing director Georg Rittmayer.
    20. September 2023
    7:20 min.

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