PAUL MCLAVIN, Marketing and Business Development Lead at O-I UK talks beer, bottles and the brilliance of glass…
Premium bottled ales continue to grow at around 10% a year and are estimated to reach £1 billion by 2020 with more product launches and innovation than any other beer category. Demand for premium ale in glass is growing twice as fast as cans and from a larger base, according to the Marston’s Bottled Beer Report 2015. That is the context behind O-I’s decision to undertake a £25 million refit of the Harlow glass plant outside London, to provide brewers
and cider makers with the firepower to support their growth, the innovative products to differentiate their brands and the quality assurance to supply the right bottles time after time. The investment reconfirms O-I’s commitment to the town and to the UK brewing industry.
O-I has been producing glass bottles at Harlow since 1954, one of the first employers to move into the post-war ‘new town’. The plant has had a consistent focus on brewing industry for 25-years and pioneered UK production of lightweight narrow neck press and blow beer bottles in the 1990s.
Following the investment, Harlow has been transformed into a dedicated beer plant with an advanced high productivity furnace capable of producing 135,000 tonnes of amber and green glass every year. The new furnace is gas-oxy fired and burns more efficiently, which optimises energy usage, assists heat recovery and reduces emissions of CO2 and NOx.
The recovered heat is used to power a new cullet pre-heater, the tallest in O-I Europe, which enables recycled glass to enter the furnace at higher temperatures, improving the consistency and speed of glass melting.
Independent brewers are rapidly developing into a vibrant market for glass. Although it started from a small base, UK glassmakers are now selling millions of bottles to that sector. That was a strong part of the justification to redevelop Harlow in its current format.
Much of what a glassmaker does is aligned with what the values of craft brewing: making sure things get to the consumer in as pristine a state as they can, not tainted in flavour or corrupted in any way. The craft beer sector is highly focused on the environment and doing the right thing, which also accorded with O-I’s decision to make Harlow an environmentally sustainable plant. The environmental aspect is not something that is forced upon the industry: the UK has been recycling glass for nearly 40-years, and glassmakers do it because it makes economic and environmental sense. From a commercial point of view, manufacture must be energy efficient, using the best technology to make the glass, so environmental pressures really drive the business.
Working with independent brewers does require a higher degree of flexibility. From a service perspective, packaging manufacturers should help guide them; if the brewer can come to the company and say “I need this, what sort of things have you got?” In addition, O-I tries to work with distributors who can service different parts of the country, because it is quite a regional business. That way, O-I is able to get bottles up to Scotland, over to Wales, down to Cornwall; it is not truck after truck going to one location, but a more flexible arrangement.
HAIL THE ALE
As well as new technology and different service patterns, the glass industry is constantly innovating with new containers to service the craft market. One prime example of this is O-I’s latest new product, a 330ml champagne style beer bottle which takes a standard 26mm crown. This 200g bottle was developed in response to increased demand across Europe. As well as selling to UK customers, O-I has been exporting its larger 500ml cousin to customers in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Spain and the Baltic States and several more European countries.
The company has several other standards coming to market. These include a reduced weight (200g) version of the popular 330ml long-necked standard and a new version of its popular 500ml lightweight standard, reducing its weight from 300g to 280g, which matches industry leaders such as Adnams.
The whole beer industry is very attractive because it is all about the flavour of the beer and the quality. As the marketplace for new beers gets more crowded, the UK glass industry continues to help customers large and small make their brands stand out.