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Edouard Haag (Brasserie Meteor): "The re-use system is largely virtuous".

June 20, 2023 at 2:56PM


While for some companies reuse is a new phenomenon, for others it is rooted in their history and values. Such is the case of Brasserie Meteor, based in Alsace, which recently launched a range of four specialty beers in 33 cl returnable bottles.
Edouard Haag, who now heads the company and represents the eighth generation to run this independent, family-run business, answered our questions. Interview.

Edouard, tell us about Brasserie Meteor...

Brasserie Meteor is first and foremost a family-run, independent brewery, which is a special feature for a brewery of this size. We're the biggest independent brewery in France, and also the oldest, since we've been brewing on the same site in Hochfelden, 25 kilometers from Strasbourg, since 1640. We employ 250 people, and are forecasting sales of 100 million euros this year.

Brasserie Meteor has always been committed to reuse. Can you explain why?

Reuse has always been one of our battles, and for very simple reasons: we're convinced of its ecological and economic virtues. For me, it's always made good sense to defend re-use! We've always been pioneers in this "battle". That's natural, since we've always reused bottles.

Fifteen years ago, many supermarket chains were tempted to stop reuse, not least because it was labor-intensive and required investment in deconsignment machines. Some were beginning to see no economic point in maintaining these returnable references. That's when we really fought with others to maintain reuse.

A few years ago, we were also at the origin of the "Alsace Consigne" network, which brings together all Alsatian marketers of returnable bottles. Today, this battle has largely been won, with everyone aware that reuse is not only good for the environment, but also for the wallet. The question now is how to develop this Alsatian model more widely on a national level.

The recent launch of a range of beers in 33cl returnable bottles represents your latest initiative in favor of reuse...

Absolutely. Over the past few years, we've been expanding our range, particularly in 75cl bottles, to attract more consumers. But we wanted to go a step further: this range with a 33 cl brown bottle was designed to develop re-use elsewhere in France, not just in Alsace.


It's a beer that's well known throughout France, so it's really the ideal model for getting new consumers to make the very special gesture of taking the bottle back to the place where it was purchased.

What are the results from both an economic and an ecological point of view?

Studies show that in our case, reuse saves 79% in CO2 emissions compared to glass that is simply recycled. That's a significant figure.

We also found that, over the whole life cycle, reuse saves 33% water compared with the life cycle that goes through recycling and glassmaking. In both these respects, the reuse system is highly virtuous, which is why, little by little, regulations are encouraging manufacturers to move in this direction.

For a manufacturer, opting for reuse inevitably requires investment, particularly in his production line...

Investments are recurrent. First of all, there's the investment in washing equipment, which can cost 1 to 2 million euros, if not more. Some equipment can be invested in or pooled, and we're seeing more and more washing plants pooling washing machines between a number of brewers and bottlers.

Other investments include bottle and case inventories. A bottle pays for itself over a certain number of rotations, but reused bottles cost more because they're heavier and need to be stronger.

Nevertheless, in the long term, everyone wins, and when I say everyone, I really mean everyone, since I'm also talking about the consumer. For example, and to quote our case, the same beer is sold for 20% less when it's in a reused bottle.

As far as consumers are concerned, they are increasingly aware of the importance of reuse and, more generally, of concrete actions in favor of the environment...

Absolutely. Today, the price argument still works, but the environmental impact is a fundamental additional argument, which is affecting more and more people, and which is also affecting retailers. The supermarket chains are also keen to demonstrate their actions and gestures in favor of the environment...

"If we are given medium/long-term objectives, I'm convinced that manufacturers will be able to organize themselves to meet those objectives".
As pioneers in the field of reuse, are you currently being approached by manufacturers who need support in their approach?

We take part in a huge number of groups, and are founders of the "Alsace Consigne" network... It's in our DNA to share best practices, and we all have a vested interest in the creation of a whole ecosystem. It's not just us, Meteor, with our beer who tomorrow will be pushing open the doors of a supermarket where reuse doesn't exist. There has to be a totality of references: softs, sodas...

What would be the first piece of advice you'd give to a manufacturer who wants to switch to reuse?

The first piece of advice would be to start with tests. I'd even advise a manufacturer with smaller volumes not to buy a washer in the first instance, but rather to pool their resources. In the end, this is the best way to test your market: use service providers who wash the bottles and who can then repalletize them, before bringing this function in-house as volumes increase.

You've always been committed to reuse, but have you ever encountered any difficulties?

Clearly, especially at a time when reuse was less fashionable. To get back to today, the main difficulty we're encountering is in rolling out this system on a national level. In Alsace, all the major retailers are used to collecting empty bottles and returning them to us, but this is not at all the case throughout France...

Some stores are in the testing phase, but there's still a long way to go before they are equipped with deconsignation machines and consumers (re)learn this gesture. At the same time, we feel that things are moving quite fast, notably with the AGEC law which imposes a 10% re-use rate by 2027... All this will bring a lot of oxygen to this ecosystem in the years to come.

So you're optimistic about the future?

Absolutely, as long as we have visibility. In fact, what I've noticed is that it's quite complicated to switch to reuse; you can't do it in 5 minutes. These are structural and strategic choices. If we're forced to switch to reuse in the space of 18 months, it'll never work. Conversely, if we are given medium/long-term objectives, I'm convinced that manufacturers will be able to organize themselves to meet those objectives.

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