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New look hooks production improvements

 

Earlier this year, Redhook Brewery celebrated its 30th birthday by unveiling a new look—from bottles to labels and bottle caps to carriers and cases. The refreshed packaging is part of Redhook's effort to get back to its roots. 


"There seems to be a movement within the craft beer community where a lot of breweries are trying to ‘out craft' each other," says Robert Rentsch, brand manager of Redhook Brewery. "Redhook isn't about that. Of course we're brewing great beer, but we're just as interested in having a great time.


"We really wanted to let the personality and voice and character of Redhook shine through in everything that we do," Rentsch adds. "So that's why it's a pretty sweeping overhaul on bottle, label, crowns, six-packs, 12-packs." 


To help develop the new packaging, the Washington State-based brewery turned to design agency Hornall Anderson, which is headquartered in Seattle. "They've been a client of ours since 2005 and so pretty much any brand or design initiative that comes from their four walls, we're usually one of the first agencies that they're talking to," says Patrick Rowell, strategist at Hornall Anderson. "So this is the natural evolution of our relationship."

 

Short, stout is what it's all about
"This whole process really started with a brand repositioning," Rowell explains. "Every agency [staffer] and everyone internally at Redhook was aligned with the objective in terms of brand communications. Both the client and ourselves had thought that it seemed like a natural opportunity to move to a bottle that was simpler than certainly their previous bottle, which was tall and custom, had a split label and all these things that really didn't seem in line with where they were taking the brand. Simpler packaging also would be very different from everything else in the craft category."


Rentsch adds, "Our previous bottle, which was more of a traditional long-neck, had barley and the Redhook logo engraved on the bottle. It felt a little bit too precious for Redhook. We are really more about sort of going back to basics—the basics of a well-made beer."


The new bottle is a short, stout glass from Owens-Illinois (O-I). "We worked closely with O-I in looking at different bottle alternatives, different bottle shapes that would we felt again would kind fit within Redhook brand," Rentsch remarks. "They were helpful in that process—making sure that everything fit together—the bottles fit with our labels, were better fit with our crowns, and where we were headed with the brand."


The labels, supplied by WS Packaging Group Inc., also went through a material change. "This might sound counter-intuitive but we dropped the weight of the paper to get a better adhesion to the bottle," says Bill Kamp, director of purchasing and planning for Redhook. "With a little bit thinner label, there's a variable difference in cost and this worked a little bit in our favor. But the cost difference didn't drive us to a lighter paper. It was how the lighter weight labels applied to the bottles themselves."


Kamp explains that while common sense might dictate that labels made from a thicker stock should be work better in the packaging operations arena, Redhook's experience has found this logic faulty. "The opposite happens when you're applying labels with our equipment," he comments. "We've tested this over the years, we've found that the lighter labels work better, much better."


Facelift prompts other enhancements
Not content with improvements to Redhook's package design and packaging structures, the brewery also took this opportunity to improve its packaging line. "I thank Robert for this opportunity because it was an excuse to spend money on the packaging line," jokes Greg Deuhs, master brewer at the company's Washington Brewery.


On a more serious note, Deuhs says the Krones Inc. bottling line that was installed in 1995 has served the company well but the packaging team is always looking for ways to improve the production. Although reluctant to share exactly what was done to the filling line, Deuhs does say that "a lot of work was in the filling process to eliminate as much dissolved oxygen in the beer prior to filling it in the bottle, the whole process of getting the beer in the right specifications—at the right temperature and the right carbonation level." 


One change he is willing to talk about is the bottle itself. "The new bottle actually runs better on our line," Deuhs exclaims. "We had to make a couple of changes on the filler, but they were done using standard change-out parts."


Other changes include improvements to the labeling and case-packing operations, but the line fundamentally is a streamlined version of its former self. 


It starts with a Krones depalletizer, which sweeps the glass layer-by-layer onto the bottling line.


Sterile water is used to rinse the bottles before they are filled by the Krones filler at speeds averaging 350 bottles/min. The crowns, supplied by Crown Holdings Inc., are dumped into a hopper, where they are picked up by an airveyor system that right-sides them and moves them down to the capper.


Immediately after the crowner, the bottles are examined by the first of several Industrial Dynamics/Filtec inspection stations. "The line is very aware of any leaky caps," Deuhs explains. "A leaker is a rare thing for us." Cap tightness is an important attribute for Redhook, and it's part of what Deuhs considers are the top three challenges for bottling operations.


From the Filtec station, the bottles enter a race track that provides five minutes of accumulation. From the race track, bottles enter the Krones labeling station where they receive a wraparound label from the Krones labeler and are marked with the date and brewery name by a Videojet Technologies Inc. laser coder.


Deuhs explains why laser coding was chosen for the line: "We feel that having the package date on the bottle and having it legible where the consumer can read it is important to having fresh beer in the marketplace. Laser prints much clearer on the bottle."


In addition to using the laser coding to ensure only the highest quality product is consumed by Redhook fans, the brewery uses a CamPak case packer to gently place filled, capped bottles into the secondary packaging.


"Many breweries have drop packers where the floor drops out of the conveyor and [bottles] drop into the case," Deuhs comments. "We have a CamPak case packer, which slides the bottles into the cases using a rotating cam. The CamPack is much easier on the beer. It's easier on the packaging—easier on the glass, and easier on the labels. It's a gentler process. There's no jolt like when beer bottles drop into a case."


Filled and capped bottles are then repacked into the shippers and carriers that they arrived at the brewery in. Another Filtec inspection system checks for any missing bottles, and a Videojet inkjet printer codes the shipper with the same information as the bottles inside. 


Because the beers are unpasteurized, they are stored at 38-deg F as not to break the cold chain. "All our beer is fresh," Deuhs remarks. "It's not heat-treated. We store our beer cold; we ship our beer cold; we have warehouses that are kept cold. This maintains the freshness of the beer."


Top three challenges
When Deuhs describes what he considers the top three challenges for bottling beer, he starts with preserving beer freshness. 


"No. 1 is beer [going stale]," he comments. "Air is the worst for beer." Hence, all the work that Redhook has done to eliminate dissolved oxygen in the filling process. 


"The No. 2 challenge is making sure all the packaging looks right from a consumer standpoint," he adds. "The labels need to look good, on correctly and coded, the six-pack carriers [supplied by Rose City Printing and Packaging] shouldn't get scuffed and the handles should work well, and the boxes [supplied by AllpakTrojan] can't get beat up in the process. Everything needs to function correctly."


The third challenge could apply to just about any industry. "I would say No. 3 is always chasing constant improvement," Deuhs remarks. "We have a rigorous packaging program with a packaging quality technician on the line. Whenever the bottle line is running, this quality person is working with the bottling line operators. So we're constantly checking all the parameters that go into making a beer bottle a bottle of beer, everything. 


"We also have one person who is excellent in statistics and maps out exactly the performance of the bottle line using that data," he adds. "We use that information to look for trends." These trends drive changes and improvements to the bottling line.

 

Early consumer response is positive
Rentsch says it's too early to report on the packaging redesign's effect on sales. He does share that anecdotal response has been positive, which he attributes to the breadth of the packaging change. As far as the bottling improvements impact on beer quality, he suggests cracking a brew and tasting the results.

 

AllpakTrojan, 800-227-7775. www.allpaktrojan.com
CamPak Inc., 973-597-1414. www.campak.com
Crown Holdings Inc., 215-698-5100. www.crowncork.com
Hornall Anderson, 206-467-5800. www.hornallanderson.com
Industrial Dynamics/filtec, 888-434-5832. www.filtec.com
Krones Inc., 414-409-4000. www.kronesusa.com
Owens-Illinois Inc., 567-336-5000. www.o-i.com
Rose City Printing and Packaging, 800-704-8693. www.rcpp.com
Videojet Technologies Inc., 800-843-3610. www.videojet.com
WS Packaging Group Inc., 800-818-5481. www.wspackaging.com


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