Would you like to enjoy wine without harming anything or anyone? Wine that is served at a perfect temperature? Wine that has not wasted any money or time? Wine that is beneficial to both producer, distributor and consumer? Then welcome to the new Swiss concept of keg wine served on tap!
An old wine tradition turned innovation
Once upon a time in Switzerland, engineer oenologist Marc Sarrazin, dreamed of a sustainable wine industry which would be more ecological for the environment, more manageable for workers, more economical for all stakeholders involved, and coincidentally, safer regarding all COVID-19 precautions.
The solution he then developed was in fact an old tradition turned into innovation. The oldest vessels used for wine were ceramic amphorae and pots of ancient times. Yet, traditionally, the most “green-friendly” vessel has always been … no vessel at all! Rather directly consuming wine from the artisanal winery barrels. With its 8,000 year old history, wine has always been perceived by consumers as a natural, handcrafted and thus, ecological beverage. Our oenologist’s sustainability-oriented dream was based on bringing the consumer closer to the wine producers of traditional times.
To make his dream come true, Marc Sarrazin first launched a start-up in Geneva dedicated to sustainable wine distribution, Bibarium. Then, guided by Dr. Benoît Bach, his former professor at the Ecole de Changins (the Swiss School of Viticulture and Enology), Marc worked with Alain Robez and Philippe Dalloz, from CG Industry Ecofass (French keg makers from the Jura region) on the creation of ecological, ergonomic and economical plastic kegs for wine. To measure and grant the low carbon footprint of Ecofass keg wine, Sophie Penavayre, from the Institut Français de la Vigne et du Vin-IFV, was put in charge of conducting a Life-Cycle Assessment.
The main problem lay in getting wine makers, restaurateurs, caterers and consumers to adopt the idea of keg wine. Keg wine that perfectly preserves the wine quality and is feasible, ecological and money-saving was one thing, but what if if it did not meet the market demand? The dream would not come true because a major factor would be missing in the success story of sustainable wine distribution.
The necessary research
To study wine attitudes of producers, restaurateurs, caterers and consumers toward keg wine served on tap and enhance their experience of such a sustainability-oriented innovation, I, Stephanie Pougnet, assistant professor at EHL, came into play. Who other than EHL for conducting research on customer-centric sustainability-oriented innovations? EHL has developed educational programs dedicated to wine management with various research establishments and has long been involved in sustainability through its projects and services.
The idea was based on the following sequence of events: Marc would fill kegs with wine at the wineries, deliver the kegs to the restaurateurs and caterers by plugging the kegs to either manual or numerical wine dispensers, and bring back the empty, cleaned kegs to the wine makers to refill them.
In order to develop that solution, Bibarium, CG Industry Ecofass, Ecole de Changins, IFV and EHL joined forces to conduct an Interreg French-Swiss research project financed by the Cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Vaud. We aimed to proudly claim our Swiss keg wine solution as a sustainability-oriented innovation of benefit to all stakeholders in the wine value chain.
The Ecole de Changins led several tests which confirmed that the recyclable and reusable Ecofass kegs preserved the quality of wine from all perspectives (oenological and gustatory), for at least 4 months once the keg was plugged to the tap dispenser at the restaurant or catering centre.
In the USA, the Free Flow Wine Company, which uses steel kegs for wine, states that their kegs “reduce the carbon footprint of the same wine poured out of bottles over a 20-year period by 96%”. In Switzerland, one 20L Ecofass keg of wine managed by Bibarium eliminates 26 empty wine bottles, corks, labels and cardboard boxes from being recycled at high costs due to water use or going to the landfill. Interestingly, the consumers’ willingness to pay for a more sustainable wine accounts for 10-15% of the wine average price. The Life-Cycle Assessment conducted by IFV, followed by the counter-expertise led by a third party, shows that the Swiss solution of keg wine served on tap as developed throughout our Interreg research is clearly ecological. This wine solution developed in Switzerland especially makes sense with regards to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UNO which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Our research findings showing such a sustainability-orientation of Swiss keg wine managed by Bibarium will be published in academic journals soon. Stay tuned!
At EHL, we conducted market studies, analyzed the service-profit value chain of keg wine and delivered several strategic marketing and communication tools to enhance customer experience for all stakeholders involved. Thanks to two Student Business Projects (SBP) coached by EHL Faculty members, two groups of students had the opportunity to contribute to the research project for their final diploma. Theresults show that the Swiss wine market is ready for adopting ecological and sustainability-oriented innovation, but economic reasons remain the key driver.
Surprisingly, the results of the market research conducted went pretty much against what many people intuitively believed. I myself had been quite doubtful. I had gained experience in the food & beverage industry by managing restaurants while studying management sciences for my PhD, embracing marketing and human resources aspects. So, when Marc came to EHL with the idea of keg wine, I was clearly sceptical that such a solution would ever meet the market demand. But to my surprise, the market studies we conducted at EHL show that 96% of wine consumers are in favour of keg wine served on tap, for one reason in particular: its sustainability. Restaurateurs and caterers are ready for keg wine, provided that their consumers are. More precisely, 64% of restaurateurs and caterers are in favour of adopting wine on tap, and for one reason especially: overall economic savings. Why?
- No more corked, spoiled or oxidized wines.
- No more wine spoiled or wasted due to wrong manipulation in bottling or pouring processes.
- No more sorting of waste both at the wineries and the place of consumption.
- Less deviant staff behaviour e.g. stealing a 100L keg of wine unlikely, or serving glasses of wine with more than the volume paid by the client,
- Labour costs are 17% lower, the cost of wine is reduced by 20% and the storage space saved is 85%.
- Taste and quality conserved for up to 4 months, compared to a few days in a bottle.
As a result, keg wine on tap has been raising strong interest from Swiss restaurateurs and caterers, helped by local TV and radio media, and has even reached a worldwide audience in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
After collecting and analyzing data from the stakeholders involved, EHL found that our Swiss keg wine solution increases staff and service efficiency. Operations are overall easier to manage and lead to better server/customer outcome. Why?
- Heavy loads that staff have to carry are reduced by half.
- No more cork pulling or broken corks in the bottle neck.
- Wine is served at the perfect temperature thanks to the keg-to-tap dispenser system with coolers.
- Glasses of wine can be poured in less than 5 seconds.
- Glasses of Spritz poured in less than 8 seconds with the perfect blend.
- Less customer waiting and complaints.
- Staff can spend more time interacting with the guests, promoting the wine and wineries they are serving, hence improving the customer experience.
The impact of COVID-19
88% of Swiss restaurateurs sell more wine by the glass than they sell by the bottle. 61% sell between 4 to 10 different types of wines by the glass, which are most often local wines since 63% sell more Swiss local wines than wine from other countries. Wine is Switzerland’s no.1 alcoholic beverage: 80% of Swiss aged 18-74 drink wine. Nearly eight in ten people consume wine, compared to six out of ten for beer. 40% drink wine regularly, from once a week to once a day. 25% of the wine consumer population regularly drink wine in restaurants or at catered events. In Switzerland, 33,000 producers, 2,500 of whom are full-time, often small family farms, do not even meet a third of the wine consumption needs of the Swiss market, while wine in Switzerland and Swiss wine so far showed promising growth, with positive growth forecasts of + 23.8% in value by 2021 and + 12.3% in volume by 2021. This was the situation pre-COVID-19.
Today, not only are wine producers, restaurateurs and caterers facing the usual wine industry-related economical, logistical, social and ecological challenges, but they also now have to cope with an unanticipated health crisis. EHL and Ecole de Changins, as well as the European Association of Wine Economists, have just conducted a joint research project sponsored by HES-SO, to understand how the pandemic has impacted wine consumer behaviors. To the detriment of beer and spirit, findings show that people living in Switzerland have consumed more wine during than before the confinement, especially at home thanks to their personal cellar.
Perspectives for a better wine industry
Since a majority of wine consumers living in Switzerland want to consume more local produce, (82% know a wine maker personally, sometimes a friend), and intend to get back to their wine consumption habits as soon as possible, keg wine is a safe solution for producers, restaurateurs and caterers when it comes to wine distribution. Why?
- It reduces and simplifies the logistics around wine distribution from wineries to restaurants by doubling the volume of wine delivered in one single trip.
- It implies rigorous hygiene and safety protocols ensured by Bibarium for plugging and cleaning the kegs.
- Better anti-COVID protection by reducing transportation by half, limiting delivery interaction and ensuring proper disinfection.
- Furthermore, Swiss keg wine will soon become completely traceable from production, distribution to consumption, thanks to:
- Probes and sensors on kegs and tap dispensers, to be created by Ecole de Changins.
- A digital dashboard including key-business, key-market and key-performance indicators, like digitally programmed replenishment, to be created by EHL.
- A numerical platform connecting all stakeholders of the keg wine value chain to a big database.
Traceability will ensure higher understanding of both threats and opportunities in the wine industry. It will therefore allow the optimisation of wine production, distribution and consumption sustainability, thanks to continuous measurements and follow-ups. This is the next step in the research project, along with further research on biomaterial for the kegs.
What’s in it for you, dear reader, consumer and professional? Apart from being an entrepreneurial story to inspire you and an insight into new trends in the wine industry, you may consider the power of partnerships between industry and academia for research and development purposes towards more sustainable, agile and circular economies. Researchers and industry professionals should consistently partner together, especially for considering sustainability-oriented goals. Funding institutions can support such partnerships in the research and development efforts. Innosuisse, the Swiss Agency for Innovation, aims to promote science-based innovation in the interests of industry and society in Switzerland. Innosuisse is one of many institutions that encourages the joint efforts of researchers and industry professionals by providing them with support. Finally, worldwide, there are many opportunities and resources available to support the partnerships between researchers and industry professionals to foster research and development, as well as innovation for a more sustainability-oriented future. A better future.