Brewers have a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to meet shifting demands for sustainability

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

New report explores how breweries can make beer production more sustainable. Credit: NIRAS
New report explores how breweries can make beer production more sustainable. Credit: NIRAS

Related tags Food security Beverages Sustainability Trends

A report from food and drink manufacturing consultancy NIRAS has flagged the opportunity for brewers to set new industry standards, as sustainability moves from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’.

Through a combination of regulation and consumer pressure, the report, Building sustainability in brewing,​ explores how sustainability may soon be a de facto ‘licence to operate’.

But building sustainability into this resource-intensive process has long been a challenge for brewers.

Beer comprises around 95% water, and that’s not accounting for the wastewater and cleaning it also necessitates. Meanwhile, large areas of land must also be given over to growing ingredients such as barley, which can impact biodiversity and food security for some local communities.

Indeed, the industry’s energy and water consumption have recently come into focus, not simply as a result of emission targets, but also due to rising energy costs and supply chain disruption.

And while the push for sustainability ups, beer producers must also be mindful of the rising demand for more variety, including booming sales of low and no alcohol drinks which NIRAS’s vice president, Jonas B. Borrit, says is adding further complexity.  

“Sustainability is clearly a key consideration for businesses across all sectors and for resource-intensive manufacturers like breweries, it’s no longer a nice to have, but is fast becoming a licence to operate. Stronger consumer appetite for variety over volume has undoubtedly created commercial opportunities for breweries, but producing up to 100 different varieties of beer in a large-scale plant means that short production runs will require more energy and water,” ​he explained.

Despite this, Borrit believes there is a “once in a generation opportunity”​ for large scale brewers to set the standard for the industry.

“This will enable them to meet regulatory requirements and voluntary sustainability goals, while building loyalty in a competitive market.

“There has been a huge shift in production processes and technologies to make it possible to drive down energy and water consumption, reduce waste and maximise efficiency. Embracing this progress will be key for the industry to continue to innovate on product development and growth, while meeting consumer expectations around variety and sustainability.”

Generating a return on investment

The report explores how the industry can approach key sustainability challenges like maximising energy efficiency and minimising water consumption, as well as how brewers can approach CapEx and OpEx projects to improve existing facilities or build new plants to meet sustainability goals.

But Borrit acknowledges the move towards sustainability is affecting small and larger brewers differently.

“Some small breweries may have incorporated sustainability into their identity but now face the prospect of remaining sustainable as they scale up. Others may face limited resources and restricted facilities, meaning they are particularly vulnerable to changes in regulations and consumer expectations because it’s too costly to catch up.”

“The large brewing groups have better access to loans and investment to drive the sustainability agenda. They do, however, face the challenge of balancing the needs of different stakeholders across sites and territories."
He concluded: “There’s no doubt there are a number of obstacles for breweries looking to become more sustainable, but it’s clear that the industry has a huge opportunity to engage the next generation of customers and make sure the industry is sustainable in every sense of the word.”

Related topics Markets Beer & cider Sustainability

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