One of the largest sustainability problems in the interwoven worlds of bars, restaurants, spirits, and wine, is the abundance of single-use glass bottles that must be produced, shipped, and stored in inefficient shapes and sizes, then disposed of ad infinitum. The now six-year-old startup ecoSpirits is out to tackle what CEO Paul Gabie refers to as this “planet-scale problem and opportunity,” with the widespread implementation of a circular or closed-loop packaging system based on continual, efficient reuse.
Coming from the team behind Proof & Company, the bar consultancy and craft spirits distributor serving the Asia-Pacific region, they had a unique vantage point to identify and examine the issue. The idea to develop an integrated, reusable packaging system was hatched in 2017, and by 2018, an initial test launch was completed with its first local partner, the famed Raffles Hotel Singapore. Today, ecoSpirits is in 25 countries around the world, with more than 1,000 bars, restaurants, and hotels on board, and Gabie and his team have developed partnerships with the likes of Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Rémy Cointreau.
“The biggest challenge [in this sector] is finding reuse solutions that can deliver on a global scale,” says Gabie. An individual, family-run winery or bar may be able to enact real change with the products and systems they use, but globally, there are enormous crisscrossing supply chains and multinational conglomerates to contend with, alongside literally millions of end points in terms of bars and restaurants. “Almost without exception, the industry now wants to become more sustainable,” says Gabie, “but major transitions, like the ones from linear to circular practices, require changes in behavior, operations, and understanding.”
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Matching that desire with the big-picture thinking of ecoSpirits, as well as the technology that underpins it, explains the momentum it has been able to achieve in a short amount of time. While ecoSpirits is a bar and spirits world solution and services provider, Gabie says it is first and foremost a technology company serving the circular economy, “but one born out of bar industry experience and needs,” he says. “We also see our role as one of innovator and provocateur, challenging the industry to think differently about some of its longest-held assumptions around packaging.”
If that all seems a bit nebulous, here’s how it works: ecoSpirits enables their brand partners to ship spirits in efficient bulk containers, transferring the liquid into reusable packaging (ecoTotes) for on-premise accounts. Bars then refill reusable glass bottles for display and actual day-to-day usage with an automated pouring system (SmartPour). The company sets up local processing centers (ecoPlants) for cleaning and refilling the containers, while providing a cloud-based software platform (CircularOne) to track inventory and manage the entire operation.
Zdenek Kastanek, the managing director for ecoSpirits USA, says the system reduces the carbon emissions of spirits and wine packaging and distribution by 60 to 90 percent. Next, they’re working on a retail system for off-premise purchases with a system dubbed SmartKiosk for consumer refills.
EcoSpirits launched in the U.S. this year in a joint venture with Park Street importers, serving markets in California and Florida, and building out its first local ecoPlant in the country. More states and regional markets are to come in the months ahead, and the company is also expanding its global reach with planned launches in Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.
With more than 700 billion pieces of glass packaging or containers forecast to be produced in 2023, Gabie asks us to imagine a world in which the entire bar and restaurant industry, not to mention the spirits and wine companies who line its shelves, no longer contribute to that count. “Our mission is clear—to help lead the spirits and wine industry on a transition to circular packaging solutions,” he says. “Our job is to make the transition process as seamless as possible, and to find pioneering partners who can show others it can be done.”
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