Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Crate crisis

I told you everything was in short supply during the war. So much so, that there was a trade in second-hand bottles and crates.


No standard charges for bottles and cases exist throughout the country, although such charges have a tendency to become standardised in certain localities. The matter is of considerable financial importance to-day in view of rising prices and the likelihood that timber for making new cases or repairing old ones may become unprocurable. In some parts of the country the deposit charged by brewers to their tied tenants and free customers is as low as 1s. per dozen for all sizes of bottles and 1s. for all types of cases. In other areas the prices are considerably higher, but in few if any districts do brewers charge a deposit representing the replacement values ruling to-day. Accordingly, it would appear desirable that a review of these charges should be made.

Where the low charges above mentioned are in operation, brewers report a tendency for cases and bottles to disappear. This is in part due to the fact that where a low deposit is charged by brewers for bottles there is a likelihood that when beer is sold for off-consumption the deposit charged by the licensee to the customer will be on a correspondingly low scale ; the lower the deposit the less inducement for the customer to return bottles to the retailer and the greater the inducement to sell bottles to itinerant purchasers who find it worth their while to offer a higher price than the customer could obtain from the licensee. The imposition of a deposit both on bottles and cases approximating to their replacement value is accordingly to be recommended.

At the same time it is highly desirable that brewers should print on all their invoices or price lists some such wording as the following :—

All cases and bottles belong to the Company. The deposit charged is imposed merely to secure their return. Credit will be given for such deposit if cases and bottles are returned in good condition.

Legal opinion which we have taken on this matter is to the effect that where such conditions are printed on invoices and price lists action could be taken against licensees for lost cases and bottles. In the absence of such precautions any such action might be speculative. In our "Questions and Answers" columns this month appears a reply to one of our readers on this subject dealing with a specific example of lost cases and bottles.
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 631. (Published August 21st, 1940.)

Who were the mysterious "itinerant purchasers" buying up bottles and crates? Did they go around knocking on doors? "Got any bottles, love? I'll pay you double the deposit for them." Was it their sole trade or just a sideline? I'm intrigued.

Of course, brewers would be the eventual customers of the crafty traders. Who else would need beer bottles and beer crates? So brewers were complicit in the trade. If they refused to buy from dodgy dealers, the practice would end immediately.

Here in Holland, most beer is still sold in returnable bottles. The deposit is a mere 10 cents. It wouldn't surprise me if that were lower than the cost of replacing the bottle. Maybe I should take up the trade of itinerant purchaser and make a killing.


Anonymous said...

It always amazes me how that, at a time of severe materials shortage, how substantial the packaging at the time was.I still heve a case in my shed built for holding bottles, it's well made from 1/2 inch timber and has been used for over 60 years to hold gardening stuff.My Dad build a garden shed from wartime boxes.

mentaldental said...

A quick look a a bottle supplier gave me a price of 33p per bottle for 1000. That's less than half a pallet. So if you buy multiple pallets it would be a lot cheaper than that. I would guess that 10 cents isn't too far from the true cost to a brewery.

Thomas Barnes said...

In the US many states have bottle deposit laws, but the laws are mostly intended as anti-littering and recycling enforcement measures. Most beer is sold in non-returnable bottles or cans - which are inherently non-returnable. That should give you an idea of the value of the container.

Perhaps the economics are different in Holland or the UK, but in the US the cost of transport and cleaning the returned bottles makes it easier to just recycle the containers as scrap.