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Sterile Packaging : Firm Helps Breweries Clean Kegs--and Image

August 06, 1985|ALLAN JALON | Times Staff Writer

Want an insider's view of the beer industry? Talk to Jeffrey Gunn.

He helps brewers package their product. While his counterparts fret over the shape of beer bottles, however, he worries about the insides of the beer kegs widely used by bars and restaurants. And while advertisers do their best to wrap beer with images that are sexy or exciting, Gunn's goal is to give it surroundings that are sterile.

Gunn is an executive vice president with APV Burnett & Rolfe, a British conglomerate with a plant in Chatsworth. The company is the leading seller of automated equipment for cleaning and filling a popular type of beer keg, one that has a single opening.

"The keg is the most unattractive container, going by the standards of marketing charisma," Gunn acknowledged.

Enhances Appeal

His products are intended to enhance the appeal of kegs by making them easier to clean.

Although kegs have the advantages of holding beer in bulk and being reusable, cleaning them has been difficult and time-consuming. Gunn bills his company's equipment as an improvement over older equipment used by many brewers.

Large breweries account for most of the more than $2 million in business Gunn says his Chatsworth office did last year. Gunn would not disclose the earnings of the Chatsworth operation, which has 13 employees, but said, "It is a profitable office."

The parent company recently filled a $3-million order to install keg-cleaning machinery in Anheuser-Busch's Van Nuys brewery. But a growing part of Gunn's business has come from sales to the growing number of smaller breweries pecking away at the big operators' markets.

Specialized Breweries

The so-called micro-breweries, also known as boutique breweries, are small, specialized plants that have been springing up around the country since the late 1970s. Micro-breweries, many of which produce stiffer or more pungent alternatives to the standard American lager, are loosely defined as breweries that produce fewer than 10,000 barrels of beer annually. A barrel contains 31 gallons.

Acceptance in the industry has been a struggle for micro-breweries. But equipment that Burnett & Rolfe devised specifically for them is being looked upon as a means of giving the companies more credibility.

Many small breweries have bought discarded kegs from larger producers and washed them out manually, said Grosvenor Merle-Smith, a founding member of the Micro-Breweries Assn., based in Boulder, Colo. Bars and restaurants are often reluctant to buy beer in recycled containers from the smaller operators even if they otherwise like it, he said.

The Burnett & Rolfe equipment will allow the micro-brewers to better maintain the sterility of kegs, according to Merle-Smith. "The equipment will help make micro-breweries a lot more feasible," he said.

$16,250 Price Tag

Gunn said he has already sold the equipment, which carries a $16,250 price tag, to nine small producers. The machinery shoots detergent, hot water and pressurized steam into the kegs before refilling them with beer.

Merle-Smith said he knows of no other company making the equipment in the United States.

The process was adapted for micro-brewers in 1981 and enables them to clean about 15 kegs an hour. The machinery being installed at Anheuser-Busch will clean 700 kegs an hour, Gunn said.

Gunn said he also has been marketing his equipment to vintners who sell table wine in kegs to restaurants. Increasingly, Gunn predicted, "the wine industry will recognize the convenience of kegging."

The U.S. Brewers Assn. said 13.5% of the 175.4 million barrels of beer brewed in the nation in 1984 was shipped in kegs.

The Chatsworth firm's equipment cleans only single-valve beer kegs, which are rapidly replacing an older keg that has two openings, one on top and one on the side. The only significant competition comes from the Milwaukee and New York offices of another British company, G. K. N.-Sankey Ltd. Tony Parham, the firm's Milwaukee representative, said Burnett & Rolfe has about 60% of the business.

Several other companies divide the market in cleaning equipment for the two-valve keg, which Parham said still are used by half the nation's beer makers.

Valley Brewing Center

The San Fernando Valley is something of a brewing center. Besides Anheuser-Busch, Van Nuys is also home to a Stroh Brewery. Draft Systems Inc., which makes keg parts, is in Northridge. And Grundy Dispense Systems, a competitor of Draft Systems, is in Canoga Park.

"There was a time not long ago when people who needed beer equipment had to go back to places like Detroit, Chicago, New York for their parts, but that's not the case anymore," said Peter Muzzonigro, executive vice president of Grundy.

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