Despite pandemic’s disaster, brewers insist on EU climate goals

The EU beer industry has vowed to continue investing in sustainable practices in their brewing processes to meet EU Green Deal goals despite disastrous implications of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While the COVID-19’s impact is indeed enormous, it also paves the way for greener options, Pierre-Olivier Bergeron, the secretary-general of the Brewers of Europe, told ‘The Brewers of Europe Sustainability Forum’.

“The impact of the pandemic has been amplified by the great uncertainty around how the situation will evolve, leading to stress and worry for all involved growers, business owners, our supply chain employees and their families. The societal impact of the pandemic has struck the heart of our sector,” he said.

“But it also creates a need to bounce back better and stronger, to create a greener, more resilient and sustainable Europe,” Bergeron added.

The beer industry and the hospitality sector in general have been hit hard by the pandemic, which brought partial and total lockdowns across Europe to curb the spread of the virus. Pubs and bars have subsequently been closed for the second time this year.

A number of supportive measures have been taken at the member state level; however, the post-pandemic era does not look bright financially as many are not planning to reopen their stores.

Despite these circumstances, EU brewers, who employ more than 130,000 people in the EU, have taken a number of innovation-driven initiatives to adjust to a greener economy.

The European Green Deal, together with the Recovery Fund, will help member states modernise and adjust their structures in resilient and greener economies in the long run.

Industry stakeholders have already made moves to put initiatives in practice. In the case of brewers, they have come up with a sustainability plan focusing on areas such as waste, packaging and transport.

MEP: Brewers are leading green innovation

Slovak MEP Ivan Štefanec said the brewers’ contribution to the Green Deal is already remarkable and constantly evolving.

“I think we have to talk also about the whole food industry, but the beer industry is definitely the leader. And I’m happy that I can at least go create a legislative framework for that,” he said.

Belgium, the “Mecca” of beer lovers, has once again seen one of its flagships industries severely impacted by a second lockdown.

Mark Demesmaeker, a member of the Senate of Belgium, said many small brewers in the Flanders region are making strong efforts to find their way toward green innovation.

Some of them, he said, have joined forces and established partnerships with organic farmers., while others have focused on sustainable packaging.

“It is key for the sector in the first place to make sure that they design their packaging in a way that it can be recycled, without any problems. And then, of course, it’s up to the authorities,” he said.

Referring to specific examples in Flanders, he said good collection schemes and recycling facilities have been established.

“This is something we have taken up as well in the revision of the EU waste directives, with new targets […] it is key for all the member states to implement them as good and as soon as possible,” he said.

Demesmaeker said it was necessary to back these efforts on a policy level considering that the number of breweries has doubled in five years, while the number of beer producers – who make innovative recipes – has more than doubled.

Hospitality sector: Re-connecting EU citizens after the pandemic

Bars, cafes and restaurants are going to be vital to the process of “re-connecting” European citizens socially after the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Europe’s hospitality sector, which mainly consists of small and medium sized companies, has been badly hit by the lockdown …

A collaborative approach

Paolo Lanzarotti, CEO of the brewing company Asahi Europe and International, said a holistic approach is needed moving toward more collaborative schemes within the industry and across the supply chain.

“We sat down with one of our partners, and we made a long-term agreement. We basically moved or helped them move their can packaging and production facilities closer to our production sites,” he said, calling this a win-win situation.

“The advantage for them is that they get obviously an anchor customer while for us, is that we get better working capital. The advantage for the planet is we reduce the environmental footprint.”

Asked if the innovation push in the beer industry is driven by potential profit, Lanzarotti replied: “I think our innovation strategy needs to both meet consumer demands, sustainability, and ultimately, profitability. And I think the three actually go together.

The Recovery Fund and EU budget

But the industry’s push for greener options depends on what happens with the Recovery Fund and the post-2020 EU budget.

Rozalina Petrova, a cabinet member of EU environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, said EU funds need to be channelled quickly to the member states.

“And then member states have a key role in also making sure that those funds are spent for green investments,” she said.

But the rule of law conditionality puts a quick approval of the EU funds at risk, as Poland and Hungary have already threatened to veto the budget deal.

Another thorny issue for the hospitality sector is the rising level of private debt.

There have been some liquidity-supportive measures at the EU level to help businesses cope with the current liquidity shortage. However, these are loans which increase private debt and have to be repaid at some point.

Critics suggest that SMEs may need further assistance or softer tax regimes to be able to survive in the post-COVID era.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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