In a time where beer lovers have never had so many beer brands to choose from, never has date coding been so important. At the end of 2018, the total number of operating breweries in the United States eclipsed 7,000. As beer drinkers are exposed to a vast amount of options, the importance of freshness will grow more valuable as a criterion in their purchase decisions.
Date Coding is a Critical Tool
It is because of the more aware consumer that date coding is now a critical tool that adds value throughout the supply chain. Additionally, date coding offers brewers, distributors and retailers an important safeguard that provides beer lovers peace of mind that the three tiers are dedicated to providing beer with high standards.
As more and more beer lovers take note of dates on the bottom of a can or printed on the bottle, we all know that freshness isn’t just a number.
“Fresh doesn’t always mean the most recent code,” explains Garrett Marrero of Maui Brewing and co-chair of the Brewers Association’s Market Development Committee (MDC). “Simply printing a code or date when packaging doesn’t consider other variables of freshness. For example, consider the effectiveness of different packaging lines and the potential exposure to oxygen that may vary wildly depending on equipment or operator.”
Freshness is affected after packaging too, says Marrero, who highlights the need to have a strong distributor and retail partners. “Supply chain management will also impact freshness; we mandate it in our wholesaler contracts and we spend the money to ship to our wholesalers cold.”
Marrero acknowledges that managing expectations with supply chain partners can be tough — like keeping beer cold throughout. Ultimately, though, he believes that the effort and investments on either side of printing a date code have a more impactful effect on freshness.
Adding Value to Date Codes
While not every brewery has the means to invest in a state-of-art packaging line, Marrero and the MDC agree there are still things that every brewery can do to add value to the date code. The Brewers Association provides resources that revisit the roles of brewers and distributors to offer opportunities to discuss expectations the two tiers have as far as supply chain management.
For brewers looking to audit their current quality program to hold up their end of the bargain, the BA’s Technical Committee offers visual resources to develop a solid quality program. Finally, it is important to note that, by law, brewers are required to keep internal records of the specific ingredients, including manufacture lot numbers that were used in individual batches, as stated by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.
Marerro and the MDC want to remind everyone that the date code offers many values, but it’s the work put in before and after that code is printed that has the most to do with how fresh your beer is when it reaches your customer.