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Pioneering Sustainable Spirits: ecoSPIRITS' Game-Changing Tech

We sit down with Iain McPherson, Sales Director for Europe, Middle East & Africa at ecoSPIRITS, and explore the cutting-edge methods and revolutionary technology that are propelling sustainability forward in the beverage industry. 

ecoSPIRITS has come up with a closed-loop distribution system that's all about slashing waste and carbon emissions by promoting reusable packaging solutions. They're on a mission to lead a transition to circular packaging technology, and with a growing network of partners, ecoSPIRITS is leading the charge toward a greener future in the spirits and beverage sector. 

LI: @ecospirits

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Interview with Iain McPherson from ecoSPIRITS

Dunja Jovanovic: Hi, Iain. Welcome to the Green New Perspective podcast. To start off, can you provide our listeners with an overview of the challenges in the premium spirits supply chain and the associated environmental impacts?

Iain McPherson: In 2020, an estimated 689 billion units of single-use glass packaging were manufactured, of which approximately 70 billion were specifically used in the wine and spirits sector. Numerous countries exhibit low rates of glass recycling, resulting in a substantial quantity of glass being disposed of in landfills. 

Moreover, the process of recycling glass requires significant energy inputs, while its weight contributes to expensive transportation costs. Consequently, the most efficient approach to mitigating the environmental impact of glass consumption lies in emphasizing reuse and adopting a circular economy model.

DJ: This is the perfect time to tell us about ecoSPIRITS, its mission, and how you address the aforementioned challenges.

IM: Since its establishment in 2018 in Singapore, ecoSPIRITS has been steadfast in its mission to eradicate single-use glass within the wine and spirits industry by spearheading the adoption of circular packaging technology. 

As an innovative technology company, our primary objective has been to create the world's first closed-loop packaging solution specifically designed for premium spirits and wine. Paul Gabie, our founder, and CEO, drew upon his experience in spirits distribution to identify the inefficiencies associated with single-use glass packaging, particularly when transporting spirits on a global scale. 

Our initial testing phase involved collaborating with Raffles and Accor Hotels in Singapore, where we successfully implemented our technology for the Singapore Sling cocktail. This triumph paved the way for expansion throughout Singapore, and we are immensely grateful to Raffles and Accor, for their trust in ecoSPIRITS and their support for a more sustainable approach. Building on this achievement, we extended our operations to Hong Kong, Australia, and China in 2019, with our sights set on actively participating in a minimum of 25 global markets this year.

DJ: Could you explain the concept of the closed-loop distribution system that you have developed?

IM: Our innovative system revolutionizes the transportation of spirits and wines, allowing them to be moved in large quantities from their country of origin, where they are produced, to the local markets where they are consumed. In these local markets, the bulk liquid is efficiently processed into fully reusable ecoTOTES, specifically designed for delivery to the respective venues. 

These ecoTOTESfunction similarly to bottles packed in a case, seamlessly entering the supply chain. Upon arrival at the venue, the spirits and wines are easily transferred from the ecoTOTE to serving or dispensing units, utilizing our advanced SmartPour technology. Once the ecoTOTE is emptied, it is promptly returned to our ecoPLANT, where it undergoes a thorough sanitation process before being refilled and sealed for reuse. 

In addition to our groundbreaking system, we are currently introducing CircularONE, a cloud-based software platform that seamlessly integrates our closed-loop network with an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. This comprehensive integration of software and hardware greatly enhances the security, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of our circular approach, solidifying its effectiveness and ensuring its seamless operation.

DJ: How has the industry responded to this approach?

IM: The response has been phenomenal from brands, distributors, importers, and venues. To date, we operate in nearly 2,000 bars, restaurants, and hotels worldwide that have adopted our technology. We expect this number to double in the next twelve months. 

We currently have more than 100 spirits brands participating in our Climate Partner Program, which encompasses brands, importers, distributors, and venues using our technology. We also have over 400 businesses on our waiting list, which is a great position to be in, and we are actively working to onboard them. 

Last year, we announced the locations of ecoPLANT in the United States, where we launched our closed-loop service in California and Florida. We have plans to expand to more states in the US. We recently launched our closed-loop service in Canada and Denmark, and we expect to be present in 25 to 26 countries across Asia Pacific, Europe, and the Americas by the end of this year. We are proud to have industry-leading brands and producers, such as Pernod Ricard, Diageo, and Rémy Cointreau, participating in our ecoSPIRITS technology and rolling it out in various markets.

DJ: Could you tell me more about the specific strategies and practices you have implemented within your operations to ensure low carbon emissions and waste reduction?

IM: Our focus lies in transporting the liquid in bulk to local markets. Once there, it undergoes a streamlined process of being converted into 4.5-liter glass ecoTOTES. This enables bars, restaurants, and hotels to eliminate the need for single-use glass packaging, along with the accompanying cardboard and waste. 

By adopting this strategy, substantial cost advantages are gained, and a remarkable reduction in carbon footprint is achieved. Venues that embrace ecoSPIRITS’' technology enjoy a multitude of benefits: a remarkable reduction in storage space by up to 50%, as well as a staggering 95% decrease in physical glass and cardboard waste. 

Consider the scenario of a bar receiving glass bottles enclosed in a cardboard box and the subsequent waste management that ensues once those bottles are used. With the ecoTOTE system, the waste is dramatically minimized, as the ecoTOTES are simply collected and removed. Overall, ecoSPIRITS holds the capability to deliver an impressive 60% to 90% reduction in carbon emissions and the carbon footprint associated with packaging and distributing premium spirits and wine.

DJ: Since Green New Perspective is a podcast by a marketing agency, New Perspective, we would like to ask you some questions about branding and marketing strategies. Every brand has a story behind it. When ecoSPIRITS was first starting out, or if you are aware of the story, what was the vision behind ecoSPIRITS' identity?

IM: Although I was not personally involved with ecoSPIRITS at the time, the story behind its establishment is truly captivating. In 2017, Paul and the founding team –who were at the helm of a leading craft spirits distributor in the Asia Pacific region – were astounded by the immense volume of single-use glass packaging being transported across the supply chain from Europe and the Americas to Asia. This observation prompted them to question the feasibility of implementing scalable circular solutions and explore potential alternatives. 

Recognizing a shared aspiration within the industry to embrace a more sustainable trajectory, both from an environmental and financial standpoint, the vision for ecoSPIRITS took shape. The team's relentless pursuit of this vision led to the development of CircularONE. This pivotal development propelled ecoSPIRITS towards a scalable operational model, setting the stage for the company's transformative journey.

DJ: What were the biggest challenges, especially with the software?

IM: Within our industry, there is a widespread agreement on the critical importance of sustainability, not only in the wine and spirits sector but on a global scale, particularly for the future of the bar and beverage industry. However, as is often the case with any transformative endeavor, embracing change is not always straightforward. 

The shift towards a circular economy necessitates behavioral changes at every stage of the supply chain, spanning from production to consumption in bars and hotels. At ecoSPIRITS, we are dedicated to facilitating this transition process, striving to make it as smooth and seamless as possible. We actively seek out pioneering partners who can serve as shining examples, demonstrating that this transformation is indeed achievable. 

Many of our early adopters have already experienced the numerous benefits associated with embracing this groundbreaking technology. The journey toward sustainability requires collective effort and collaboration, and we are committed to working diligently alongside our partners to drive positive change in the industry. Together, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future.

DJ: Regarding marketing positioning, where do you see ecoSPIRITS fitting within the broader landscape of cleantech and sustainability solutions?

IM: We have been in an incredibly fortunate position as we have amazing partners who share our vision. This includes venue partners like Accor or Raffles, as I mentioned earlier, as well as trials with other global hospitality organizations. We also collaborate with global drinks companies and, most notably, premium spirits companies that have been early adopters and recognize the significant value, both in terms of cost-effectiveness and sustainability. 

What we are also seeing is consumers driving this change. Venues understand that sustainable cocktails, made possible by our supply chain, are what customers and guests are seeking. This recognition and demand from the general public are great motivators for the entire supply chain to offer more sustainable solutions. ecoSPIRITS' technology allows this shift to happen in a cost-effective way.

DJ: You mentioned that consumers are driving the change. But for those who are not aware of the benefits of ecoSPIRITS' solution, do you communicate the advantages of your product, and if yes, how?

IM: As a circular economy technology, we see ourselves as innovators in the industry. We challenge long-held assumptions around packaging, which is revolutionary. Primarily, we work with brands and venues, or what we call climate partners, to help them communicate the benefits of our solution. 

For instance, some venues have created special planet-friendly cocktails using spirits that are delivered only in ecoTOTE format. We often communicate these benefits through their cocktail lists and drink menus. As a live example, we are currently working with Avallen, the world's most planet-positive Calvados made from apples, and Britvic’s premium mixer brandLondon Essence, who have developed a technology for freshly infused tonics and mixers, eliminating the need for small glass bottles. Together with ecoSPIRITS, they offer one of the world's most sustainable cocktails, the Sustainable Spritz.

DJ: How does ecoSPIRITS ensure that its sustainable spritz and cocktail ingredients not only have an intriguing story behind them but also deliver a delightful taste experience, while simultaneously fostering consumer awareness and driving organizations towards a more sustainable future?

Ian: The Sustainable Spritz and the cocktail ingredients used within it are often products that have been discarded at another point in the process. So there's a great story behind it, but it's also important that it tastes great. In addition to that, our technology can be used invisibly within a bar. It's important that guests and consumers know that the choices they make have a positive impact. Their choices will begin to drive organizations and companies toward a more sustainable future. We also have the ecoSPIRITS’ Forest and Ocean programs. 

For example, we work with Green Steps Group, a geo-tagging and proof-of-planting business, to generate additional carbon mitigation beyond the substantial carbon footprint reduction achieved through our technology. Under the Forest Program, every time an ecoTOTE is filled, delivered to a venue, emptied, and returned, a tree is geotagged, and the partner venue is named as the owner of that tree. Each venue has its own forest, and customers can scan a QR code on the menu to see the impact and benefits of their choice.

DJ: What advice would you give to other spirits producers or beverage companies considering adopting more sustainable practices?

IM: First and foremost, we believe the future is circular. The issue lies with single-use glass packaging, not the glass itself. Our technology offers a better solution. I think it's important to help people understand that reuse is a far better approach than recycling. We operate in small islands where recycling is not an option, and even in places with recycling facilities, it's crucial to recognize that recycling glass still requires a significant amount of energy. 

The value and impact of reuse are much higher. We need to educate everyone that reuse is the optimal solution. I'm delighted to see other exciting sustainable packaging innovations emerging in the industry. There's a lot happening, but we must continue to focus on promoting the benefits of reuse and circularity.

DJ: As ecoSPIRITS has experienced growth and success in the market, can you share insights into your pipeline generation strategies and how you identify potential partners and customers who align with your sustainability goals?

IM: Our Licensed Operators in different countries come from various backgrounds, including hospitality, drinks distribution, and production. They all share a desire to lead the transition to a circular economy. 

They have the network and experience to drive growth in local markets, and they play a crucial role in multiplying the impact of our circular technology. We look for partners who align with our goals and have the capacity to expand and promote sustainable practices.

DJ: Looking ahead, what excites you the most about the future of ecoSPIRITS?

IM: There are many exciting things on the horizon. We're thrilled by the response from our climate partners and the interest we're seeing as we expand globally. The range of brand owners and producers we work with, from established brands to smaller operators, is fascinating. 

We're also launching a circular wine solution in Australia, which is a significant step forward. Wine and glass bottles are areas where there's a lot of potential for sustainability improvements. Additionally, we're exploring off-premise technology and pilot projects in supermarkets and retail environments. It's exciting to see how customers can interact with our technology in various settings and how that will develop.

DJ: How can individuals and businesses support ecoSPIRITS' mission? How can they join the circular team?

IM: In order to tackle the future challenges posed by unsustainable supply chains, businesses can actively contribute by adopting technology that promotes reuse over single-use packaging. This proactive step towards sustainability will not only benefit the environment but also safeguard their own long-term interests. Similarly, individuals can make a difference by seeking out bars and restaurants that embrace ecoSPIRITS and offer sustainable cocktails. 

By consciously choosing these options, consumers play a vital role in driving positive change. It is important to recognize that consumer buying patterns are significantly influenced by the sustainable credentials and reputations of products and companies. This underscores the impact of individual choices on shaping the market and motivating businesses to prioritize sustainability. 

For those interested in joining the circular team, we have an extensive network of brands, distributors, and venues actively seeking to incorporate our technology. Businesses can take the initiative to reach out to us and explore how they can integrate sustainability into their operations, becoming part of the collective effort to build a more sustainable future.

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