ecoSPIRITS CEO Paul Gabie talks to our sister magazine Formes de Luxe about its closed-loop spirits and wine distribution system and how it is set to profoundly modify the market. Read the upcoming summer issue for the full interview.
How did ecoSPIRITS come into being?
PG: ecoSPIRITS is a private company founded in Singapore in 2018 and is a spin-off from Proof & Company, a craft spirits distributor in Asia-Pacific, but it quickly became clear that it had much bigger potential given that single-use glass is one of the largest sources of waste and carbon emissions in the drinks industry. From the start, our mission has been to put a stop to single-use glass by leading the spirits and wine industry to make a transition to circular packaging technology.
Our shareholders come from that original distribution business, but we also have a primary investor: Wavemaker Partners, a venture capital firm out of Singapore.
How does your closed-loop packaging system work?
PG: The system allows spirits and wines to be transported in bulk to local markets, where they are processed at our ecoPLANTs into our reusable ecoTOTE format for delivery to bars, restaurants and hotels. The ecoPLANT does not modify the liquid, they just repackage it. Once in the venue, the beverages are transferred from the ecoTOTE to the serving format using our SmartPour technology. Once empty, the ecoTOTEs are returned to the ecoPLANT, where they are sanitized, refilled and sealed. The ecoSPIRITS system is conceived to fully replace the traditional single-use glass bottle.
How many ecoPLANTs do you currently operate?
PG: There are more than 30 around the world; a new plant just opened in the Dominican Republic in March, another in Mauritius and 10 more plants are in the works.
This is something we are proud of as it’s the first distributed global manufacturing processing network of its kind. In addition to servicing the major markets (France, Germany, UK…) and brands, it allows us to also work with smaller players such as the Cayman Islands, Mauritius, and the Dominican Republic.
Can your clients operate their own ecoPLANTs?
PG: Yes, some have purchased an ecoPLANT and the hardware and run their own system in a particular market. Diageo has taken this route in Asia, and we provide the technical support, the engineering and the software.
What can you tell us about the hardware?
PG: The ecoTOTE is the core of our packaging technology. It is essentially a modern, technically enabled version of the demijohn, which are sustainable by design; cognac houses way back when didn’t throw them away when empty, but took them to be refilled. ecoTOTE’s internal vessel is in glass, made from a custom mold. This is key to our value proposition as it preserves the spirit as does a glass bottle. The glass core is protected by an aluminum chassis and a shock-resistant HDPE plastic enclosure designed for relatively rough environments—warehouses, trucks, and in and out of venues. It is quite easy to disassemble and doesn’t contain thin plastics or films, so our policy is full recycling at end of life.
Globally our ecoTOTEs come in 4.5L formats, but in the US, we’ve had to develop a 1.75L version to comply with federal regulations. Obviously, this is less efficient than the larger model, but we are working with local partners there to advocate for changes to regulations that we consider outdated.
How much are your clients saving on packaging costs with your closed loop system?
PG: Our brand partners get a 90% reduction in packaging costs and 95% reduction in single-use packaging waste. Venues using the ecoSPIRITS technology also gain a 30-50% reduction in storage space, 95% less physical glass and cardboard waste and improved ergonomics and handling.
Overall, ecoSPIRITS delivers 60-90% reduction in the carbon emission footprint of premium spirits and wine packaging and distribution. We work with Deloitte for all our carbon assessment.
What can you tell us about your co-branded solutions?
PG: Our cobranded offer is open to brands that operate our system at significant scale. Remy Cointreau’s cobranded ecoTote is some of the sharpest cobranded hardware we have out there. We take our standard hardware design, and then customize certain elements. With Cointreau, for example, we’re dispensing a liqueur, so a liquid with higher sugar content and higher viscosity; it moves and performs differently from a spirit, so we modified the SmartPour technology to adapt to this. From a creative standpoint, our teams work together to apply the brand’s codes onto the hardware. It’s mostly visual, but when needed, we co-develop with customers to suit their technical needs.
On the retail front, we launched a pilot innovation early April in France with our partner La Maison du Whisky to provide its customers with in-store refills of selected limited-edition spirits.
How do you see this shift towards reusable bottles impacting glassmakers?
PG: Two things are happening right now: there is a global shortage in glass, and with the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine, governments have shortlisted certain industries to put on hold in order to ration energy. Glassmaking was in those first-tier lists as it is such an energy intensive industry. We believe that glassmakers are going to have to adapt; this era of producing an infinite number of units and send them out in the world is going to have to end. Glass is still the best single material for wine and spirits imaginable, it's just going to have to be used and reused.
The silver lining of this global supply chain crisis is that the inability to access glass and its increased cost is spurring the industry to look at other solutions, like ecoSPIRITS.
To read the full interview, see the upcoming Summer 2023 issue of Formes de Luxe. Subscribe here.