Heineken has significantly increased shelf life of their keg beer and earned heavy criticism for this measure from its customers. After the COVID-19 lockdown for cinemas, pubs, hairdressers and hotels was lifted on July 4, some pubs received kegs with Heineken beer which had the shelf life changed from June to a later date in the year. The Grocer cited “a source in the beer supply chain” saying that one of his customers “spent three days pouring away 30 barrels of beer, then his first delivery that arrived last week has had a shorter date on it than what he destroyed”.
In fact, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) mounted a massive campaign, backed by major brewing groups like Heineken, AB InBev and MolsonCoors. The BBPA states on its website that “beer is a perishable product and as such ensuring freshness is an important part of delivering a product that matches consumer expectation. Inclusion of a clear indication of the shelf life of a product, usually as a best before end (BBE) date, is a vital element of ensuring that beer is not served past this date.”
In a guideline for the “Destruction of Beer in Pub Cellars“, the BBPA stated that “during the COVID-19 epidemic the normal rules for destruction of unsaleable beer (ullage) have been relaxed by HMRC. Rather than an Authorised Company Representative (ACR) being present to supervise destruction this process can be undertaken by designated pub staff i.e. licensee and providing the brewer has authorised them to do so and that brewer claiming the relief is satisfied that destruction has taken place and retains suitable evidence i.e. in the form of a digital recording.”
When confronted with the complaints, a Heineken spokeswoman responded that “the keg beer that exists in our network has been kept in optimum conditions and what’s more, has been benchmarked against reference samples to ensure it is still top quality.”
She also said that “we know our beer and ciders in keg are as stable as can and bottle products, which have a best before date of up to a year. We have been very transparent about extending the best before date on our kegs.”
James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), does not believe that relabeling is an appropriate measure to ensure the consumer’s confidence in the product. “If the global brewers are relabeling old kegs of beer with new labels and changing best before dates, this is a huge breach of trust with publicans and punters, who in many cases have been told kegs are being replaced ‘new for old’,” he said in a statement.