In our article, “Startup Tips: An Easy Guide for Shipping Alcohol Legally in the US,” we discussed the various requirements that small business owners must satisfy before they could ship alcohol in the country. We also explained the packaging recommendations of carriers like FedEx and UPS, but those applied mostly to shipments with only one or a few standard-size containers.

But what are your options if you wanted to ship your booze in bulk? What if an out-of-state distributor offered to sell your product in their wide chain? What is your best strategy for responding to growing demands?

elevate-alcohol-pallet

At enKo Products, we provide various solutions to alcohol shippers’ needs. In this article, we discuss how industry leaders package alcoholic products for bulk shipment. But first, we should talk about the problems that bulk alcohol shippers commonly encounter and how to solve them.

What Potential Challenges Await You When You Ship Alcohol in Bulk?

Two concerns take center stage when shipping liquor in bulk: preserving the product’s quality and ensuring that its packaging stays intact after transport.

The factors that typically make bulk alcohol shipment challenging are the following:

What-Potential-Challenges-Await-when-Shipping-Alcohol-in-Bulk

1.

Elements That Affect Liquor Quality during Transport

These things tend to affect the product’s taste over time, even shorten its shelf life. Controlling their influence on your product ensures that it remains palatable until it reaches the customers or after a reasonable period of storage.

(a) Oxidation

Oxidation is a chemical reaction that turns alcohol into substances that can make it taste flat or acidic. One reason for this is exposure to oxygen and other strong oxidizing agents in the air or container. Another is contamination by bacteria with the ability to ferment alcohol into other products, particularly aldehydes, esters and carboxylic acids. Heating can hasten the process.

Here’s how you can minimize oxidative mechanisms during transport:

  • If you’re packaging in reusable containers like bottles and ISO tanks, sterilize and rinse them well before using them again.
  • Use advanced filtration techniques to separate yeast, bacteria and other contaminants. A good quality control team, with knowledge of microbiology and food chemistry, can ensure that each batch does not exceed the allowable levels for such impurities.
  • Pasteurize.
  • Consider adding sulfur dioxide (SO2), which has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. However, it can form substances that trigger allergies in vulnerable individuals, so you must declare it on your alcohol label.
  • Seal the packages or bulk containers securely.
  • Get a carrier that reliably ensures good temperature control throughout transport.

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(b) Contamination

Impurities are either biological or chemical in nature.

Biological impurities consist of bacteria and excess yeast. They contaminate the finished product through incomplete filtration, working in a dirty environment or failure to clean reusable containers well.

On the other hand, chemical contaminants may be present in improperly cleaned ISO tanks and Flexitanks.

Here’s how you can keep liquor contaminants out during shipping:

  • Sterilize and rinse reusable containers thoroughly before the next use.
  • Use advanced filtration techniques.
  • Pasteurize your product.
  • Consider adding sulfur dioxide or a suitable alternative.
  • Seal the containers well.
  • Consider replacing Flexitanks.

(c) Re-Fermentation

Further fermentation can occur when residual yeast acts on extra carbohydrate sources present in an alcoholic beverage. It commonly ruins the taste of sweet wines. In products containing SO2, not only can re-fermentation increase alcohol content and taste, but it can also form malodorous sulfide byproducts.

Re-fermentation increases carbon dioxide inside a vessel, affecting liquor taste or increasing container pressure until it bursts. It also speeds up yeast reproduction and produces unsightly cell deposits at the bottom of your container.

Here’s how you can prevent re-fermentation during transport:

  • Sterilize and rinse reusable vessels meticulously before using them again.
  • Filter out yeast cells aggressively.
  • Seal your containers well. Yeast cells are present in the air and are especially abundant in alcohol manufacturing facilities.
  • Ensure little temperature variability during shipment.

(d) Temperature

Alcoholic products should be stored in cool places. High temperatures can accelerate chemical reactions like oxidation and re-fermentation, leading to early spoilage. The best approach is to contract the services of a reliable bulk alcohol logistics provider, like DHL, to maintain good temperature control throughout the journey.

(e) Distance

The longer the distance, the greater is the opportunity for spoilage.

If your client is situated thousands of miles away and you feel that you’re not ready to guarantee optimum shipping conditions, you should say so from the onset. Overpromising and not delivering is disastrous for marketing and can devastate any startup.

However, if you are determined to take on the challenge, you should consider installing the controls that we recommended above.

2.

The Packaging and Transport Needs of Bulk Shipment

The shipment volume determines the kind of primary alcohol packaging to use during transport. Different liquor business types have different considerations in this respect.

There are two primary packaging options for shipping alcohol in bulk.

  • Conventional containers include aluminum cans and glass bottles, which any liquor business can use. In our blog, “Beer Label Startup Tips: How to Make and Design Beer Labels,” we mentioned the different containers used for packing beer. Conventional containers hold several ounces to no more than a few gallons of liquid.
  • Bulk vessels are extra-large containers that manufacturers and re-packers may use for shipping alcohol over large distances. The two most commonly used are ISO tanks and Flexitanks, which can hold more than 6,000 gallons. We shall discuss their advantages and disadvantages in the next section.
An ISO Tank Mounted on a Trailer

3.

Pallet Configuration

This concerns businesses that ship alcohol in pallets, which are stabilized using shrink wrap or stretch film. Pallet configuration refers to the distribution of different weights and shapes when stacking various packages. Ideally, it should be made as evenly as possible, or with the weight decreasing from bottom to top, to reduce film waste.

4.

The Possible Need for Packaging Machines

Packaging machines may be necessary to secure huge loads. Additionally, palletizing equipment may be required to stabilize uneven configurations that are too challenging for human operators.

You may also consider automating the packaging process at some point. Automation can start anywhere along the packaging line, from container filling to stretch-wrapping. It makes packaging efficient and allows workers to remain safe during a health crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic.

The use of packaging machines raises operational expenses, but it is cost-effective for large businesses. 

The above considerations can make bulk liquor shipment a formidable task for small business owners. However, growing your business requires overcoming these challenges. The sooner that you do it, the better it will be for your establishment.

What Are the Best Industry Options for Packaging Liquor for Bulk Shipping?

We can divide bulk alcohol packaging options according to the primary packaging.

The Packaging and Transport Needs of Bulk Shipment

Multiple liquor bottles are packed in corrugated boxes or plastic cases and trays. Cans are shrink-wrapped or placed in boxes. After applying the secondary packaging, i. e. boxes, cases, trays, and shrink film, the packs are stacked on pallets and stabilized using either shrink wrap or stretch wrap.

Liquor kegs do not require plastic film after palletizing.

(a) Shrink-Wrapping Pallets

Shrink-wrapping uses plastic that is non-stretchable and contracts on heating. The material is made of polyolefins that include polypropylene and non-elastic polyethylene. Shrink wrap can be applied on individual cans, shrink-wrapped can packs or liquor boxes.

To shrink-wrap alcohol products in bulk, you first stack the boxed or shrink-wrapped packs to make a pallet. Put shrink film on top and around the stack without stretching. Apply heat on the plastic, shrinking it enough to keep its contents from moving.

For small stacks, a hand-held heat gun will suffice, especially if you’re sending out only several pallets a day. However, much bigger shipment volumes will require shrink tunnels or ovens.

Heat-shrink hooding uses the same plastic materials. However, machines are used to apply the plastic hood from top to bottom before heat is applied.

The pallets are then loaded in cargo trucks or containers. In the US, domestic shipping containers have sizes reaching 48’ and 53’. To ship outside the country, 20’ and 40’ containers are used. A 20’ container can hold 12,000-13,000 25-oz bottles, while its 40’ counterpart can load up to 23,000 25-oz bottles.

The advantages of shrink-wrapping are the following:

    • Shrink-wrapped packages take up less space.
    • The plastic materials are durable and recyclable.
    • The technology is cost-efficient for very large packages.
    • FDA-approved shrink wrap plastic is available.
    • Glossy and colored shrink wrap enhances shelf display.
    • There is no need for corrugated packaging when transporting canned liquor. Corrugated packaging is heavy and costlier to transport.
    • Shrink wrap does not loosen up around the pallet.
    • The plastic protects the products from various environmental elements, such as UV light, typhoons, freezing temperature, corrosives and saltwater.
    • Shrink-wrapping extends shelf-life by 6-12 months.
    • Shrink wrap is tamper-evident, as breaks in the taut plastic are easily noticeable.
    • The plastic used has high clarity, enabling easy barcoding and RFID scanning.
    • The use of this technology causes fewer ergonomic injuries.

On the other hand, shrink-wrapping also has the following disadvantages:

    • The heating equipment adds to your costs and inventory.
    • Heating and shrinking can distort the logos and barcodes that you print on the plastic.
    • PVC, which is sometimes used for making shrink film, is included in California’s Proposition 65 for its carcinogenic potential.
    • Heat injury may result from using shrink-wrapping equipment.
A Shrink-Wrapped 15-Can Pack of Laker Lager - Source: Laker Beer
A Shrink-Wrapped 15-Can Pack of Laker Lager - Source: Laker Beer

(b) Stretch-Wrapping Pallets

Stretch-wrapping uses an elastic film made of LLDPE, an FDA-approved material and one that enKo Products uses on its hand stretch wrap line. It is used for bundling up boxes, cases and shrink-wrapped can packs.

To stretch-wrap alcohol products in bulk, several smaller units are stacked together and palletized. In Europe, some sellers place a few sheets of rough packing paper in between layers to keep the upper packages from slipping. After stacking, the pallet is stretch-wrapped either by hand or the use of a stretch wrap machine.

Stretch-hooding uses a machine to apply an elastic plastic hood on a pallet and stretch it from top to bottom. 

Like their shrink-wrapped counterparts, stretch-wrapped pallets are transported in trucks or shipping containers.

The advantages of stretch-wrapping include the following:

    • Without the need for heating equipment, stretch-wrapping is more energy-efficient and cost-effective than shrink-wrapping.
    • Most films are made of FDA-approved LLDPE.
    • Stretch wrap is puncture-resistant and endures vibration and shock.
    • Stretch wrap protects shipments from various environmental elements, e.g. UV, freezing temperature, corrosives, etc.
    • Stretch-wrapping extends the shelf-life of perishables by 6-12 months.
    • Colored and opaque stretch films are excellent tamper-proofing materials.
    • Transparent stretch wrap allows seamless barcoding and RFID scanning.
    • LLDPE is recyclable.
    • The risk for heat injury is less.

Meanwhile, the following are the disadvantages of stretch-wrapping:

    • The use of two-sided-cling stretch film can lead to load-to-load adhesion, which can damage pallets or make them difficult to unload. It is especially hazardous for palletized bottled liquor. One-sided-cling variants must be used to avoid load-to-load adhesion.
    • More film is needed to keep air and moisture out.
    • Stretch film is not as glossy as shrink wrap, so it is more often used for warehousing than in-store displays.
    • Ergonomic injuries may rise if very large shipments continue to be stretch-wrapped by hand. If you’re palletizing ten or more loads per hour, you should consider buying a stretch wrap machine.

For more information about how to palletize and stretch-wrap boxes properly, check out our blog, “Stretch Wrap 101: An Easily Digestible Buying Guide for Startups,” where we explain these processes. 

18″ Hand Stretch Film Wrap
5″ Mini Roll Stretch Film Wrap

Bulk Liquor Vessels

Bulk liquor vessels have two types: ISO tanks and Flexitanks.

ISO tanks are metallic tanks that are so named because their specs conform to ISO standards. They are reusable vessels large enough to contain around 7,000 gallons of liquid.

Flexitanks are giant plastic bags large enough to fill 20’ shipping containers. Each vessel can hold about 6,400 gallons of liquor. Flexitanks are either disposable or reusable.

To use these containers, the shipper fills them up with the liquor. They are then transported with strict temperature controls. After reaching their destination, a local packer can transfer the product into bottles or cans. If the product is beer, it may be distributed to bars where it can be stored in kegs and served in pitchers or mugs.    

Bulk liquor vessels have several advantages over conventional containers.

    • They are more cost-effective for manufacturers and re-packers because each bulk vessel can carry more liquor in a single shipment.
    • Bulk vessels offer more protection from thermal changes than retail-size containers.
    • Without bottles, cans, and other packaging materials, bulk liquor vessels require less fuel to ship. They are, therefore, more environment-friendly.
    • Since packing is done locally, sellers are more likely to prevent damage to retail-size containers. This ensures good product presentations and unboxing experiences.
    • Re-packers have the option to choose a retail-size container that more local customers will appreciate.

On the other hand, sending alcohol in bulk vessels also has the following drawbacks:

    • Reusable bulk containers are prone to contamination.
    • There is a higher risk of oxidation because more of the liquor surface is exposed to oxygen.
    • Many consumers have a negative view of alcohol that is transported from afar but repacked locally. They prefer the original manufacturers’ branded bottles and cans over those used by local packers.
A Flexibag and Its Tank - Source: Techno Group USA
A Flexibag and Its Tank - Source: Techno Group USA

These are the options you have for transporting alcoholic products in bulk. Each one has pros and cons that make them suitable for different types of businesses.

Conclusion

In summary, bulk alcohol shipment is an exciting prospect for growing businesses. However, liquor establishment owners must overcome several barriers to ship large volumes successfully. They include the elements that affect the beverage quality during shipment, method of packaging and transport, pallet configuration and the possible need for packaging machines.

If business owners address these needs, they can get their products to the customers full of flavor and with intact packaging.

The different ways of packaging alcohol for bulk shipment include shrink-wrapping, stretch-wrapping and putting the liquid in ISO tanks and Flexitanks. Shrink-wrapping and stretch-wrapping are conventional methods that allow customers to pour their drinks from the manufacturers’ original containers. Meanwhile, bulk vessel transport lets liquor sellers distribute alcohol cost-effectively, safely and in an eco-friendly way.

Liquor startups must assess the pros and cons of these methods to see which one is the most appropriate for their needs.

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