When you got into the business of brewing beer, you probably thought your top concerns would be related to the actual brewing process. However, once breweries start shipping their products, the owners quickly realize that logistics are a massive part of their business. In fact, learning how to ship your product efficiently is one of the most significant factors that will affect your bottom line.
Using this guide, you can get a handle on what your shipping needs will be so that you can be armed with information when you reach out to carriers for shipping quotes.
Because pallets are a common way of shipping goods, an excellent place to start is to determine how many pallets you will need per shipment. A standard-sized pallet is 48 by 40 inches, so for this article, we’ll refer to that size only. First, we’ll learn about some of the basic terms used when discussing freight shipments; then, we’ll discuss how to determine the size of your freight accurately.
Freight Size – Full Truckload vs. Less-Than-Truckload
If the products you are shipping will take up an entire truck, then your shipment is considered a full truckload, denoted as TL. Conversely, if your products will not fill up a whole truck, this is considered less than a truckload, or LTL. Generally, a shipment with fewer than 10 standard sized 48 x 40-inch pallets or that weighs less than 15,000 pounds will be considered LTL, but different carriers may have different standards, so it is a good idea to confirm this with any shipping carrier you are considering using.
While the difference between TL and LTL seems straightforward, there are other factors to consider when determining your freight size.
LTL — Less Than Load
If your freight does not take up an entire truck, then you are renting space on a shipping truck that is used by other companies as well. This means that there could be additional stops before your product is delivered. However, because you are splitting the cost of the truck, LTL shipping can be more cost-effective.
TL — Truckload
When shipping a truckload, your product is the only one on the truck. This means that your beer will be picked up and delivered directly to its destination. Additionally, there is less risk of damage during transport because no one will be handling the freight during subsequent stops. For these reasons, some companies choose to purchase the entire truckload even if their product does not physically take up all the space on the truck.
Type of Truck – Dry Van vs. Reefer
The kind of truck you will be using to deliver your beer will also impact your shipping costs. If you are a small brewery that is shipping beer to local restaurants, you may be able to get away with a truck that has no type of climate control, also known as a dry van. A dry van is typically a more cost-effective option but be aware that the lack of climate control could cause other issues to arise, as Brad Rice, Logistics Manager for 3 Daughters Brewery in St. Petersburg, Florida, has experienced. “Since we use cardboard cases for our cans, here in Florida, when it’s warm out, we have to use fans to remove the moisture from the cans, so it doesn’t soak the cardboard case. If you transport those pallets with wet trays, they will move and fall.”
For beer that is going to be shipped a longer distance — or if you do not want to risk sacrificing quality due to temperature changes — a refrigerated trailer, also known as a reefer, is best. However, keep in mind that a climate-controlled truck weighs more when empty than a non-refrigerated truck, so it may not be able to carry as heavy of a load to remain below the maximum legal weight allowed on the road. So, if you are hoping to send as large a shipment as possible for the lowest cost, a refrigerated truck might not work for you.
How Big Is My Load?
Now it’s time to determine the number of pallets needed for your shipment. We will look at shipping multiple sizes of kegs, as well as beer cans and bottles.
Here is a guideline to how many kegs you can fit on a standard 48 x 40-inch pallet:
- 1/6 bbl – 20 per pallet
- 1/4 bbl – 14 per pallet
- 1/2 bbl – 8 per pallet
A pallet stacked with full kegs weighs approximately 1,200 – 1,400 pounds. Pallets can only be stacked two-high because the pallet on the bottom will not be able to hold more weight than that. So, for example, if you need to ship 40 1/2-barrel kegs, you will need five pallets, and they will weigh around 6,000 — 7,000 pounds. The volume would be 2 x 2 stacked pallets, and then one unstacked pallet.
Additionally, if the empty kegs will be shipped back to your brewery, then you will need to factor this into your shipping costs as well. The approximate weight of empty kegs are as follows:
- 1/2 bbl keg – 30lbs.
- 1/4 bbl keg – 22lbs.
- 1/6 bbl keg – 16lbs.
Bottles and Cans
A 12-pack case of 12 oz. beer weighs approximately 20 pounds. It is crucial not to overstack cases of beer, because they can shift during transport. Because of this, a good rule of thumb is to stack approximately 100 cases of beer, or no more than 2,200 pounds, per pallet.
The calculations above will help you find out the weight and volume of the product itself, but your pallets also determine the total weight of your freight. “A lot of people forget to add the pallet weight to it,” says Sean Higgins, Production Manager at Sea Dog Brewing Company. “If we send a full truckload, it can have up to 44 pallets, and with 20-25 pound pallets, you can be overweight.”
What Are the Best Pallets for Beer Shipment?
While it may be tempting to purchase the cheapest pallets available so that you can keep your bottom line down and get your product out, this way of thinking can come back to haunt you. You could end up losing product in transit, damaging your truck, or — even worse — injuring an employee. Pallets today come in many different materials and with numerous features, so you can easily find the ideal pallets for storing and shipping your beer.
Wood Pallets vs. Plastic Pallets
Wood has long been the go-to pallet material for many industries, including breweries, due to the low initial cost. But, many companies — and foodservice companies especially — are discovering the benefits of plastic pallets. As Higgins from Sea Dog Brewing states, “With wood pallets, if [kegs] are not centered properly, the wood pallets will break. You’ll add more time to your day, more aggravation. It can happen in transit and cause damage to trucks as well.”
Plastic pallets are much sturdier than wood pallets, meaning fewer delays caused by broken pallets. Some of the other benefits of plastic pallets include that they are:
- Sanitary because they are nonporous and easy to clean, while wood pallets can absorb liquids and become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, generally things you do not want next to your beer!
- Made with smoother sides than wood pallets, so they are less likely to damage your packaging.
- Sustainable and a better option for companies that pride themselves on being green, as plastic creates less waste than wood.
- Cost-effective, because plastic pallets will last longer than wood so they can reduce your freight costs long term.
- Lighter, reducing freight costs and improving ease of handling.
- Longer lasting, while the average wood pallet is typically disused within three years, plastic pallets are often rated to last for a minimum of ten years.
If you already have wood pallets, that doesn’t mean your product is doomed. Many breweries still use wood pallets without issue. When the time comes to replace broken pallets or add pallets as your inventory grows, however, it is advisable to consider plastic pallets.
Once you have decided on your pallet material, there are also an array of pallet features that can safeguard your product and your employees. Plastic pallets can come equipped with ledges, interlocking feet, tie-down points, and solid tops that distribute weight more evenly. These features can be the difference between your beer arriving safely or topping over on a bumpy road. What’s more, the stackable pallets nest inside one another once empty. So, when the empty pallets are shipped back, they will take up less volume, which could reduce your freight costs.
Preventing Load Shift
Even when using the best pallets, full cases or kegs of beer are likely to shift around during transit unless adequately secured. “We use strapping for our kegs to create a single weight to keep it more balanced,” says Higgins of Sea Dog Brewing Company. “We’ll strap them with a plastic strap. Then we’ll wrap them in case the strap breaks for a security blanket.” Many breweries will use industrial-strength shrink wrap to wrap the pallets and their contents as another way to create a single weight out of each pallet load.
If you or your employees are loading the truck yourself, then consideration must also be taken at that time to prevent load shift. “We try to match our pallets to about the same weight on either side of the truck so it’s balanced,” says Rice. Plus, you will likely hit the weight limit a truck can carry before you take up the full volume of the truck, so you must be mindful of the weight of your entire load, beer and pallets included.
Reusable Transport Packaging Can Help You Choose the Best Pallets for Your Brewery
This information can be used as a guideline to help you determine the approximate amount of pallets you will need and the space you may require on a carrier’s truck, but keep in mind that the weight and volume of your specific product and packaging could be affected by several different components. For instance, 3 Daughters Brewery uses six-pack plastic rings on the tops of their cans, so Rice says, “the higher they are stacked, the more they will shift in transit.” It is important to determine precisely how much product you can fit on each pallet and how high the pallets can be stacked.
There is a lot of diversity in plastic pallets, there are hundreds of sizes and styles to choose from. It is best to purchase pallets for beer shipments before you need to send your product out. Giving yourself enough time for these decisions can help ensure availability and that you get the perfect pallet for your operation.
Additionally, if the standard 40 x 48-inch pallet discussed is not the right size for your needs, there are pallets in many different sizes, including pallets designed specifically for individual barrel containers and single kegs. If you would like any additional information on the types of pallets available or would like to discuss any other packaging needs, contact Reusable Transport Packaging for a free consultation.
(And special thanks to our craft beer club friends for the mention!)