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MAIL CALL - Organic beer shipped in wasteful plastic

UPDATED June 22, 2:15 pm.
I just talked to the company president, Jon Cadoux, who explained how this all came about. Apparently, the company sent out a sample to another media outlet a week or so ago, in packaging that they thought was more restrained and more environmentally aware, and got a call from an irate reporter, who had opened the box to broken glass and a sopping-wet press kit, because the bottle had broken during shipment.

So this time they went the other direction, overpackaging and hoping for success. Cadoux said he appreciated my feedback, and said he would look into finding other ways to ship samples. I suggested to him that they do it the way Sam Adams ships beer samples - in a 12-pack box, with the 12-pack dividers in place. Two sample bottles are wrapped in bubble wrap (they're not marketing themselves as organic; I suggested Cadoux use corrugated cardboard or cellulose "peanuts" instead), and put in the middle two slots, the only two spaces in the carton that do not directly contact the outside of the box. That gives the bottles plenty of cushioning, and there's room for press materials. Plus, the whole thing (except the bubble wrap) is recyclable.

He said he'd look into that, as well as finding other ideas for how to ship beer without breaking. All told, he was a pretty nice guy, and recognized the faux pas. Apparently, he just can't win, yet. But he's trying hard, so we'll give him credit for effort. Look for an update when the next Peak Brewing package comes in to the Phoenix office!


---Previous posting---

A new beer company, brewing its wares in Portland, has sent a sample of its product to our office.

Opening the box, from Peak Organics, a company whose board chairman is Gary Hirshberg, organic-foods guru and head of Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, revealed a bottle of beer in a Ziploc-style plastic bag, surrounded by bubble wrap, and packed into a needlessly large box with Styrofoam peanuts. (See picture.)

The marketing material touts the fact that the beer is made "without toxic and persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers," saying that is "more enjoyable, both for consumers and for the planet."

"The company is a strong supporter of the environment," said Sue McGovern, the company's PR consultant, when I called to ask "what gives?" with the packaging that is as environmentally insensitive as it gets.

"Organic is a system of agriculture," she said, "not a lifestyle statement." But surely she can't believe that.

Anecdotes from consumers - who, in a cool twist, can win contests and have their names, photos, and quotes appear on bottles of the beer - were included in the press kit as well as on the company's Web site. They described "peak experiences" with nature and the outdoors, clearly marketing the product at people who value the Earth.

The sample beer was, the company said, brewed in Portland. The package was postmarked in Burlington, Massachusetts, where the company also has an office, meaning a beer made in Portland was sent to Massachusetts to be packaged up and sent back to Portland. Is this efficient, either?

McGovern said the company, and many who support organics and environmentally responsible actions, is "looking for progress, not perfection."

She asked me how I would have shipped a liquid beverage in a glass bottle. Apart from the fact that it's a needless marketing ploy that cost $5 to mail, I suggested wrapping it in corrugated-cardboard wrapping and cushioning it with crushed paper or recycled-paper "peanuts." (I'm still not sure whether the plastic bag was necessary, though if the bottle did break, that would be a nice touch.)

McGovern also noted that the company president, Jon Cadoux, personally wrapped the beer in all that plastic for packaging. Apparently, Cadoux will be calling me sometime today or tomorrow to talk more about this.

What do you think? What should I tell Cadoux when he calls? I'll update this when he does.

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