One Blog |August 5, 2015 | Line Cleaning Software

Draught Line Cleaning – Part 2 – Possible Solutions

Mark Fullerton

What are the possible solutions to your draft beer line-cleaning problems?

In our previous blog posting, Part 1, “Draught Line Cleaning – The Problem”, we introduced, defined, described and discussed draught-beer line cleaning.

In summary, draught-beer lines need to be cleaned at least every two-weeks to keep your beers tasting great. In some states, beer line cleaning is the retailer’s responsibility, but overall, beer distributors have a vested interest in making sure their customers’ draught-beer lines are clean.

Most beer distributors offer draught-beer line cleaning to their customers either because their suppliers require it, or they want to maintain a competitive advantage with their customers. The routine cleaning of the lines may be carried out by the distributor themselves or by a specialized draught-beer line cleaning company.

The Total Cost of Draught Line Cleaning

Top-25 distributors can, undoubtedly, spend millions every year on line cleaning.

Even relatively small distributors have told us the annual costs to clean draught-beer lines can easily be a six-figure number.

Unless there are changes to local or state regulations, it is likely that beer distributors will continue to bear both the responsibility and costs associated with line cleaning. Additionally, beer distributors and their suppliers actually do want control over the line cleaning scheduling simply because draught-beer taste and quality are compromised by dirty tap-lines.

During the past couple of years there have been many cases of lines improperly cleaned or lines overlooked during cleaning. Sour tasting beer and beer with “chunks” are something no draught-beer retailer wants.

Even worse is when the lines are cleaned improperly resulting in cleaning chemicals not being completely flushed out of tap lines. These chemicals are almost always caustic and very often poisonous. When all of the steps required for proper cleaning are not completed and documented there is always the risk that a bartender could unknowingly be pouring a glass full of cleaning fluid rather than beer.

When a customer or a customer’s customer is harmed the real costs can go through the roof.

The Impact of Craft and Import Beers on Line Cleaning

During the past few years there has been an explosion in the numbers of craft and import beers coming to the market. More craft breweries are coming on-line virtually every day. These brews often come to a given market first as draught-beer, then at a later date they’re either withdrawn from the market, or are so successful they begin to be distributed in bottles, cans and growlers.

Craft brewers are even more fanatical about line cleaning than the majors (Anheuser-Busch/InBev or ABI, and MillerCoors or MC) – if that’s possible.

For example, it is not uncommon for tap-line #1 to have “Ranger” flowing through it for a couple of weeks (Ranger being distributed by the local MC wholesale distributor or WD). Then in week three, tap-line #1 is switched to “Hop Head Red” (distributed by the local ABI WD). The MC rep affected by this change will let his management and WD operations know, and tap-line #1 will be withdrawn from the MC WD’s cleaning schedule. Unless line cleaning records are kept current by both distributors, and line cleaning data is shared with the retailer, it is certainly possible that tap-line #1 will become essentially an “unclean orphan line”.

That line may be ignored by both distributors and the retailer – until a customer comes to the bartender and says something equivalent to “waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” but more like, “bar tender there’s a chunk of something floating in my beer”.

Unlike Bud or Miller branded beers which are exclusively distributed by AB or MC WD’s, “Fat Tire,” for instance, may be distributed by either the local MC or local AB distributor (or in some rare cases a craft and import only WD). If the New Belgium Brewing sales executive for your region finds a distributor (you) out of compliance with New Belgium’s policies, it is not impossible to imagine that distributor will “lose the Fat Tire franchise” so to speak.

In such a circumstance as described above, there are no winners, only losers.

What Are The Requirement For a Line Cleaning and Tracking System?

Here is just a sample of the input we have received from talking to beer distributors who are our customers. They want and need:

- A solution that allows both the distributors and retailers to keep track of the line cleaning schedule, including a check-list indicating that every line-cleaning step required has been completed. This would go a long way to ensure the retailer’s customers are always served the freshest and best tasting beer possible.

- A system that would let suppliers, distributors, on premise retailers and their patrons to know the status of the “draught-beer transport system” they rely upon to guarantee them their best beer taste possible.

- A program that would allow suppliers to monitor their distributors for greater accountability in regards to the many aspects of the distributor’s operations; including the actual draught beer delivery systems present at the on premise consumption retail locations.

- A tracking system that would allow supplier representatives, during a routine ride-along, to see evidence at on premise locations that their distributors are complying with their “best-taste” and “fresh-beer” guidelines.

- A line cleaning log that is kept by the distributor and readily available at the retailer’s location would, for most suppliers, become a fundamental requirement for the distributor to retain the rights to distribute their products.

Again, we value your feedback, so please comment on this posting.

The Sub-Contracting Of Line Cleaning

One possible solution to your need to track and manage your draught-line cleaning responsibilities could be the sub-contracting of draught-line cleaning to a third party provider. You could require that third party to provide both you and your retail customers with detailed reporting including when the lines were cleaned and what steps were completed, and by whom. Unfortunately sub-contracting to another firm does not release your company from making sure the line cleaning was performed on schedule and correctly. You are still accountable for the meeting the standards as well as documenting the results.

Software Applications to Track and Manage Line Cleaning

Another solution could be for your distributorship to develop your own software application designed to be used by your own line cleaning crew on lap-tops, tablets or smart-phones.

Of course, your application would have to include route and customer scheduling information, a line cleaning check-list, and a recording of customer or supplier acceptance criteria, among several other features and functions.

You would also have to be able to change the application’s functionality to adapt to market changes, and you would also have to be able to provide full-time help-desk support for the line cleaning crews using the application in the trade.

Don’t forget, this would be an information technology solution, so you might have to hire and retain a staff to provide ongoing maintenance and upgrade support as well as device operating systems upgrades which may impact the operability of your application.

There’s An Easier Way - The OnTrak Way!

A third, and perhaps a better option, would be to subscribe to an already developed software application or “App” that can execute in any environment, on virtually any device you might adopt.

As luck would have it, OnTrak is currently developing a new application called LineTrak™ based on the requirements collected from a wide variety of beer distributors across the nation.

We are still seeking additional input to determine if there are any other “universal” features and functions you may come up with. You can submit your requirements by commenting on this blog.

We welcome your feedback. Perhaps it will lead us to deliver that “app” to you!

The next blog topic will discuss “Draught Line Cleaning – Part 3 – The LineTrak™ Solution”: An “App” that will help you track and manage the process of keeping great beer, tasting great.

To learn more about OnTrak and the current solutions we have developed for companies that distribute beer, please click this button.

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