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Beer kegs

Brewery Keg Tracking in 2023

By Nick Amador on February 2, 2021

As a brewery owner, you already know that managing your kegs is an essential part of running your business. Not only do kegs represent a significant investment for you and your business, they serve to hold, protect, and distribute your most valuable asset: Your beer.

But when it comes time to decide how you’ll manage and track your kegs, you need to make a decision about what method is right for you and your business. Below is a rundown of a few different options available to you.

Manual Tracking or “Winging It”

There is a considerable amount of craft breweries that do not have a formal system in place for tracking their kegs, and the larger your fleet becomes, the harder it is to implement this process.

While brewers know the value of their kegs, many put off investing in a tracking system and opt for the use of spreadsheets, whiteboards, or no tracking at all. With margins as small as they are, breweries may balk at yet another overhead cost, and cringe at the thought of additional training for their staff.

The downside of this is inevitable keg loss, bothering your customers with long-sitting empties, and an inefficient use of your keg fleet (meaning you’ll have to buy more kegs than you actually need).

Pros: Relatively free

Cons: Increased keg loss, inefficient fleet management, tedious, no insights or reports

Barcode Scanning

One of the most popular methods for tracking kegs is barcode scanning. Barcode scanning is used by breweries with anywhere from 100 to several 1000’s of kegs and involves a brewery sticking a unique label on each of their kegs so that it can be scanned and tracked at each stage of the production and distribution process (filling – storage – deployment – return – cleaning).

Ideally your tracking software has built-in automated reporting that allows you to access the history of each of your kegs, along with information on each of your customer’s inventory and brewery insights. This method of tracking is popular because it is relatively inexpensive, straightforward, and accessible at each point of the distribution process.

It is important to make sure that each label is properly scanned, but adding a scanning step to the team workflow is easy with the right software, and much less tedious than manual entry. It is also important to make sure that your labels are durable and stand up against caustics like cold, heat, and water.

Pros: Straightforward, relatively affordable, potential for automated reports and insights

Cons: Time for setup/training, potential for human error

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Like barcode scanning, RFID is a means of scanning kegs throughout their journey in the supply chain, but as opposed to barcode stickers, RFID typically involves a tag that is placed on each keg.

These tags can then be scanned with a handheld device much like a barcode, or they can be scanned automatically when they pass through a fixed RFID portal. One of the pros of RFID is that, if managed properly, the system can provide analytics and precise tracking.

The cons are that handheld RFID processing can be just as prone to human error as barcode scanning. More importantly, investing in RFID and setting up fixed scanning points can be very costly and not a viable option for most small and medium sized breweries.

Pros: Highly automated, built for high capacity

Cons: Very high cost and initial capital investment

Keg Leasing

You might decide that the cost of buying kegs for your brewery is not in your budget, in which case you can consider pay-per-fill kegs, which will net you kegs at a fraction of the cost.

The obvious benefit here is the cost, but leasing also affords you some relief from the need to maintain your kegs or even track them. Is there a broken seal on the keg you’re about to fill? Just send it back to the company you leased it from and get a new one. Did a licensee hang on to one of your empty kegs for months after they poured your beer? Oh well, it’s not costing you much to replace it.

But of course, leasing means you’re beholden to a third party. For a small business owner with often razor thin margins, it can be difficult to give up even a modicum of control over what boils down to a pretty essential part of your business.

Pros: Low upfront cost

Cons: Higher long-term cost, less control over fleet

So, what’s the answer for keg tracking?

No two brewers’ fleet needs are the same, so the systems out there that claim they can do everything for likely won't be able to.

If keg tracking is simply an add-on to an existing leasing contract or it’s a small part of a keg management system, it’s unlikely that system will excel at actually tracking your kegs for you.

This is why Kegshoe offers specialized barcode scanning software that is designed to specifically alleviate your problems related to filling, storing, distributing, and maintaining your inventory of kegs. Specialized tracking software can be significantly more effective at helping you manage your kegs because they offer intuitive, mobile keg tracking solutions that let you track your entire fleet – from filling, to delivering, to returning, to cleaning – with the phone in your pocket.

Kegshoe’s native iOS and Android apps allow for convenient scanning on durable, unique labels. Kegshoe is also compatible with existing scannable codes that might be already on your kegs (i.e. FRANKE/BLEFA and THIELMANN kegs), allowing you to start scanning right away.

Mobile scanning then pushes your keg tracking data to an online dashboard that is filled with valuable reports and insights, including the Pickup Report, an automated report that shows you which kegs are ready to be picked up, where they’re located, and how long they’ve been there.

Kegshoe works to empower breweries to increase turnover, reduce keg loss, streamline their distribution cycle, and make the most of their limited resources. To find out if Kegshoe’s tracking system is right for your brewery, get in touch with our team today.