A.G. Barr plans mark the end of an era for c-stores

Kevin Scott

Any retailers who attended this year’s SLR Rewards will no doubt have been laughing as giddily as I was at comedian Raymond Mearns’ plans to go on Dragon’s Den with a ‘gingie bottle bag that doesn’t clink’. His (admittedly solid) plan was to create cushioned chambers within the bag to silence the sound of someone marching back to their local shop. Little did he, or anyone else in the room, know that the days of doing just that were drawing to a close.

I’m too cynical to believe it’s a coincidence that A.G. Barr has announced plans to end the return scheme on its glass bottles at the same time the Government is exploring the idea of introducing a nationwide Deposit Return Scheme. By ending a scheme that is part of Scotland’s national heritage, A.G. Barr couldn’t be saying any clearer that the attraction of returning bottles has reduced beyond the point of viability since kerbside collection was introduced in 2012. In fact, since then the return rate has dropped from 65% to 54%. While it’s mighty impressive that more than half of glass bottles bought are returned, even as recently as 1993 it was 90%. So, how can the Government aim to achieve an 85% return rate by offering less money than Barr currently does?

According to A.G. Barr the energy hungry equipment it uses to clean the bottles is now too costly, and a new glass bottling line means the end of the ability to re-use bottles. For any pedants out there – yes, re-using and recycling are different but the end result is very much the same, even though the company tasked with writing a report into the viability of DRS fails to see this and subsequently didn’t bother asking for A.G. Barr’s input.

Anyway, you can read about the incredibly bad idea that is a DRS in this month’s cover story. This note is to bid farewell to an institution. It really is the end of an era – even if Barr’s glass range continues to go strong. Barr’s glass bottles have had a fascinating history (see p40) – aside from vague memories of exchanging empty bottles of Limeade for ice poles back in my own youthful summers, I remember one occasion where a friend of a friend nonchalantly opened his garage to get his bike out and behind it were hundreds upon hundreds of neatly stacked empties. The boy explained: “My dad saves them up from his work for a year then gives them to charity.”

There are plenty of people out there who do the same with their glass bottles; even at 54% that is 6.48 million bottles a year heading back to Cumbernauld for a bath. For retailers, the only word of caution is that as we wind down to the deadline for returning bottles of 31st December plenty of stockpiling citizens may start clinking up the pavement outside. Keep your ears opened; you have been warned!

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Kevin Scott, Editor

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