Heineken is putting the big push on for its SmartDispense System. You can half expect a call or visit from your regional rep. But should you sign on the dotted line, or look at your options?
Mega-brewer Heineken make various claims about their SmartDispense System, which they say should help bar managers to:
As part of the package, bars also hand-over the responsibility for cleaning their lines to the Heineken cellar team. They will visit once a month to check the system and do the beer line clean.
It sounds like a solid offer – consistent beer, no responsibility for cleaning the lines and major savings on ullage and water waste. But what’s the rub?
We’ve had a bit of a think about this. Well, to an extent, we’re in competition with the Heineken SmartDispense system (although we don’t have their massive budgets, so we rely on a little pragmatism – like so many of our customers.)
✅ Save on beer waste by cleaning less
✅ Increase bar profits by selling waste
✅ Save staff time & health hazards
✅ Fantastic tasting fresh beer
✅ Happy customers who keep returning
✅ Break even on investment in 6 months
✅ 5 year cast iron guarantee
The first thing to look at is the cost. From what we’ve been told, it’s definitely not #cheapdispense.
Obviously, the Heineken rep hasn’t paid a visit to StayClean towers to discuss pricing. But we understand that the price starts at between £175 and £300 per month for the basic system with four products and up to eight taps. And the price then goes up from there.
If that’s right, entry level costs are more than £2k per annum. Then there’s the brewery tie-in period, which we understand is a minimum of 3 years.
So, that’s at least £6,000 for three years of ice cold Heineken plus three other beers (also supplied by Heineken, unless you’re happy to pay an additional premium). No line cleaning on those beerlines.
But what about the rest of the beers in your cellar?
In addition to beer, cider and water savings achieved through reducing the frequency of beer line cleans to once every four weeks. Instead of once a week, as pubs have done traditionally. Heineken claim that SmartDispense customers can also save on refrigeration, cellar air conditioning and beer cooling.
However, these secondary savings only hold true if your entire cellar and all products are being run through the SmartDispense system.
In most pubs, running all products via the Heineken system would mean multiple basic units (at over £2,000 per unit per year). The alternative is to keep air conditioning your cellar to keep the ambient temperature low and to keep passing your lines through the beer cooler to get the temperature of the beverage down at the point it is poured. This generally means continuing to use the air con unit and beer cooler for those products not being passed through to SmartDispense equipment.
This also raises questions about the storage of the Heineken (and other) products that are on tap, or waiting to go on tap. Without cellar air conditioning, the ambient temperature is unlikely to stay at the 11-13 degrees Celsius that’s necessary to maintain the quality of the product in the keg.
The other promised saving is time – particularly the time that the bar manager would spend cleaning the lines. Heineken SmartDispense customers no longer need to clean beer lines for products being served via the system. However, they will need to continue to clean the lines for products not being served through SmartDispense.
This saving also has to be countered with possible obstacles and time drains. Among these we’ve heard stories of floors and bars having to be pulled apart to install the system, resulting in temporary closure and potential loss of custom.
As you’d expect from an organisation the size of Heineken, they make a big deal about the level of support that customers can expect. Apparently the service team guarantee to respond to call-out requests within 48 hours. This sounds good, but if all of your beer is being served via the SmartDispense system it’s a long time to not be able to serve draught beer.
Similarly, if you experience a power cut, all of the SmartDispense system will stop and you will be unable to serve.
With energy and water saving to talk-up, it’s no surprise that Heineken SmartDispense attempts to play-up its green credentials.
In fairness, the reduction in waste water and beer are great. The claims about reducing energy usage through more efficient cooling and insulation methods only really ring true if the whole cellar is turned over to Heineken’s system. Then you run the risk of power-outages, etc.
Reducing the frequency of beer line cleaning will save you money on chemicals, labour, water and most importantly reduce the amount of product you waste – increasing the profit in every barrel of beer you sell.
This might be the really contentious bit, but…
We’ve heard people say that the problem with American beers (served in America) is that they all taste the same / of not very much. We’re not talking about craft beers and nutty ales, but the big ones, like Budweiser, Miller, Coors and Pabst.
Part of this problem, according to some beer sommeliers, is that the beer is served too cold, so the flavour is inhibited.
We have nothing to confirm or disprove this suggestion and who knows if this is the case with the SmartDispense system – but being able to control the temperature of your beer and ensure it is served to your customers’ preference, rather than the brewer’s specification, is surely part of the art of being a good landlord.
The conclusion is that only you can decide if the investment is worth the reward. As a company offering a product that also extends the period between line cleans, we feel that reducing wasted water and wasted beer is a good thing. We suggest there are more cost-effective ways of achieving the savings whilst retaining greater control over serve of your product and management of your cellar.
You can read more SmartDispense real world reviews on the excellent Inn Doctor website. See here: https://www.inndoctor.co.uk/heineken-smartdispense-midi/