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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Ten Green Bottles (well, 9.5 in this pic) - KesterTester106 - Updated with results!

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

It's tough these days setting KesterTesters, what with all the googling gadgets some of you get up to using. But I don't think that will work with KT 106, at least, I hope not.

Photo: Not hanging on a wall, but (I presume) these green bottles are about to come off the production line - holding Pilsner Urquell beer. Courtesy Plzeňský Prazdroj.

OK, this KT will be down to some guess work, but you can think about the populations involved, perhaps, and do some rough sums?

Back in September and after a visit to the site, I was working on two stories on Budapest's Dreher Brewery. Along the way, the subject of returnable bottles came up, not only in Hungary, but across the region – or at least, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

(Dreher is part of the Japanese Asahi Group, along with sister breweries in both Slovakia and Czech Republic, which operate under the company name Plzeňský Prazdroj – that is Pilsner Brewery – which is why they co-operate so readily.)

The reason, as I noted in the first story, was because both Hungary's northern neighbouring countries sell a greater proportion of returnable bottles than do the retailers here, it seems largely because the respective countries' environmental laws encourage the discount retailers to sell beer in returnable bottles – which is not the case in Hungary, at least as of now.

Plzeňský Prazdroj communication's department were very helpful for this story, and among the numbers they sent me was that for the total returnable bottles in circulation, a number that surprised me.

So, that is the challenge for this week's KesterTester – though I will help you with a variety of numbers to choose from.

What is the total number of returnable beer bottles in circulation sold by Pilsner Brewery?

Is it: a) 800,000, b) 1.6 million, c) 8 million, d) 16 million, d) 80 million, or e) 160 million?

I should perhaps leave this for another clue, but my soft heart can't help but mention that Pilsner Brewery doesn't just sell Pilsner Urquell, that's just their flagship product. (Or, as one of their experts modestly told me on a press visit to Plzeň some years ago: “This is the best beer in the world. This is not a subjective opinion, it's a fact.” He argued this based by saying that they use the mash three times or something, like that, I forget exactly. Anyway, no other beer brand does that, he said.)

Of course, some of their returnable bottles make it to Hungary, Poland and other nearby countries (from which probably a smaller proportion return) but I suspect the vast majority remain in the original land of their birth, ie Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Right – guesstimate away. (Please answer via the website messaging system, or if by email, put KT106 in the subject line.)

And while you ponder the answers, you can read the stories I did for the BBJ while you are thinking – this is tourist-type piece on the Dreher Beer Museum, which came out earlier this month.

This piece came out in September, as a business profile of Dreher.

Oh yes, I know I haven't given the answers to KT105 yet, so you can still enter for that one. I'll aim to do the draw for that some time next week.

Meanwhile, have a great sleuth!

UPDATE: Contestants and Winner!

Alright, I know, I've been awfully remiss on the KesterTester Draws – and my sincerest apologies, however, I felt this one was complicated by one contestant's answer, plus, of course, work and life's responsibilities taking ever more time.

But first in was Jerry “always willing to have a punt” Taylor:

“I bet it’s well into the 80M range, although where they’re hiding I’ve no idea," said Jerry.

Soon on his heels swooped Hubert “le Poirot” Warsmann, with an analysis worthy of a Harvard MBA submission.

“KT 106 Based on the total production volume of the brewery, on their own estimates of the proportion sold in returnable bottles and my guess of the duration of the cycle from bottling line to back to the bottling line, I would not be surprised if the figure was 160 million. That's a big pile of cases!” 

If correct, it is indeed, Hubert!

Misi Hollós came in next:

“Hello, Kester

My guess for KT 106 is d) (that is, 180mn returnable beer bottles at Pilsen Breweries).

Best, Misi”

Er, Misi, d) is 80 million, so I assume the one at the front is a typo, right?

Then we had Ian Wraight, from Slovenia – and this was another MBA student-like answer.

“Re What is the total number of returnable beer bottles in circulation sold by Pilsner Brewery?

Is it: a) 800,000, b) 1.6 million, c) 8 million, d) 16 million, d) 80 million, or e) 160 million?

The word "circulation" is an interesting one. Because there is no microchip or other identifier, the brewery does not (cannot) know which bottles are being returned (and when). They only know how many they have manufactured (filled and sent out).

The (attractive) bottle is traditional in design and a longstanding model, so surely they have sent out 160 m of them? Breakages aside many (possibly most) have never been returned.

My reasoning: - this is a premium product (one of my favourites), it is expensive, thus most of its consumers are not price conscious (so trudging back to the supermarket or wherever with the 10-cent empties is not a priority)- they get dumped- empties get stored long -term in back rooms and cellars (and may be eventually dumped)- they find new alternative uses (such as flower vases etc).

An excellent beer I would heartily recommend anyone to try is Bernard; I pay 30 cents deposit (in RS) and never return them (the stopper bottles are worth more than 30 c and I find re-use for them - such as bottling juices). BTW - just looked on amazon : new stopper bottles are retailing for cca 2 bucks each.

So my guess - over the past half century - is 160 m.”

Gosh, Ian, that's a long-argued response. To be honest, I was going to go back to Pilsner with this, which is one reason why I've not done the KT106 draw until now.

(I think that the brewery will have made an estimate for the number of bottles lost and broken. But anyway, see later for their original answer.)

Eventually, I just decided to do the draw and see what happened.

In fact, even though I thought I'd make it easy for you, there were only these four entries and two correct answers. (At least, I hope I haven't missed any entries after all this time – two beers on me if I have done so.)

Because, to my utter astonishment, Pilsner Brewery told me there are, indeed, a staggering 160 million Pilsner Urquell bottles in circulation. Given that the majority of these will be in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, it does make one wonder where they all are.

I mean, let's say that 20 million are elsewhere, that leaves 140 million in CZ and SK.

The total population of the two countries is 16 million (10.5 + 5.5). That means there's something like nine Pilsner Urquell bottles for every man, woman and child in the two countries.

Anyway, just for completeness, here is the fascinating response I got from the Zdenka Hunady, head of communications at Plzeňský Prazdroj's brewery in the town of Veľký Šariš, near Prešov, Slovakia. (Thank you, Zdenka, if only all corporate communications people were as helpful as yourself!)

“Czech Republic: In 2022, returnable bottles accounted for nearly 40 % of Plzeňský Prazdroj's sales in the Czech Republic. The total share of returnable packaging (glass bottles and barrels) in the company's portfolio has reached 70 %.

Slovakia: In 2022, returnable bottles accounted for 33 % of Plzeňský Prazdroj Slovakia's sales in Slovak republic, n.1 packaging from the volumes point of view are cans. The total share of returnable packaging in the company's portfolio is 100 % thanks to the recently launched deposit return system.

Plzeňský Prazdroj has around 160 million returnable bottles in circulation. The returnable bottles from Prazdroj are filled an average of 22 times during their lifetime and are used for an average of six to seven years.

At the end of their lifecycle, they can be recycled and made into a new bottle again without any problems. The existing deposit system for glass bottles works very well in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well, both from an environmental, operational and economic point of view. This is demonstrated by the rate of return across the whole market, which exceeds 90% on average, and in the case of large breweries around 96%. In the case of Plzeňský Prazdroj, the rate of return has been as high as 98% over the long term.

In case of any questions, let me know,


Best regards, Zdenka Hunady”

So there you go, Ian, Pilsner Brewery sometimes gets 98% of its Urquell bottles back. I think that's astonishing.

Anyway, we must get to the draw – and with only two number slips going into the hat, the winner, despite – or perhaps because of – all his analysis is …. Ian Wraight!

Congratulations Ian! Prepare yourself for ceaseless demands for selfies from fans next time you step into Maribor.

Oh, and as it happens, I interviewed Stanislav Bernard, the man behind the Bernard Brewery you mention, some years back for the Financial Times. A very inspiring fellow he is too.

The story featured in the FT's special Report Investing in the Czech Republic 2014 – front page too – entitled Battle rages for the hearts and wallets of beer lovers. (Alas, it doesn't seem to be available on the net any longer. If anyone can find it, please let me know.)  

Disclaimer: Just in case anyone is wondering - I got no freebie beers from Pilsner Brewery of doing this! I just found it fascinating.

Anyway - thanks to everyone who particpated and made it interesting.

And a reminder - KT107 is still open for answers!

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