For decades many German beers came in the same standard bottles. When drinkers returned them to supermarkets, they were delivered in giant crates to brewers, who could just take off the old label, clean the bottle and fill it with their own beer, according to the Financial Times Deutschland FTD newspaper.
But in 2007, the giant Radeberger brewery created its own unique beer bottle complete with the company logo in relief. Soon, others followed and today the market is becoming flooded with new designs from breweries like Carlsberg, Bitburger and Veltins.
The impetus for the trend? A push among companies to set their beers apart as the market grows smaller.
Consumption of the amber nectar has been falling steadily even in Germany, and dropped to 107 litres per capita in 2010. That's compared to 136 litres 15 years ago, the FTD reported.
But small breweries complain that even as they struggle with decreased demand, the new bottles push up their costs. Some suspect the trend is a back-handed way for big breweries to drive the little guys out of business.
When small breweries receive recycled bottles from wholesalers they are forced to hire extra staff to sort through the proprietary bottles and separate them from the standardised ones.
“In this way, the sorting costs alone are increasing by €8,000 per year,” complained Thomas Schäfer, the head of the Vereinsbrauerei Greiz brewery in east Germany.
Günther Guder, of the Association of German Beverage Wholesalers, said it was questionable whether fancy bottles even worked to boost sales. He called on beer-makers to stop making them.
“We are, as one might say ‘not amused about the development,” Guder told the FTD.