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Labatt Breweries of Canada placed a floating billboard that collected plastic waste from the St. Lawrence River in 2022.Provided

For Labatt Breweries of Canada there is one brand uniquely placed for championing and piloting environmental initiatives, given its connection to the natural world. “Corona as a brand has always had this deep connection with the outdoors, and that’s why we started our sustainability innovations some years ago,” says Mike Bascom, senior marketing director, Corona Canada.

Since 1925, Corona’s advertising, innovations and activations have encouraged beer drinkers to seek out simple pleasures in places with a slower pace and a relaxed vibe. “Our spiritual home, our ethos, our core DNA is on the beach,” says Bascom. “In order to enjoy the outdoors, where we believe we all live our best lives, we need to do everything we possibly can to help protect it.”

And Corona has been doing a lot, says Melisa Bayrav, who came on board as senior brand manager in late 2020, as she lists a series of technology-based packaging advancements it has pioneered for Labatt: a low-carbon can pilot in Ontario; the introduction of KeelClip – a state-of-the-art packaging system that eliminated plastic rings on Corona six-pack beer cans; the Plastic Collecting Billboard erected in the St. Lawrence River in the fall of 2022 for a month; and the innovation that most excites her and Bascom – the Barley Pack.

It’s a revolutionary packaging pilot for six-pack beer bottles that uses 30 per cent surplus barley straw and 70 per cent recycled paper fibres to create an innovative cardboard packaging solution.

“The Barley Pack was special because it was in partnership with GITEC, our Belgium-based Global Innovation and Technology Center,” she says. “We brought in a technology that existed with them and executed it in British Columbia as a pilot. Now other markets globally are looking into rolling it out.”

After the KeelClip launch in 2021 in Canada, Bascom explains, Corona took the next logical step. “We took another look at our packaging to see where else we could reduce our impact in Canada. The Barley Pack is a really great innovation, and we were thrilled to be the first global beverage brand to trial it. Barley is a key raw ingredient in the beer itself, so we worked with GITEC to figure out a way to repurpose the leftover barley straw, which typically would be shipped off to be composted.

“Replacing pulp and wood fibre means reducing the number of trees and raw paper used,” Bascom continues, “while switching to barley straw cut the amount of water required by up to 90 per cent.”

The Barley Pack stood up very well in the B.C. trial, says the marketing director, and the brand is studying the pilot project results to see if it can be scaled further, as the KeelClip was. “We were first with the clip, and now all of our can brands at Labatt are either in or moving towards it.”

The Labatt commitment to contributing to sustainability is one leg in a three-legged stool, Bascom says. “It’s consumer-driven, employee-driven and brand-driven. Corona is the most loved beer brand in Canada and we get great pick-up from our consumers when we launch these initiatives – it’s what they’re looking for.”

Employee passion and commitment are just as evident, says Bayrav. “As brand ambassadors, the team has consciousness and awareness in their everyday lives.”

And that is crucial, Bascom adds. “Many of the ideas behind these initiatives come from employees. We get people raising their hands from all different functions, not just marketing. It’s incredible to see how people at Labatt have this desire to go above and beyond to participate and to support environmental initiatives.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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