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Workarounds for equipment


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So, a quick question for advice.   There's a lot in this business that needs to be food grade, which does involve a certain expense... but there's a lot that doesn't.   For example, I started out with a homemade water chiller.   Now that it's time to upgrade, a local winery put me onto the fact that once you tack "distillery", "brewery", or "winery" onto equipment, the cost skyrockets, and suggested looking at water chillers for hydroponics, rather than for distilleries.   Does anyone have any tips they would share regarding equipment, where looking outside our industry we can save a bundle?   (FYI, I'm already aware of the cost savings available to grain separation from mash)    

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As someone who sells winery, brewery, and distillery equipment, I'll give my hot take.

There's a name for what you're describing. I've heard customers call it the "winery tax", "distillery tax", and more recently, "cannabis tax". The term has always bothered me.

There's an assumption that equipment retailers are engaging in some kind of mildly nefarious arbitrage, buying cheap stuff, slapping a "For Distillers!" sticker on it, and reselling the same product for 3x more just because the end user is presumed to be rich—rich enough to start a distillery, anyway. And people seem to just take the idea of a "distillery tax" as a truism because…hey, equipment to start a distillery can be expensive, so someone must be getting rich from it.

I see the P&Ls in equipment sales, and know very well what products cost. In my experience, if something is priced high there are usually good reasons that have nothing to do with how deep the intended target market's pockets are.

Something made for commercial beverage production likely has many other more mundane factors that contribute to its higher cost:

  • It uses higher-cost/better-quality and more sanitary components than consumer or even prosumer-grade equipment
  • It requires user-serviceability, and accessible spare parts
  • It requires skilled, higher-cost labor to make
  • It has to meet industry approvals and standards
  • It is made in smaller batches, and can't benefit from economies of scale that things like toasters and hair dryers can

In short, the equipment must be made well, and last a long time because there are business-altering consequences if it doesn't. Many consumer-grade pieces of equipment don't get held to the same standards. If the hydroponic chiller goes out, so what? Maybe your tomatoes will be a little less plump this go round while you wait for the new pump. If the industrial chiller goes out, maybe many thousands of dollars of product gets ruined.

Another thing that baffles me about the "distillery tax" theory is that it doesn't take into account the fact that we have a free market with plenty of companies selling the same, or similar equipment in competition with one another. Speaking again from experience, if something can be sold for less while still maintaining a profit that keeps the payroll account full and the lights on, it will be sold for less by someone looking to undercut the competition. Many times I've noticed that after adjusting the price on something in our online store, our competitors selling the same item will adjust their price within a few days or weeks. Likewise, if I don't think we can sell something at a competitive price, we're pretty unlikely to sell it at all.

All that aside, I understand the spirit of your question: "does anyone have ideas about how to repurpose cheaper, lower-quality gear in non-critical applications to save money on equipment?" No shade on the question. Just offering a word of caution that there's no such thing as a free lunch—from someone who's seen many people get metaphorical food poisoning trying to find one.

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Used equipment coming out of Pharma and Food are often good sources of high quality sanitary/food grade equipment.  Pharma especially, since they tend to not re-use anything when they build/refit production lines.  Equipment is usually in very good shape, as they have maintenance and compliance programs.  Keep an eye on the auction markets for when local plants close.

We got two bombproof 2" Viking Duralobe pumps out of a Colgate toothpaste factory for $500.

How much you can repurpose, refit, reuse is going to depend on how handy you are to make it all work.

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