Yo-Ho Brewing Company

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Return to Sender: a craft brewery finds a way to get its barrels back


  • Japanese brewing company solves its most expensive inventory management problem with a custom app that tracks beer barrels through the entire production line, out to customers, and back to the warehouse.


  • Retail/Wholesale Food/Beverage


  • Created a custom inventory management app that tracks and manages barcoded barrels from production through delivery and return.


  • Previously, customer was losing thousands of dollars each month in inventory loss. Now, inventory controls ensure there are no losses.
Every month Yo-Ho Brewing Company, a premier Japanese craft brewery, ships more than 10,000 barrels of beer. During the past 20 years, their award-winning brews have been highly sought after in bars and restaurants throughout Japan. However, as the company grew, they encountered a problem. The number of full beer barrels they sent out didn't match the number of empty barrels being returned. Because industrial-quality beer barrels are costly, Yo-Ho needed to fix the problem before their profits floated away.

Now, data can be reliably accumulated. The flow from shipment to return of barrels is visible and the whole picture is easily grasped, making planning very efficient.

— Ayaka Ehara, Head of Corporate Orders, Yo-Ho Brewing Company
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YoHo Brewing company worker tracks incoming barrels with their custom app.

No one likes an empty barrel

Yo-Ho needed a tracking system to tell the life story of each barrel: when it was filled, with what product, where it was shipped and when it was returned. This information could be used for more than just making sure the empty barrels came back, it could also provide valuable insight into their shop floor processes, highlight inefficiencies, and improve productivity.

Yo-Ho quickly realized that a major source of lost barrels was simply human error. Barrels were being overlooked at restaurants or returned to the wrong brewery. Because delivery and pickup teams never knew how many barrels should be at any restaurant, there was no way to know what they should be looking for. Restaurants, always short on space, wanted to unload empties quickly. Attempts to locate missing barrels turned awkward when reps called restaurants looking for barrels and then realized those barrels had been returned.

For Yo-Ho, that meant barrel losses were adding up to thousands of dollars a month, plus the workload overhead of ordering and processing replacement barrels.

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Deploying the custom app on iPads means all employees have access to current data, no matter where they are.

Wet work

Because of the wet conditions in the brewery, production and shipping data was manually entered into Excel on computers located in offices far from the factory floor. This meant there were errors in re-keying, delays in data entry, and stale reporting. From his role in the Business Planning office, Yoshihiro Nishikawa saw that the process of managing barrels in Excel was cumbersome and error prone. He could see the mounting costs of lost barrels and unclear product reporting.

While cost-cutting initiatives are often the purview of the executive suite, Yo-Ho's company culture encourages everyone to make suggestions for improving the business. Nishikawa suggested implementing a custom app created with the FileMaker Platform for the iPad. The app could be tailored to manage the barrels exactly in line with the Yo-Ho business process, while special iPad cases allow them to be used in wet conditions. Yo-Ho decided to partner with Shiko Yokota, Sales Director of U-NEXUS Co., Ltd. to build the app quickly.


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Yo-Ho Brewing Company saves thousands of dollars each month on lost inventory thanks to their inventory tracking system.

Barrels start rolling

The custom app was designed to match Yo-Ho’s specific business practices. For example, when new orders are received in the main office, the company’s FileMaker app generates a label for each barrel ordered.

Labels include:

  •    ‐  barrel size
  •    ‐  shipping destination
  •    ‐  type of beer
  •    ‐  ID
  •    ‐  bar codes

Labels are placed on empty barrels, then workers scan them with bar code readers to ensure proper filling and shipping as they pass through the warehouse and out into the world.

Upon return, the barrel bar code is scanned and the label sticker is removed when the barrel is washed and readied for refill. With this system, Yo-Ho can track the location of any missing barrels, and restaurants and beer distributors can easily identify Yo-Ho’s barrels by the stickers. Barrel losses have been virtually eliminated.

Achieving a state of flow

Immediate cost reduction from lost barrels is just one benefit of the custom app created with the FileMaker Platform. Real-time reporting on the flow of product through the production facilities has made production and sales planning easier. Ayaka Ehara, head of corporate orders, notes, "The data can be reliably accumulated. The flow from shipment to return of barrels is visible and the whole picture is easily grasped, making planning very efficient." 

For Yo-Ho, the flexibility and speed of their FileMaker custom app has been critical to the company's success. As they grow, they have made updates and changes to the app to improve speed and usability even more.

Kentaro Takahata, head of the unit responsible for the management of the returned barrels, said, "Working with a barcode scanner and iPad is simple and easy. Even those who are not familiar with PCs and desk work immediately learn and master how to use the custom app running on iPad."


Ready for more barrels

Yo-Ho is planning to further expand the functionality of their custom app. As they grow, they know one thing for certain: each future factory will include iPads equipped with their FileMaker app.

"FileMaker helps us track data properly," said Yo-Ho President Naoyuki Ide. "By looking at the record later, we have a new awareness, from which new ideas and suggestions come out, motivation improves, and leads to tackling new challenges. All the staff are pleased with it."


Yo-Ho Brewing Company