Craft beer used to be for the select few, reserved for those willing to poke around the hushed shelves of speciality ale shops or trek for miles out to a rural pub for a local ale. Now it’s a millennial buzzword, with the bright cans of BrewDog, Brooklyn and Blue Moon available in local pubs and national supermarkets alike.
We won’t get into the semantics of when a craft beer ceases to be “craft” or “indie” anymore, but we will make one thing clear: if you’re planning to enter this heavily saturated market, you’d better be pouring something good at the table – you might have what it takes to become a craft brewer, but does your product? Here are three key elements of bringing a competitive proposition to market.
1. Tell a story
The most essential part of breaking into the “indie beers” market is demonstrating what makes your brewery unique. The best place to start? Telling your story. What makes you tick? What are your values? Why did you quit your day job to brew beer?
Whether you love them or loathe them, BrewDog has got this down. So down, in fact, that just about anyone who has held a pint of theirs can give you at least the gist of their ethos.
Positioning themselves as “the alternative option” in a market that was swamped with bland lagers and stuffy ales, co-founders Martin and James thrust BrewDog into the spotlight just a year after opening with “Tokyo”, the scandalous brew that took the title for the UK’s strongest ever beer at 18.5%.
Every aspect of BrewDog reinforces their story, which is about railing against the status quo to deliver punchy beers to their consumers. Make sure you stick to your story in the same way, so that your customers recognise and remember your message with everything you do.
2. Know your market position
The craft beer “niche” really isn’t a niche any more, which makes it especially important to find your crowd. You might be proud of your ‘independent label’ that offers ‘no preservatives’ and ‘a unique flavour’, but in reality, these things are now simply the minimum requirement for entering the marketplace. Time to find a new angle, fast.
There’s no magic wand here, only market testing. Once you’ve got your core brews and a rough idea for your label design, see if the people that favour it have anything in common. Are they from a particular age group? Do they have similar lifestyles? Are their social values or fashion choices comparable? Talk to your customers to find out why they would pick your beer out of a line-up and use this as a cornerstone of your brand.
Once you’ve got it, use your packaging to emphasise the appeal of your beer. Maybe that’s its relation to heritage, its artsy appeal or the dark sense of humour shared by your brewery and consumers. Punny brew names like “Hoptimus Prime” or “Java the Nut” will lure a particular type of drinker (just don’t’ get on the wrong side of a bigger corporation), while kooky artwork – like the Flying Dog graphic below – will entice others.
This goes right down to the vessel you’re pouring your beer into. Bottles, with their connotations of class and sophistication, have long been the preferred choice for craft ales. However, more and more breweries (like Fourpure and Beavertown) are embracing the inexpensive, lightweight, stackable and protective properties of aluminium cans. Companies selling refurbished canning machines (such as Eurocan) bring down the cost of doing this in-house, so everything stays under your control.
3. Sort your supply chain
Now that the corporations like Tesco and Waitrose are muscling into the scene, getting your beer out to consumers can seem a bit intimidating.
In fact, it’s a blessing in disguise. The speciality shops know they can’t undercut the supermarkets on the popular ales they stock, so the shelf space that used to be taken up by BrewDog or Vocation is now dedicated to microbreweries and seasonal beers, helping them reach the market. This article actually provides a very balanced view of the matter, from the founder of We Brought Beer, James Hickon.
You could also consider partnering with a local bars and restaurants or opening your own drinking facility. The team at Brighton Bier proudly state their belief that beer is “best drunk in great pubs and taprooms”. To support this message, they sell the majority of their beer in casks and kegs to carefully selected local pubs, as well as serving it in their own taphouse, which opened its doors in 2017. While it’s possible to find their cans in speciality shops around the city, their focus will always be encouraging their customers to enjoy a cold one with friends.
Of course, breaking into the craft beer market also requires personal attributes like perseverance, patience and honest-to-god passion. Unless you can dedicate all of your time to your brewing venture, expect it to take years of hard physical and mental work before you see a payoff – but you can bet that success will taste sweet (and hoppy) when you do.
Author: Annie Button
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