It’s been reported that a majority of the top 30 breweries in the United States have stalled, if not declining sales over the last few years. While it can be tempting to scream about a bubble and limber up to dodge impending pieces of falling sky, a cursory glance into why those sales are sliding offers an opportunity for smaller breweries who are nimble enough to adapt to the changing landscape.
A major driver of this slowdown appears to be shifting consumer habits—beer drinkers, faced with ever more options, tend to chase the new in lieu of a traditional flagship lineup. Another issue, though maybe less critical (for the time being, though it’s growing) would be concerns over who is “authentic” craft versus who is owned by a global conglomerate.
At an industry-wide level, do issues facing a brewery that makes nearly 1,000,000 bbls per year even apply to smaller breweries? Isn’t a lot of this due to their sheer size and the fact that for a brewery at that scale, volume is paramount? Yes. To both. We’re hearing directly from many of our brewery clients that being regional, or even a newer “small” outfit doesn’t necessarily gird you from these threats.
One of our oldest clients, 450 North Brewing Co. (Columbus, Ind.) has embraced this changing landscape by introducing an evolving line of limited release IPAs available on draft in their taproom and in cans through limited retail accounts.
For industry folks reading this, they’re brewing 20-bbl batches, packaging in 16-ounce cans with a pressure sensitive label (sleeves take too long to print/apply, in this case), and offering them up as 4-packs priced in the neighborhood of $15–19.
This strategy has driven an enormous amount of sales and allowed them to quickly touch on some of the trendier styles you’re seeing across the country (single hop IPAs, hazy, juicy, dank, insert-other-adjective-here, NE IPAs, etc.) the way a brewpub (and not a packaging brewery) usually would.
But beyond the sales impact, this has been a great tactic for helping them stay top of mind across Indiana. One look at 450’s beer announcements on social media show a frenzy of people tagging friends and asking about availability. The beer itself (with a healthy dose of scarcity) is becoming a monthly must-have item for many Midwestern folks.
It’s beer as marketing. And it’s brilliant.
Is this a sustainable model? That’s to be determined. But for now it’s helping 450 North weather the potential storm of slipping flagship sales, further endear themselves with fans, and raise their profile as a Midwestern (Indiana!) brewery.
This column was provided by the folks at CODO Design, a five-man branding firm based in Indianapolis, IN. They’ve worked with breweries across the United States and around the world, on naming, branding and positioning, responsive web design, and package design. They’ve gathered their experience into a comprehensive Craft Beer Branding Guide to help startup breweries navigate the entire branding process. Check it out at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com.