President of New Belgium Brewing Co. Kim Jordan’s last appearance as the keynote speaker was in 2003, and she famously predicted that the craft brewing industry would grow from 3 percent to 10 percent. And she wasn’t far off. This year, as the 2013 keynote speaker, Jordan focused on the responsibility of caring for this growth and the greater responsibility that comes from greater market share.
“We need to be vigilant of how our beers ultimately look, smell and taste. Are you investing in field quality? Training your sales people about how to check for quality standards? Do you understand how your beers hold up in optimal and suboptimal conditions, and are you managing your sales accordingly? When you are out in the market are, you checking locations for best buy dates? Do you have a best buy date that doesn’t require a secret decoder ring?” — Kim Jordan, President of New Belgium Brewing Co.“How do we make sure we are sustainable for the long run? How do we individually and collectively do the coolest, most intellectually interesting and soul satisfying thing we can?” she said.
“Lot of us are adding capacity and if we grow 10 or 20 percent or more, I worry about pace and intentionality of these moves,” she continued. “We get so many signals to grow fast and now. As someone in the middle of adding 700,000 bbls of capacity, I’m not saying don’t grow … not saying we have the answer … or that others are too small or undercapitalized … but each of us needs to have a well developed and honest plan.
She said brewers should be asking questions like: What does my brand stand for in a different market? How will it be represented in the trade? How do I ensure quality? What is the purpose of growing into these markets?
Also, as the niche industry blossoms, resources will become tighter, whether it’s hops, or training sales and brewery staff, or beer names, or shelf space or customer enthusiasm, Jordan said we are likely to experience the pinch of this marketplace flux.
Focus on quality
Mainly, Jordan’s focus was on quality. As the industry grows and ships more beer, shelf sustainability is an issue she is concerned about.
“We need to be vigilant of how our beers ultimately look, smell and taste,” Jordan said, and then asked a series of quality standard questions: “Are you investing in field quality? Training your sales people about how to check for quality standards? Do you understand how your beers hold up in optimal and suboptimal conditions, and are you managing your sales accordingly? When you are out in the market are, you checking locations for best buy dates? Do you have a best buy date that doesn’t require a secret decoder ring?”
The fight for quality is a broad, wide-ranging issue, as Jordan noted as an example: 13 states that don’t allow distributors to clean lines.
“How can we possibly ensure craft beer quality if we don’t have a way to make people more accountable?” she asked. “We have momentum now; we have influence now; we need to leverage that now. Everyone believes in quality, but what are we doing about it? What kinds of things can you do to influence distributors? What about the training of your lab staff and sales people? Beer drinkers are counting on us to be guardians of quality. “
Hoppy beers are perishable and malty beers below a certain alcohol threshold are perishable. They are generally best enjoyed fresh. They don’t do well sitting warm on a shelf or display or in a warehouse for a long time.
“I worry about this one. Because beer drinkers will turn away and retailers were rethink the ides of bringing in many of our beers,” she said. “Our collective work fuels the impact of these kind of issues. Some will say easy for me to say that because we are big brewery, but we’ve been championing quality standards since we were a very small brewery. “
Craft brewers collectively create this burgeoning movement, and she was basically saying this movement can only be as strong as its weakest players – that the industry needs to avoid growth for growth’s sake, but to continue to achieve success through quality and innovation. This was a great sum up of the position of craft brewing in the drinking market today: “Our influence is outsized for our growth rate.”