Our week at the Craft Brewers Conference had our brains foaming over with ideas. We spilled some of them in this post as we contemplated the new normal in the craft beer and alcoholic beverage market. That post, admittedly, is kind of a mess. But hey, that’s just how the craft beer business feels right now.
“Beer sales are trending down, but there are more breweries than ever.”
“Innovate, but don’t chase trends.”
“Focus on draft beer, but good luck finding a distributor.”
Confusing, for sure. But you’re a smart, savvy CBB reader, so I’m sure you know exactly how to adapt your business to the new normal (or at least feel comfortable with mess and confusion). No matter what your plan is, we uncovered some awesome solutions and new products on the BrewEXPO floor that will help you succeed. Here are some standouts.
Lotus Beverage Alliance
Any brewery looking to expand in any way – from canned cocktails to kombucha to coffee – should check out Lotus Beverage Alliance.
It was hard to miss Lotus Beverage Alliance at the show, which had ads alongside the escalator and two different booths to showcase equipment from Alpha Brewing Operations, GW Kent, Twin Monkeys, Stout Tanks and Kettles, Brewmation, and Automated Extractions — the six companies that merged under this new Lotus brand. Managing Partners David Feierstein and Jesse Yao tell us they talked to and vetted pretty much every manufacturer listed at the CBC, and identified those six brands for the alliance.
So, it is a one stop shop specifically built for craft beverage producers – that is crucial, and obvious to see. Synergies of the companies are also nice. The suppliers in the alliance will benefit from economies of scale, which will result in savings and benefits for buyers
But the bigger headline is its ability to finance the purchasing of all of that equipment plus anything else. Without needing to put money down, a startup could nail down a reasonable monthly payment that finances its entire operation, from a financier that fully understands the business model and has priced its options accordingly.
Ekos is hyper-focused on production demand planning these days. Soon, it will be debuting an awesome sales dashboard. Customers can filter sales by site (if you have multiple taprooms), packaging size, product line with a report of costs, bbls, case equivalent. If you’ve been an Ekos customer since 2020, your historic trend data will be populated instantly and you’ll be up and running.
For breweries strategizing how to approach the “new normal,” this new dashboard will help you figure out and measure your goals, and then what needs to be produced to hits those goals, and then what needs to be purchased to fulfill that production plan.
The drag and drop production planning feature [seen above] was maybe the most impressive part of the demo. But that might be because it was on a giant touchscreen that made us feel like we were moving stuff around like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
The ready to drink (RTD) category is as talked about these days as IPAs, if not more. For craft breweries eyeing expansion into RTDs, Larry Chasin, CEO of PAK Programs, is quick to share words of caution. Canned cocktails carry additional risks and requirements. For example, surplus cans you might have on hand for beer cannot be repurposed for canned cocktails. The sugar will eat through the can if it is not lined for the task. Filling parameters are also different. Overfilling can lead to explosions. Batches of distilled alcohol are also a completely new safety hazard because they are highly flammable. Diversifying your product line might be the right move, just make sure you have the right coverage to address the new risks.
Canning is often promoted as being eco-friendly because of aluminum recycling. But then, commonly, those cans are packaged with plastic can carriers that are not easily recycled. Not the best trade off. This is why we’re excited about innovative paperboard packaging solutions like Saturn Packaging. Their applicators are capable of handling up to 240 cans a minute. They require a 2,500 minimum order, but that could be split up into 12 different designs. So, if those order minimums are a bit too much for you, maybe a few small cooperative nearby breweries could divvy up the purchase.
And its designs – and the branding space available – are what really stand out. They are also thinner than PakTech, which means more ship at once and require less storage space.
On the larger scale canning side, Crown says aluminum can supply issues are a thing of the past. They’ve expanded their shipping in the U.S. by 40 percent by opening three new facilities. They’ve also expanded lines of specialty cans like sleek sizes.
Another benefit of a global organization these days, weirdly, can be social and environmental responsibility thanks to stringent ESG goals. Crown specifically has net zero goals, bringing online solar-powered facilities, implementing water resource management, etc.
We will have lots more to stay about Aber Instruments in the coming weeks and months. They have a lower cost innovation coming that sounds extremely cool, but we will wait until it’s ready to promote.
In the meantime, just know this: ABER now has a U.S. headquarters and is hyper focused on U.S. craft breweries. They are also no longer with Gusmer. This means that if you currently have Aber equipment, they might not know. So, they are asking for you to please reach out them and register that equipment so they can help service it.
Precision Fermentation is another supplier that’s confident it can improve tank turns and your ROI. “If you can cut a day of fermentation each week, those bbls make a impact over the year.”
Jason Ley, marketing manager at G4 Kegs, was the coolest fella at the entire CBC, and he let us know about a new referral program they are putting together to handle every keg adjacent product or service you could think of. So, if you are buying G4 kegs, you have a friend that can recommend caps, collars, jockey boxes, keg washers, tap handles. A few brands he rattled off include Keg Shoe, Coldbreak and Hoptown Handles.
“We want to create a good paper trail of relationships.”
Here, here. As do we! What exhibitors stood out to you this year? Who is helping you do a better job at running a brewery and brewing great beer?