Here’s a perhaps underappreciated factor in the growth of craft beer — all of the new customers that are converting to be enthusiasts. For years, the die hard craft beer enthusiast was the main customer, and that customer knew what he or she was looking for — the well known brands, the most lauded beers, etc. But in this new world, with thousands of breweries to choose from, and so many new drinkers doing the choosing, there is less power in being that veteran craft brewery.
Well, let me rephrase: There is still power in being the big, experienced industry stalwart on the block, but it’s a power that can diminish if it isn’t being reinforced. Half the fun of craft beer for some people (myself included) is the newness and experimentation. The same labels and logos that were once grabbing attention in the ’90s just might not pop or convey enough information for the competitive beer shelf or tap line up today.
Veteran breweries are recognizing this need to freshen things up.
We start close to CBB‘s home for examples. In Ohio, you used to only see Great Lakes Brewing beer next to those cases of Bud and Miller. Now there are rows and rows of shelves in just about every grocery store you walk into. Anecdotally, I know my eye was glossing over that same Burning River label and to the new, glossy Platform Beer cans. So, Great Lakes freshened things up last year.
“Our customers may be familiar with Eliot Ness as a historical figure, but they may not know that our mother was his stenographer, or that he used to frequent our historic taproom,” said GLBC co-owner Pat Conway, who, with brother and co-owner Dan Conway, was actively involved in the brand refresh process. “Darren’s beautiful paintings include so many layers that allow us to share these kinds of details. They’re more than just labels. They’re conversation pieces.” On the bottom of GLBC’s new packages, customers will find similar stories that reveal the history behind each brew.
And just last week another Ohio staple, Elevator Brewing, said it was changing up its 17-year-old packaging. From the Columbus Dispatch:
Not long ago, central Ohio had three breweries: Columbus Brewing Co., Barley’s and Elevator. Today, there are at least three dozen locally, and more than 4,000 nationally, the most in U.S. history.
Elevator’s distributors told Stevens it was time to go for a new look. He was open to the idea.
“I designed all this stuff,” Stevens said, pointing at a row of the company’s old six-pack containers and bottle labels. “But I listened to their arguments.” He even agreed to tweaking the company’s logo. The “E” with what looked like wings on either side will now be flanked by shafts of barley.
Stevens toured beer sections in many stores to see what his compatriots and competitors have been doing, and finally agreed that change would be good.
“We had all these neat stories and we decided people didn’t read them,” he said. “The story became that we were old. I want this to be like we’re a new brewery.”
Even the big dog(fish head)s on the block are doing it
Dogfish Head made a big splash with its new packaging this year. The new designs set out to honor a foundational spirit of off-centered innovation and imagination by highlighting Dogfish’s legacy of exploring goodness through ingredients and process.
“We wanted to create some uniformity across our portfolio without falling into the trap of being predictable and sterile,” Calagione says. The iconic Dogfish Head “shark and shield” logo and proprietary “Doggie” font are the two recognizable design elements that will carry through from the old packaging into the new style.
Now, how well will this work for everyone? That remains to be seen. Maybe there is no amount of brand refreshing that will boost an already large craft brewery’s sales even higher. Our test case for this may be Sam Adams. A recent brand refresh was the big talk during a downer of an earnings call last week. The company is understandably high on it, but they have to be because investors are really pinning their hopes on the success of the rebrand and new marketing campaign.
“Our number one priority remains returning Samuel Adams and Angry Orchard to growth through our packaging, innovation, promotion and brand communication initiatives,” said Martin Roper, Boston Beer president and CEO. “We are conducting a comprehensive review of our brand strategies and activation plans to ensure that our investments are effective and efficient in building long-term brand equities.”