Resources

2022 Beer Branding Trends

Brand Architecture, Beyond Beer and Reinvention — Exploring an Industry in Flux

Hello and welcome to CODO Design’s annual craft beer branding trends review—2022 edition. This has already been a challenging year for beer and beverage alcohol, complete with supply chain woes, rising ingredient costs, inflation, a lingering pandemic and a continued blurring of beer and non-beer categories. 

In this review, we’ll explore the impacts of these challenges and changes through the lens of branding, and specifically, the projects we’re touching from our corner of the beer and beverage alcohol (Bev Alc) industry. While it would be fun to cover specific trends like hop waters, or lagers, or the unsettling trend of breweries calling any non-hazy IPA a West Coast IPA, we’re going to go one step back from specific styles and instead focus on the Brand Architecture, positioning, messaging, business and brand building ramifications and opportunities presented by all of these things. 

To make navigating this piece more manageable, we’ve grouped this year’s trends into four big buckets. The first, Reinvention, explores an industry in flux. The second, Beyond Beer, examines the opportunities available to the growing number of brewers who are interested in making non-beer products. The third bucket, Brand Architecture, dives into the downstream effects (and challenges) presented by these Beyond Beer moves. The final bucket is a roundup of all the visual and package design trends that we were able to discern from our travels and field work. 

We’ve also included expert opinions from brewery owners and founders, CMOs, distributors, consultants, economists and industry thought leaders, to provide more nuanced commentary on what’s shaping beer today, and tomorrow. 

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Let’s dive in. 

Three quick notes before we get started.

 

#1

This is an annual roundup of the currents we cover every month in our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter. If you like these sorts of insights, we’d love for you to sign up to receive monthly tips and actionable advice on how to make better branding decisions and sell more beer. Drop your info in the form below to join the party.

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#2

We released a companion podcast episode for this piece over on the Beer Branding Trends Podcast. Give that a listen for more background on this review.

 

#3

This is a hefty write-up (clocking in around ~17k words).

Click on any of the following links to skip ahead to a particular section:

 

Reinvention
Beyond Beer
Brand Architecture
Branding & Package Design Trends
Expert Opinions

 

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Part 1
Reinvention

 

Rebrands remain a constant

Staying top of mind and ahead of the competition

One of the most consistent inquiries we’ve received over the last several years are breweries looking to rebrand. Common reasons we’ve heard for this include flattening sales, an ever changing competitive landscape, an evolving portfolio (complete with extensions and Beyond Beer offerings), or simply outgrowing your current branding and positioning. 

Over the last year in particular, we’ve seen more brewers taking their brand itself more seriously. We’ve worked with more squared away CMOs, Sales Directors, Brand Directors and brewery founders over the last year than any time in our firm’s 12+ year history. 

These days when we’re discussing a rebrand with a brewery, the client-side team is thinking beyond an iconic identity and beautiful packaging that billboards on shelf, and is instead looking at potential return on investment (ROI) and key performance indicator (KPI) targets. For example: “We want to increase our beer sales by XXX% through chain retail by the end of the year.” 

This has led to a fun series of projects for us where it is far easier to measure how successful our clients are post-rebrand. A lot of branding and design decisions are qualitative (What story are we telling? How will this packaging make people feel?). By kicking off a rebrand with the end in mind, we can make smart decisions without getting lost in the weeds.

While we’re on this topic, it’s worth issuing our usual caveat. A rebrand, or any marketing spend for that matter, will only move the needle if you have all your other internal ducks in a row. Is your beer quality and QC as good as it can be? Is your sales team trained and motivated? Are your Annual Brand Plan (ABP) and distribution partners in alignment? Is your portfolio where it needs to be (or is working through this rebrand a crucial step to moving it there)?

If all of these internal issues are squared away, then a rebrand can be transformational. 

1. Henderson Brewing’s Brand Refresh by CODO Design, 2. Red Leg Brewing’s Rebrand by CODO Design, 3. New Glory Brewing, 4. BitterRoot Brewing’s Rebrand by CODO Design, 5. Forest Road Brewing’s Rebrand by CODO Design, 6. Colt 45

Prost Brewing’s YOY growth post rebrand.

Subtrend

 

Packaging refreshes

A fresh coat of paint 

Packaging refreshes are a lighter touch exercise than a formal rebrand. In this scenario, your brand—your story, positioning and messaging—are all good to go. You just want your packaging to work harder for you and need to address some more surface level issues.

Reasons for this are similar to rebrands, though maybe not as pressing. Inconsistency is a big one—you want to rein in and systemize your packaging across the board. Maybe you want to address the hierarchy between your brewery’s brand, beer names and style. Or you want to save money on production and decrease turnaround time for new releases. And sometimes, it’s just time for a new look.

If handled well, a package refresh can reap many of the same benefits as a rebrand (and at a much lower investment). So, if your team is thinking about a rebrand, revisit our thinking on Evolution vs. Revolution and make sure you understand which path is right for your business. 

 

Packaging formats and production in flux

Dealing with the “Ball-out”

In late 2021, Ball dropped the unfortunate news that it was increasing its minimum order from one truckload (204,000) of cans to five truckloads (1,020,000 cans) per SKU. 

For some context, something like 75% of breweries in the United States make less than 1,000bbl per year. The median brewer produces about ~400bbl per year). This isn’t even enough beer to put in one order of cans under this new pricing (let alone with just a single SKU). In other words, Ball’s decision effectively eliminates the ability of more than 90% of the beer industry to order painted cans (through them, anyway). 

This lead to some last minute scrambling as breweries (including many of our own clients) worked to figure out where they were going to get cans over the next year. 

I’m confident the industry will figure this out (I mean, look at what you’ve all survived over the last two years alone). It may be tough for a while, but there may be some interesting externalities and opportunities that that arise from this. 

The first is that Ball’s decision dramatically affects any brewery who was planning to, or in the middle of transitioning from bottles to cans. These groups may need to reel that back in for a while until the can supply is sorted. (And maybe count themselves lucky that they didn’t sell that old bottling line just yet?) For what it’s worth, we haven’t had any clients get completely derailed by this, but it’s not too hard to imagine. 

We’ll obviously see a lot more pressure sensitive and sleeved cans over the next few years, but beyond that, the second interesting thing at play here is that this may be the push that digitally-printed can companies need to become a more viable option. We’ve seen these groups at the Craft Brewers Conference and through our own work for a few years now, and I bet we’ll see more breweries use this technology, if not bring it in-house entirely, over the next few years. 

 

Subtrend

 

Different formats for specific venues and occasions

Chain retail vs. Bottle Shops vs. C-Stores vs. Large Venues

We’ve worked with older breweries and startups alike over the last year who were diversifying their packaging formats, often within the same brand. 

Offering your beer in a few different formats is nothing new, but we’re seeing a wider array of formats intended to target different occasions and channels specifically. For example, a popular IPA brand might be put in 6-pack of 12oz cans, 4-pack of 16oz cans and 19.2oz cans. The latter two are there for single serve options, or maybe even signaling (in many markets, a beer isn’t craft unless it’s in a 16oz can). And the 12oz cans might be sold primarily through chain retail. 

This was happening before the Ball announcement, but I imagine that it will accelerate diversification in packaging formats. We might even see bottles be (re)introduced into the mix. 

 

Lifestyle brands go mainstream

Starting lean and laser focusing on your audience—so hot right now. 

Pinning down a proper definition for what constitutes a lifestyle brand is challenging. It has to be part aspirational (i.e. by supporting this brand, you are embodying the values of and living some sort of desired lifestyle). It has to be hype-worthy (otherwise, people won’t line up to get it and brag when they finally do). But most importantly, it has to tap directly into a subculture.

What role does brand play in lifestyle positioning? Even more than any other non-lifestyle brand, I think the most telling feature is that the brand goes out of its way to embody a particular set of values so that the consumer can, by purchasing and interacting with the brand, signal that they too share those values. It allows your customers to signal in-group identification. In other words, I’m one of you guys. I’m cool too. 

All brands inherently have values, but for a lifestyle brand, the values that the brand embodies are as important as the product for sale itself because it allows the consumer to find belonging. The thing you actually purchase is secondary to this end.

We’ve been trying to delineate between a regular old brand and a lifestyle brand for a few years and have determined that you just kind of know one when you see one. To wit, your average brewery probably isn’t a lifestyle brand (no matter how much cool merch they pump out). But if that local brewery targets a niche demographic that centers around a specific activity, interest, locale or specific ethos, then they may be headed in that direction.

We’ve received several inquiries from breweries in planning who wanted to make a lifestyle positioning play out of the gate over the last year, and with an ever increasingly competitive landscape, we think this can be a smart move. Paradoxically, it seems like lifestyle brands end up gaining more press and following the more narrowly they focus on their audience and sub culture.

Here are a few prominent examples of well executed lifestyle brands:

If you’re a hipster cool, urban young professional, you drink PBR. Or increasingly, Hamm’s. 

If you’re a skater / metal head who cares about the environment (and maybe sobriety?), you drink Liquid Death

If you’re all about that Montana lifestyle, you shotgun Montucky Cold Snacks.

If you enjoy shooting guns, owning every lib in sight and drinking coffee, then there’s Black Rifle Coffee. 

If you want to signal that you’re health conscious and conspicuously wealthy, you can plant your precious cheeks astride a Peloton

If you want to signal that you’re outdoorsy, and only buy high quality adventure equipment that’s as durable as you are, then you grab a YETI Cooler.

 

A few observations about successful lifestyle brands

1. This isn’t always the case, but they tend to be digitally native to start (no brick and mortar location). For product brands (Pit Viper, Chubbie’s, Duke Cannon), this means you’re built primarily through digital ads and well-curated Instagram and TikTok channels. For breweries, this means you’re probably contract brewed. 

2. They target a niche subculture exclusively. You need to speak your audience’s language (usually through memes) and values (through actions and charity support). And twirl on the haters ignore all outsiders—your group is the only one that matters. After all, not everyone can be your audience.

But paradoxically, it seems like lifestyle brands end up gaining more press and following the more narrowly they focus on their audience and sub culture. (this is likely due to a loud, overly-ardent fan base as much as it is brilliant marketing)

3. They create branded content and make it so compelling that people will watch hours of it despite knowing that they’re being advertised to. (e.g. YETI Presents).

4. They often use influencer marketing (or “Brand Ambassadors”) as a corner stone for scaling. This can be through social media, podcasts, even television and movies—wherever your audience consumes content. (still waiting on my phone call, Dasani…)

5. They use merchandise to foster in-group identification. They give people the tools they need to signal that they’re on board (and drive major revenue along the way).

6. They meet their people where they are. Field activation is key to making this all work. You need to be wherever your fans are—music venues, bars, tattoo parlors, barbershops, skate shops, conventions, sport venues, festivals, libraries, marathons, ski slopes, etc.

I think lifestyle brands will become an increasingly common strategy for launching new Bev Alc brands over the next several years. The ability to start lean and create something that speaks directly to a well-defined, ardent audience may be a safer bet than opening yet another taproom in a city full of taprooms.

1. Liquid Death, 2. 805 Beer, 3. YETI, 4. Dogfish Head x Merrell, 5. Montucky Cold Snacks, 6. Pabst Blue Ribbon 

On ecommerce (beyond convenience)

Building a “National Taproom”

Every brewery that has survived the last two years knows that ecommerce (or as the Internet continues taking on an outsized role in our lives, maybe just commerce?) is an important channel to get right. We took a deep dive on this subject in last year’s beer branding trends report and don’t need to go into too much detail now because a lot of the same moves and conversations are still happening (e.g. ecommerce as a “Fourth Tier,” where do Cocktails-to-Go fit into all of this? etc.). But we have a few additional takeaways to offer.

The real magic of ecommerce isn’t just in the sales you can make online, but in the consumer data you can collect along the way. This allows you to understand your customers’ behaviors and preferences, which you can use to offer new tailored products down the line. 

The second big takeaway is that the beer industry is still basically at zero when it comes to this space. Legislation and cultural acceptance will take years to catchup. And this is exciting because the Bev Alc industry is just starting to talk about Gen Z now. How about the next cohort? What will beer and beverage purchasing habits look like for the new drinker in in 2035? Perhaps we’ll all be drinking Synthehol in the Metaverse? 

If you’re not moving on this front yet, it’s not too late. But you need to get in gear. 

 

Legacy craft breweries & acting your age 

Making smart, bold moves to stay relevant

It would be tough to be a regional/national brewery right now. You’ve dealt with thousands of new breweries opening up over the last decade, many of which are closer in proximity (that is, more local) to your potential customers. You’ve dealt with recession(s). And zero sum competition from Big Beer. And navigating a complex distribution environment as you scale. Oh, and major channel shifts brought on by the pandemic. 

Perhaps worst of all, you’ve become a victim of your own success. Because of your hard work, an entire industry was born. And year after year of continued brewery openings has created so much variety and so much choice that today’s beer drinkers are spoiled. There’s so much great, local beer (and now, Beyond Beer offerings) to choose from that it’s easy to forget about the Old Guard. 

If your brewery has been open for 15 or 20+ years today, you are in rarefied air. But the moves you make over the next five years may dictate whether you’re still around 20 years from now, because what got you here may not get you there.

This begs the question: how can your brewery stay relevant to its current customers while recruiting an entirely new class of fans? 

It comes down to acting your age. 

And this is a matter of framing. Are you old, tired and becoming irrelevant? Do you stubbornly refuse to evolve with the times (and consumer tastes)? Do you rest your hat on just having been around for a while and keep pumping out the classics even though sales keep declining?

Or, are you getting better with age? Are you wiser and more measured? Are you making smart portfolio moves, making the most of your distributor partners and working to understand where your brand can, and cannot, credibly play with new consumers (while keeping old fans engaged and loved)? 

This isn’t necessarily a visual thing, but a mindset shift.

Acting your age means you’re mature enough to realize that your parent brand, as it stands, might not have the ability to recruit new drinkers. But you have the innovation and QC capabilities, and marketing and sales resources, and the raw material buying power and the distribution network to fundamentally reimagine your portfolio. And you have the clout to build the best team in the industry and quickly innovate and launch relevant new products. 

We’re going to explore this idea in more detail in the Brand Architecture section, but a few quick examples here would include the run-away success that New Belgium is seeing with its Voodoo Ranger brand. Or that Sierra Nevada is seeing with its Little Thing brand. Or that Boston Beer has achieved with its diversified portfolio (DogFish Head, Truly, Twisted Tea, Sam Adams). These breweries are all making smart moves that will shape beer and beverage alcohol over the next decade. 

One of the most compelling through lines we’ve seen from all of these craft pioneers is a focus on Brand Architecture. Particularly, a focus on building deep, relevant Sub / Endorsed Brands, and edging closer and closer to becoming a true “House of Brands,” where the parent brand might not really matter all that much. 

Acting your age means giving people something to cheer for. And I believe legacy breweries will always [have a chance to] be relevant because Americans love a winner. And they want you to succeed, even if they do forget about you from time to time. 

It’s up to you to make sure they remember who you are. 

1. Dogfish Head, 2. Sierra Nevada, 3. Stone Brewing, 4/5. Boston Beer Co., 6. New Belgium 

Build a stronger brand.
Sell more beer.

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Part 2
Beyond Beer

 

What is Beyond Beer? 

Serving the omnibibulous consumer

Let’s start by getting in the weeds. Is hard kombucha a Beyond Beer offering? How about a startup ready to drink (RTD) cocktail brand? Or hard cider? Is it product-specific—anything that isn’t beer? Or, is it anything a beer drinker might drink that isn’t beer? Does it have to be alcoholic? Does it have to come from a brewery?

In the interest of creating a concrete definition, we think that a Beyond Beer product is any beverage a craft brewer produces that is not beer. So a hard kombucha brand isn’t a Beyond Beer product unless it’s produced by a brewery. Semantic? Very. But I think this is an important distinction when you’re thinking about the various product innovation and Brand Architecture moves your brewery can make. At a quick glance, this would include things like hard seltzer, RTD cocktails, flavored malt beverages (FMBs) and non-alcoholic (NA) offerings.

However you want to define it, Beyond Beer is no longer a catchy buzzword, but a mindset that has been fully embraced by every corner of the industry. Late last year, Bart Watson, Chief Economist of the Brewers Association, reported that one-third of craft brewers (who responded to a Brewers Association survey) confirmed they were producing Beyond Beer products. 

Why is this happening? 

Millennials who drove the craft beer boom and newer entrants like Gen Z alike are more likely to be “omnibibulous” these days. (H/T to Bart for that fun moniker.) This means that while they still drink beer, they’re just as likely to enjoy other beverages throughout the week. That can be traditional wine, spirits and cider. And it can also include more recent emergent categories like hard kombucha, hard tea, canned coffee, canned RTD cocktails, CBD/THC beverages, seltzer and a wide array of non-alcoholic beverages.

 

How much runway are we talking here? 

If you follow beer and beverage industry trade press, you might think that we’re already at peak saturation on this front. There’s no way we’ll see another splashy market release that jumps to a 15 share overnight. No more super-hyped collaborations, or celebrity endorsed energy/spirit/wine beverage brands. 

But that may be a myopic view

I believe we’re still in the early stages of these blurred lines (or, the great “Convergence” as beer trade press has taken to calling it). Look to recent extensions like Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, an alcoholic Fresca extension, Simply Spiked Lemonade, Hard Mountain Dew, er, HARD MTN DEW, Rockstar Alcoholic Energy Drink (complete with 6.9% ABV, niiice), and an ever expanding list of Bud Light extensions. (How many extensions? Does anyone actually know?)

1. Oskar Blues, 2. Rogue Brewing, 3. Left Hand Brewing, 4. Founders Brewing, 5. Rhinegeist Brewery, 6. Shiner Beers, 7. Ninkasi Brewing, 8. Great Divide Brewing

On this topic, I’m actually surprised Red Bull hasn’t launched a vodka RTD extension yet. And I will, for the third year in a row, publicly call out Faygo for not getting in the game. You’re leaving money on the table, folks. Whoop whoop.

There’s plenty of runway for breweries who are exploring opportunities within the Beyond Beer space. But the real room for continued growth (or at least, incremental growth) here will come from traditionally non-alcoholic beverage brands—soda companies, energy drinks, juice brands, coffee brands, water brands, milk brands(?)—extending into alcohol (or cannabis)-laden and/or functional offerings. The last few years have taught us that there are no rules stating that you have to stay within one category, so strap in for a wild ride on this front over the next five years.   

How did we get here?

Hard seltzer was the perfect onramp for many of these larger beverage groups because it was a safe bet. It is (was?) trending, it’s not particularly hard to produce, and you can “seltzer-ize” an existing brand and product line much faster than you can create and launch a new brand from the ground up. But beyond that, seltzer has been a great ice breaker for many traditional non-alcoholic beverage brands because history and provenance just don’t seem to matter in this category. Hard seltzers are almost entirely differentiated by brand vs. actual product benefits or attributes.

If I can make a bold prediction, I foresee the vast majority of all breweries and Bev Alc brands offering products in multiple categories by 2030. I think consumer demand will continue to drive this, which will bring more people to the table, which will drive down the costs (and internal corporate hurdles) to get into these categories, and on and on.

For the craft brewer who may be on the fence about releasing a Beyond Beer product, look at it this way. Accept that you probably won’t be developing the next world beater brand. But you can make a great product that your fans enjoy while bolstering your overall portfolio for the long haul. Sprinkle in some seasonality, innovate, evaluate, listen to your customers, then refine, rinse and repeat. 

 

Dayparting 

Searching for new occasions 

Dabbling in the Beyond Beer space opens up an entirely new world of possibilities for breweries to explore. For the last few years, this conversation has mostly centered around hard seltzer or RTD cocktail extensions. But one of the more interesting things we’ve seen our clients do over this period has been looking beyond that afternoon / evening occasion that traditionally suits alcohol to explore the rest of the day. 

We’re calling this “dayparting.”

At a top line view, this trend perfectly follows other macro movements that are shaping the beer and beverage industry as a whole—functional beverages, lower calorie, zero sugar, low and no alcohol, cans (in general) and a deliberate move to own niche occasions (or, “micro-segmentation”).

A quick breakdown 

Energy in the morning: Coffee innovations, energy drinks, sparkling teas, (re)hydration & recovery via electrolytes

Fuel in the afternoon: Protein, calories (meal replacements), natural energy, vitamins and minerals

Winding down in the evening: Beer, spirits, and CBD / THC-infused beverages to help you ease into your night time routine

1. Primer Hard Seltzer, 2. Sierra Nevada Hop Splash, 3. Hop Lark, 4. Rogue Brewing, 5. Vita Coco, 6. ZOA Energy, 7. Free Rain Enhanced Sparkling Water, 8. Elements by Lokai 

“Better for You” gets esoteric

It’s not a beverage, it’s a #Lifehack

Productivity culture and life hacks are alive and well in 2022 and this translates directly to the beverage industry. And this makes complete sense, doesn’t it? If you’re powering through hour two of your four-hour work week, you need everything to work for you. You need a beverage that’s as high leverage as you, baby.

Why just drink boring water after hill sprints when you can drink a kombucha with electrolytes? (or in my case, a High Life). Why bother eating (you’re probably fasting right now anyway) when you can skull a protein shake? And regular coffee is for the masses. Me, I’m microdosing mushroom coffee with a nootropic and super food-infused sparkling beverage chaser. 

I jest a little here, but functional beverages are going to be a huge segment over the coming decade. It combines the macro trend of being health focused with niche consumer groups who are into buzzy emergent stuff like Adaptogens and Nootropics. And we’re early here, so the big land grabs are happening right now.  

From a branding perspective, these sorts of beverages are going to find success by following one of the most important concepts in marketing, the Law of Category. E.g. This isn’t kombucha. It’s hard kombucha with adaptogens. This isn’t a hard seltzer. It’s hard seltzer with Vitamin C and electrolytes. This isn’t coffee. It’s mushroom coffee. 

This space is constantly evolving, but we’re seeing a handful of the following ingredients popping up right now: Protein (derived from a variety of sources), Mushrooms (not shrooms, yet), Vitamin D and Zinc, polyphenols, collagen, Yerba Mate, Ashwaganda, “clean” caffeine, Matcha, Allulose, Lychee and a variety of superfood/fruit, plant-based stuff. 

I didn’t even bother to Google it, but I know that somewhere, someone is marketing a whiskey with adaptogens in it. Or, perhaps, an “adapto-gin?” And why not? The last several years have brought a litany of Postmodern oddities to beer—why should the broader Bev Alc industry be any different? 

1. Four Sigmatic, 2. Shine Water, 3. Droplet, 4. Odyssey Mushroom Elixir, 5. Hearth Energy 

“Debits & Credits”

Functional goes mainstream

I’ve heard the metaphor of leading a “debits and credits” lifestyle—splurging and eating that big cheat meal or having that third beer one night a week—a “debit.” Earning a “credit” entails running a tight ship—eating clean, sleeping, and exercising the rest of the time. You know, all that rock and roll counterculture stuff. 

This idea maps to the No & Low category in particular. How many consumers are looking for some mindful benefit from their beverages? How many of your customers want to protect their gains? Or be more present? Or just not be hungover all the time? This is an increasingly larger demographic that values product attributes like low-cal and low-carb, sugar free, gluten free, alcohol free and/or basically any other functional benefit you can dream up.

 

A quick note on non-alcoholic beer & beverages

Why No & Low has nothing but upside

Non-alcoholic (NA) beer is still a (very) small market within the broader United States beer industry (currently less than 1%). But it is growing.

We covered NA beer at length in our 2021 beer branding trends review, but a new conversation we’re having with many of our clients now is how well alcohol-free products can do not just within their packaged portfolio, but specifically in their on-premise mix.  

If we can step back for a moment, it seems like society is finally over the stigma that was once associated with NA beer. But perhaps more importantly, the messaging surrounding this category has completely flipped. 

In the past, if you were drinking a non-alcoholic beer, it was because you were a recovering alcoholic. It was an awkward scarlet letter. Now, it’s an opportunity to signal that you’re a health conscious and responsible adult. Drinking is no longer all or nothing. Why be on the wagon when you can be “Sober Curious.” From a branding and positioning (and social) standpoint, the destigmatization on NA beer is one of the most amazing aspects of this movement. 

Athletic Brewing co-founder Bill Shufelt has said that 80% of Athletic drinkers also drink alcohol through the week). This is entirely anecdotal, but I know half a dozen people who have started drinking NA offerings alongside beer. Whether as a pacer, or to earn a “credit” to offset one of their debits in the aforementioned metaphor. And I think this is where this segment’s growth will come from—not from a new surge of teetotalers who still need their Citra fix. But regular folks who are making healthier decisions.

Back to NA and on-premise for a moment—if you’re the designated driver for an evening, or if you’re not drinking for whatever reason and are around friends who are, your drink options have historically been limited. You could order water or soda. Or maybe a tonic or rudimentary mocktail. But these get old fast and you feel like the odd person out. NA options solve that. 

And as NA beer and beverages become more refined, there’s an opportunity to be more deliberate with how we formulate these drinks and position them for on-premise consumption. By focusing on just a few extra considerations—certain taste cues (bitter, smoke, dry, sour) and formats (cans, some other novel container, or served in a proper glass)—you can make the drink, and person drinking it, feel more involved in the occasion. 

This means your customers aren’t stuck ordering off the kids menu. And you can charge them more for it. Win-win. 

1. Athletic Brewing, 2. Parch NA Cocktails, 3. Recess, 4. Guinness 0.0, 5. Hairless Dog Brewing Co., 6. Vina Prebiotic Soda

A few thoughts on hard seltzer 

Opportunities for innovation and differentiation

I wanted to avoid an overly-long hard seltzer section in this piece, but we do still need to touch on it. Yes, RTDs are the hot new thing in beverage-land, but seltzer is still an important category (to the tune of $4.5 billion dollars in 2020 and capturing roughly ~10% of the beer market). And as the beer industry moves deeper into the Beyond Beer space, there are valuable lessons to be learned from hard seltzer that can be applied to your broader portfolio. 

In the interest of brevity, here’s a high level view of what we’re seeing at play from a branding perspective in hard seltzer today. 

 

Premiumize your seltzer for differentiation  

A craft brewery can never compete with Truly or White Claw on price. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t make a hard seltzer, or that your fans won’t want one. So how should a craft brewery brand, position and market a seltzer? 

Larger craft breweries may be able to grind it out in the volume game. For everyone else, you gotta go premium. 

Moving forward, any brewery looking to effectively position a craft seltzer will need to use the same playbook (and category semiotics) that you’ve historically used to position craft beer itself. 

Craft seltzer may have to become more regional and place-based (i.e. ranch water and even pickle brine seltzers down in Texas). It will have to adopt a non-pumpkin-spice-meme level of seasonality. And it will need to use more premium ingredients, perhaps moving closer to beer with hops and other familiar beer adjuncts (or any other category ingredients—coffee, apples, grapes, misc. fruit, etc.).

1. High Noon, 2. AlpenBlume Seltzer, 3. Vizzy Hard Seltzer, 4. Ashland Hard Seltzer, 5. Lone River Ranch Water 

Using Categorical Differentiation to position your seltzer

Quick—think about hard seltzer packaging. What do you see?

I bet it’s something along the lines of a 12oz slim can. It’s predominantly white with black typography (possibly run vertically) and a fruit illustration. The secondary pack is also mostly white, and features all the cans across the front. It’s a variety pack (because it’s hard seltzer, after all). 

Hard seltzer has a look—a clearly defined canon. And the vertical exploded so quickly that there was no time for consumer education along the way. Once White Claw tipped and became the cultural phenomenon that it is, everyone else had to react. And for competitors, this meant looking similarly enough visually that you register as belonging in the category, but just different enough to stand on your own.

To rise above this noise, let’s look at the hot new trend of flavor blasted(!!!) hard seltzer punches and lemonades. 

This packaging is all bright and full color, with nary a mostly-white can in sight. But how can this be? How will people know these are hard seltzers if they don’t look like hard seltzer? Aside from speaking to a specific product attribute (e.g. Welcome to Flavor Town®, baby!), how can they pull this off?

This works because these are not hard seltzers. At least not in the way that the category has come to be defined. By having a different functional benefit (e.g. full flavor without all the carbs), and different emotional benefits (e.g. I can indulge without ruining my diet), these are essentially a new category. 

They are not hard seltzers. They are hard seltzer punch. Or hard seltzer lemonade. Or hard seltzer tea. And this means they are not bound by the visual vocabulary and category rules of hard seltzer, proper. 

The point I’m trying to make here, is that by understanding seltzer’s broader visual vocabulary and category rules, you will have a framework for working within, and around, depending on your communication and positioning goals. You can make something different, just for the fun of it, for the wit and surprise and delight that it brings. 

Or, you can get strategic and create a new category to bypass all of those rules in the first place.

1. Smooj Hard Seltzer Smoothie, 2. Shiner Straight Shooter Dill Pickle Seltzer, 3. 7th Inning Seltzer, 4. Bud Light Seltzer Frozen Icicles, 5. Truly Freeze Pops 

How can you “seltzer-ize” other categories? 

Let’s stay on the hard seltzer canon for a moment. 

There are a handful of attributes that define the seltzer category. These include being around 100 calories, sugar free, gluten free, ~5% ABV, varying levels of fruit flavor, “clean” labels, canned (usually in 12oz slims) and offered in variety packs. 

These track nicely with the Better for You segment, but I think these attributes can carry over to other beverage categories to spur growth.

Hard cider is a category that could use these attributes as a shot in the arm (this could be hugely valuable to recruiting new drinkers who have misguided views of cider as a whole). Canned wine is a natural fit. And even canned coffee could use some of these same descriptions and value props to gain traction. 

A more nuanced takeaway is that you can borrow whatever language suits your brand and positioning goals so long as it’s all legal and above board from a compliance standpoint. For example: a hard coffee could be positioned more like a hard seltzer by touting that it is sparkling, or low sugar, or gluten free, etc. This could open up a new occasion (afternoon, etc.) for coffee that people may otherwise have a hard time getting over.

It may be worthwhile for your brewery to see if there are any beverages in your portfolio (or pipeline) that could benefit from borrowing some of the attributes and value props that drives someone to drink seltzer. There could be a great opportunity to reposition a brand or two.

Part 3
Brand Architecture

 

What is Brand Architecture?

A framework for scaling your brand

Brand Architecture is a framework for determining how all of your brands, current and future, interact with each other. How do specific brands relate or differ, how are they positioned and named, how are they priced, and how does all of this help you build your business? 

We’ve met with more than 50 breweries over the last year who were planning to launch some sort of extension (e.g. a hard seltzer or RTD cocktail). And a recurring theme from all these project inquiries has been how to brand the new product. Should it be branded alongside our beers or should we develop a specific name for it? Will making a non-beer product compromise our brewery’s reputation and positioning? What if the whole thing flops? Or, what if it sells better than our beer? 

These are all Brand Architecture questions. And we’ve seen a new focus on this subject over the last few years as breweries extend their brand into other categories within the Beyond Beer space. 

 

Brand Architecture implications of getting into the Beyond Beer space 

One of CODO’s most common projects over the last few years, in addition to  rebrands and packaging refreshes, has been helping breweries work through Brand Architecture issues. 

We’ve helped breweries thoughtfully launch new extensions, or conversely, rein in a confusing array of existing products and sub brands.

This is interesting because, as previously mentioned, more breweries are taking their brand seriously. Launching a Beyond Beer product under your brewery’s brand is a big decision. And Brand Architecture can serve as a guide for pressure testing your decisions on how to name, brand and position these products.

This goes deeper than how you name and position a particular product. It forces you to think about what your brand stands for. What business are you actually in? And if done right, these new products can make your overall brewery business more resilient. They can increase your revenue, bank role other fun projects and allow you to continue building the type of business that has real meaning and purpose for your employees and your customers alike. 

Here’s a (redacted) Brand Architecture map we’ve built for a fun, ongoing project. Our forthcoming book will help breweries quickly and confidently decide how to brand, position and launch extensions. Join the Beer Branding Trends Newsletter for updates on when it’s available. 

Build a stronger brand.
Sell more beer.

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The “accidental” hospitality group

Oops. Built an empire

One of the largest trends coming out of the pandemic has been breweries who had no intention to ever package their beer be forced to do just that to stay viable during lockdowns. And over the last year, it’s been rare that we speak, or work with, a brewery-in-planning who will not be packaging out of the gate.

What’s interesting is that we’re also seeing these same groups (who are packaging as a hedge against future disruptions) planning to double down on the tap room model. Specifically, the multi-concept (hospitality company direction) or satellite taproom model.

What this means from a business perspective, is that today’s brewery founders are thinking beyond their initial brand from Day One. They’re looking at the rest of their community—all those beautiful old, unoccupied buildings, and the new people who may soon move into the area—and thinking about how they can make a bigger impact and build a more robust business.

We’ve worked with dozens of breweries who ended up becoming accidental hospitality groups. An offer on a new space may be too good to pass up. So you move on it. Do this a few times and you can end up with a burgeoning empire.

From a Brand Architecture standpoint, putting in new concepts and locations presents an important question. How do you brand, position and name all of these businesses? How do they, or don’t they, relate to each other? Is your parent brand present on these concepts or do they stand on their own in their respective communities?

If nothing else, this trend leaves me feeling hopeful. If more breweries are doubling down on multiple locations and on-premise concepts, then there’s light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. It signals that we may all be back in taprooms like in the before times sooner rather than later.

 

Style-forward vs. fanciful beer names

Getting your house in order 

In the early days of the craft beer boom (early 2010’s), most of the breweries we worked with would develop fanciful names for all of their flagship beers, if not every single new release.

As more existing breweries did this (and as newer breweries coming to market followed suit), we saw a shift towards using a more universal, parent brand-forward naming convention. So you would have XYZ Brewing Hazy, XYZ Brewing Pils, XYZ Brewing Baltic Porter, all without any specific SKU names.

This had two benefits. First, it allowed you to build the brewery’s parent brand at every customer touchpoint (a good move for new breweries). And second, from a more utilitarian standpoint, it allowed you to avoid the headache of trying to develop a new beer name altogether.

What we’ve seen many of our clients deal with is that over time, your brewery may end up with one or two core beers with a name and one or two other cores that are not named (e.g. XYZ Brewing Pils). Throw in other mitigating factors like SKU rationalization, ever-increasing competition, along with the possibility of setting yourself up for future extensions, Sub Brands and variety packs, and we’re seeing more breweries going back to fill in the gaps and naming those core beers.

This is a common pain point we hear when working with breweries who are undergoing a packaging refresh, and it presents an important decision to make. Do we ditch the few names we have or add some new names to the mix?

If you’re in this boat right now, I’ll offer some food for thought. You can build a brand, or more specifically, a Sub Brand, around a great, fanciful beer name. This is much harder to do with XYZ Brewing Pils.

Prost Brewing builds a monolithic brand in lieu of creating individual beer brands. This works well since they are a specialist brewery (producing only German-style beers). Big Lug Brewing develops fanciful names for their beers. This works well for them because they produce a wide variety of styles and can target unique consumers through niche styles and subsequent line extensions.

Era of the craft beer platform?

Strength in numbers 

Artisanal Brewing Ventures. Boston Beer x DogFish Head. New Belgium (Lion) x Bells. Sweetwater x Green Flash. Constellation x Coca-Cola. Monster x CANArchy 

M&A’s and rollups have been happening in beer for years. But it seems like the future will hold more of these moves, particularly at the upper echelons of craft. But down here, closer to Earth, I suspect we’ll some interesting, smaller partnerships start to emerge as well. 

The traditional reasons for these deals will still hold:

  • Achieving logistical synergies 
  • Expanding geographical relevance 
  • Filling holes in a larger portfolio 
  • Creating bigger brand-building opportunities
  • The ability to scale more easily 
  • Creating access to a shared distribution network 
  • Building more buying power

But the surprising moves may happen more in inter-category mergers and partnerships. A traditionally non-alcoholic beverage (or CPG food) company may partner with a brewery or spirits brand to access its distribution network. And a brewery could contract with a vertically integrated, specialty brand—e.g. cold brew coffee, soda or cannabis company—to spin up a new brand faster than if it attempted to do so in-house. 

I’m not sure what this means for smaller breweries out there other than to keep your mind open to what a partnership with another group can might look like over the coming years. 

Part 4
Beer (and Bev Alc) Branding and Package Design Trends 

 

Beer branding and package design quality has reached an all-time high. It’s rare that I see a new brewery come to market that hasn’t invested at least something into proper branding and packaging. Contrast that with, say, your average off-premise planogram in 2011, and you have a markedly different story. 

And with the continued blurring of category lines, you’re seeing an even better level of design across the board as CPG branding best practices make their way over to the beer aisle.

As part of our branding (and/or rebranding) process, we’ll often conduct a competitive set audit. This has us walking through beer aisles, coolers and a variety of chain retail and off-premise sets to see what’s out there. How does everything look? What’s interesting? And are there any opportunities for differentiation? 

This section catalogues all of the the branding and package design trends we’ve seen emerge from this field work over the last year. 

As a reminder, the reason we’re highlighting beer branding trends isn’t to celebrate good design—it’s to explore how that good design can help you sell more beer and grow your business. 

Knowing that, let’s see what’s tipping right now.

 

Investing in Illustration

Beautiful packaging is so hot right now 

In the early days of craft beer, packaging festooned with illustration was the norm. While there is no one particular reason for this, we surmise that industry pioneers delighted in releasing eye-catching packaging the likes of which Big Beer would never touch lest they defy that Big Beer aesthetic canon.

Whatever the cause, heavily-illustrated packaging is simply what was done. You had a local artist, or perhaps someone in your family, draw up a label. You slapped that bad boy on a bottle and called it good. But, as the industry gradually became more competitive (and craft buyers became more sophisticated along the way), an elevated sense of design and polish emerged. Incidentally, this heightened sense of visual literacy led to macro-level aesthetic trend swings from heavy illustrated to minimal, back to maximal, to minimal again, and now we’re swinging right back to illustration.

The trend we see today, in particular, is a real investment in illustration. Mind you, not the kind of amateurish, homespun and/or heavy metal-ish stuff we saw in the early days of craft beer. But beautiful, immersive, fully-illustrated packaging. Speaking as a designer, the illustration work that we’re seeing today is as good as it has ever been in this industry. It is beautiful, and the people behind it are immensely talented. 

Increasingly, as more and more breweries trend towards minimalism and a strategic use of color blocking to billboard on shelf, illustration is just starting to stand out again. We are seeing a real trend of breweries paying good money to develop illustrative assets, with the goal of making these assets synonymous with their respective brands over time.

1. Vocation Brewery, 2. Fuerst Wiacek Brewery, 3. Pommme Ciderhouse, 4. Flying Embers Hard Kombucha, 5. Bottle Logic Brewing, 6. Siesta Brewing Co.

“Minimal Plus”

How to be minimal but still stand out 

Minimalism has been a broader movement in the cultural zeitgeist for a decade or more. To wit, we’ve written about its role within craft beer, year after year, for just about as long. So, there’s nothing particularly revelatory here.

That said, if we can dig a bit deeper, an obvious problem emerges when a brewery heavily invests in a minimal visual direction while so many other breweries are taking the exact same tack. Just like any of these other trends, if you have twenty different breweries in your market doing the same dance, it becomes hard to stand out from the pack.

Where does that leave the brewery that favors a minimal aesthetic, but still wants to stand out from all those other concerns? Enter “Minimal Plus.” This is a term we’ve made up, so bear with us as we try to articulate what we’re seeing on this front. Minimal Plus still utilizes predominantly negative space, with plenty of room to breathe on, say, a can surface. But this otherwise stark and austere can might have a specific element that adds just a little something beyond run-of-the-mill “Bifurcated” color blocking. This could include a simple illustration, interesting typography or dialed-back tonal patterning.

We see this approach as an extension of a minimally-branded packaging strategy, and for practical purposes, we regard it the same. But it could make the difference in a market overrun by minimalism. And it does stand out, just a little, which matters more today than ever.

1. Nylo Hard Seltzer, 2. Half Acre Beer Co., 3. Màkku, 4. Frank Seltzer, 5. Barbet Hard Seltzer, 6. Kombrewcha 

60’s/70’s Vintage Revival

What’s old is new again 

We can’t pinpoint any particular cultural movement that is driving this aesthetic, other than the inherently incestuous nature of social media, and in particular, the social media design community on dribble and Instagram. Pair this with creative cross-pollination from the cannabis industry, and for whatever reason, what’s old is new again. 

But this is how visual culture works. Something will pop—either a product, or a TV series, or a particular style, or project from a notable designer or firm. It suddenly becomes all the rage, and inevitably, a litany of copycats emerge. Over time, enough of this work accumulates that some food and beverage branding firm in Indiana is able to cobble together enough examples and call it a trend. 

But is it a trend because it’s actually a powerful market force, or reflective of some sort of deeper cultural relevance? Or is it a trend simply because we all see it a lot online? We don’t know. It looks kind of cool, though. Perhaps this is food for thought regarding trends in a broader sense. And maybe it’s useful to think of it as more of a fad—like a nice, loud sweater that’s in right now. But tomorrow? Who knows?

1. Stone Brewing, 2. Union Craft Brewing, 3. Young Henrys Brewing, 4. Elevation Beer Co., 5. Oasis Brew Co., 6. Pillars Brewery, 7. Bungalow Beer

Monoline

An aesthetic built for DTC brands 

Monoline illustration work is nothing new. It’s been present as a force in craft for around seven or eight years in earnest (and much longer elsewhere). But, it’s worth mentioning that we are seeing a lot more of it today. If I had to guess, I’d might say that it has something to do with a move to direct-to-consumer (DTC) models, online ordering and beer branding and packaging existing just as much in the digital space as it does in physical space.

Monoline aesthetics will increase in utility as more digitally-native Bev Alc brands come to market. The bold, even lines minimize to avatar size cleanly in your browser, but scale up gracefully on larger formats without losing fidelity. It looks clean, contemporary and communicates well. In short, it’s a versatile look, and while it could certainly get lost in a sea of sameness (I’m looking at you, tech industry), a monoline approach could stand out in an otherwise illustration-heavy or overly minimal competitive set. 

1. Fort Point Beer Co., 2. Widmer Brothers Brewing, 3. CANN Cannabis Tonic, 4. 56 Brewing, 5. Made Cold Brew 

Skulls

A trend for these unprecedented times 

Skulls and crossbones and all sorts of fun, macabre stuff like that have been a thing in craft beer for years. We’ll typically hear clients and industry heads refer to this as the “death metal” aesthetic, but this particular thread we’re pulling here has less to do with the rivers of blood and “pile of sticks” typography. We’re simply noticing a lot of skulls being used as visual elements, whether as a main element of a logo lockup, or as a secondary icon playing a supporting role. 

We’re also seeing a sub-trend of Día de los Muertos sugar skull designs in craft beverages. Calling an entire cultural aesthetic a subtrend might seem glib, but we aren’t seeing enough of it to call it a movement within beer on its own (stay tuned for 2023, maybe?). We’re just noting it here for future reference.

1. Cerveza Cito, 2. Spaceway Brewing x Proximity Brewing, 3. Deadwords Brewing by CODO Design, 4. Vocation Brewing, 5.Rogue Brewing, 6. Olde Mother Brewing Co.

Custom Dielines

A relatively low cost, high impact production trick 

Ball raising its minimum painted can order requirements will undoubtedly lead to an increase in sleeved and pressure sensitive labeled cans. In the case of pressure sensitive labeled cans in particular, we’re seeing a lot more people take advantage of the cool production opportunities that adhesive labels afford. 

Ultimately, die cutting is a relatively inexpensive way to make an impact on the shelf, and we think more breweries should consider it as a tactic.

Pro Tip: this effect can be faked with a clear (or foil) background. This allows you to get the same effect without using a custom dieline. However, we always advise seeing printed examples and a proof from your printer to make sure you have a good idea how the final product will look in-hand before committing to this. 

1. Floc Brewing, 2. Track 21 Beer, 3. Birra Impavida, 4. Pressure Drop Brewing, 5. Tickety Brew

Interactive Packaging

Don’t just stand there. Do something.

Interactive packaging is a fun trend that encourages your audience to do something physical (beyond shotgunning it) with the can or bottle itself. This is almost always paired with a prompt to post on social media and can work wonders on that front. 

A little of this goes a long way. Consider sprinkling it wherever it makes sense on your packaging to offer your fans a brief moment of delight.

1. New Belgium Brewing, 2. Singlecut Brewing, 3. Oskar Blues, 4. Red Gap Brewing, 5. Land & Sea Brewing Co.

Co-Branded Stunt Beverages

Limited Release Postmodern meme fuel 

Small breweries and Bev Alc companies have been liberally stealing borrowing IP from well-known CPG brands for years  (think Oreos, various candy and cereal brands, etc.). We’re now seeing a wave of more thoughtful, officially sanctioned co-branded products, often made in partnership with major consumer brands and/or celebrity influencers.

These products are usually short-lived, small batch and released primarily to be shared as memes on social media, boost quick short-term engagement and stay top-of-mind in a given media cycle. 

This phenomenon isn’t strictly a visual trend. We could have just as easily placed this with the Brand Architecture portion of this review. But we’re including this here because these collaborations tend to have a highly visual component that often mimics the branding cues or personality of the parties involved. 

These are Postmodern, short-lived, hype-driven meme fuel. While their long-term impact is frankly questionable, you can expect to see a whole lot more of them over the coming years.

1. Lay’s Vodka, 2. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos x Mountain Dew, 3. Old Bay Vodka, 4. Arby’s Vodka, 5. Oskar Blues x French’s Mustard, 6. Noon Whistle x Planters Peanuts

Part 5
Experts Weigh In 

 

This year, we’re joined by fourteen industry experts spanning brewery founders, CEOs, distributors, marketing directors, leading industry consultants, writers, retailers, strategists and economists. We’ve given each person a few specific questions to add more context to everything we’ve discussed to this point.

Let’s meet our experts (in alphabetical order in their respective section). You can click on someone’s name to scroll straight to their portion.

Reinvention

Jeff Alworth (Beervana)

Tara Nurin (Eyes on the World)

Julie Rhodes (Not Your Hobby Marketing)

Paige Sopcic (CanSource)

Jim Watson (Rabobank)

Bump Williams (The BWC Company)

Beyond Beer

Mark Gallo (Nor-Cal Beverage)

Jess Infante (Brewbound)

Eddie Sahm (Sahm Hospitality Group)

Bart Watson (Brewers Association)

Brand Architecture 

Andrew Emerton (New Belgium Brewing)

Joel Hueston (First Key Consulting)

Matthew McLaughlin (McLaughlin PC + Fertile Ground Beer Co.)

Mandie Murphy (Left Field Brewery)

 

***

Reinvention

Jeff AlworthAuthor, Beervana

 

CODO: Being locally-owned and brewed has been one of craft beer’s most enduring value propositions. How do you think this messaging translates for a brewery selling beer across the country (far from their home turf)?

Jeff: I would take this out of the context of craft beer and reframe it: being locally-owned has been one of beer’s most enduring value propositions. Long before the word “craft beer” came along, breweries centered their identities around where they were from. A charmingly antiquated way of signaling “local” was to talk about your water source, whether it was the Rocky Mountains (Coors) or the Artesians (Olympia) or the Land of Sky-Blue Waters (Hamm’s). This was long after the water source was a significant factor in the production of beer, yet breweries were still using this imagery to anchor their breweries to place. Or take the most famous “local” brand of all, Guinness, a brewery more tied to its home city and country than any in the world. Ireland and Guinness are so entwined I’m not sure which is riding on the other’s coattails.

Smaller, younger breweries all started out the same way, as hyper local companies. They didn’t have to communicate what their hometown meant because the only people drinking it were locals. For the most part, craft breweries haven’t had to think about packaging themselves for far-flung customers, and consequently haven’t done it very well. Those big breweries succeed with simple, consistent language and images communicating very simple, often nostalgic (and invented) images of their hometowns drinkers elsewhere could understand. Craft breweries could take a page from those regional guys by looking at some of their old 70s ads. It’s true that many were gobbled up in the consolidation of the era, but before they were, they were often selling a lot of beer by craft standards.

 

CODO: What does “Craft” beer mean in 2022? Do you think this term is still relevant to the average beer drinker?

Jeff: One could write a book about the hermeneutics of “craft” (and indeed, Pete Brown did just that). Briefly, I would argue that the only place it does have any function any more is to the average beer drinker. As a designation of beer style, ownership, or brewery size, it’s become meaningless. Yet regular consumers understand it as a category of beer comprising, basically, anything that’s not a mass market lager. They will not distinguish between ABI-owned Goose Island IPA and their local IPA, but they will distinguish between IPA and light beer.

It makes sense. Before 1980, US breweries were all large and they all made the same kind of commodity lager. When little breweries sprang up, the only kind of beer they didn’t make was commodity lager. That dichotomy has persisted, and indeed, some people still use the term “micro” instead of “craft” to refer to a beer or brewery. This sense of the word will probably persist for a long time.

Tara Nurin – Writer, Reporter, Educator, Marketing Consultant

 

CODO: The last few years have been rife with terrible stories of misogyny and abuse in the beer industry. This has lead to a lot of high profile resignations, committee development and promises to change. Are you seeing true progress on this front or is it still too early to tell?

Tara: The most frequent question people ask me about the gender and employment abuse reckoning that erupted into craft beer when brewer Brienne Allan (AKA “Ratmagnet”) queried her social media followers about it in May 2021 is, “Will it make any lasting difference?” 

My short answer is, “Yes. It already has.” My longer answer explains how.

 

1. We’re talking about it

For the first 45 years of modern Post-Prohibition craft beer, women almost always hid their traumatic experiences with gender-based discrimination, harassment and assault. Most victims helplessly learned that coming forward usually resulted in denial, gaslighting, retaliation, termination and blackballing for them and few or no consequences for their offenders.

We’ve all heard of “suffering in silence.” The few women who did make public accusations prior to 2021 typically received at minimum a few dozen thankful emails from women around the world too threatened to tell their own stories out loud. They shared their secret guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, and loss of income and self-worth, along with documented physical manifestations of workplace harassment, from migraines to high blood pressure to chronic pain. Too many of these victims fled the industry–certain they’d never find respite or relief and convinced the profession considered them expendable.

Since May 2021, more than 1,000 victims have spoken out, finding the empowerment, solidarity and accountability that has eluded them.

 

2. Bad behavior is getting punished

Perpetrators who forced their coworkers, colleagues or employees to live in fear, discomfort or disgust are losing their jobs and their companies. While we should take care to consider the subjectivity and nuance that differentiate a pattern of predatory behavior from a clueless yet innocent offense, it’s vindicating to see the power-abusing mighty fall from grace. Let’s just hope these blackballed business people learn from their mistakes instead of carrying a defensive victim mentality to their future endeavors. 

 

3. Workplaces are becoming better places to work

Brienne’s clarion call forced breweries to do some serious introspection about how they protect their employees and themselves. Sensitive and/or scared breweries are putting written procedures into place; hiring or contracting human resources resources, or at least anonymous reporting mechanisms; standing up to obnoxious patrons; and having open dialogues with staff. 

A few weeks after Brienne’s social media question went viral, my friend Mike LaCouture, who co-owns Broken Goblet Brewing outside Philadelphia, said something I’ve heard many times since. “Tara, I knew this stuff happened but I had no idea how bad it was. What can I do?”

Mike, being a righteous dude, had already done a lot by asking his employees if they wanted him to put out a public statement; tasking a new GM with HR duties; calling the Safe Bars program to do an active bystander training at the brewery. Since then, I’ve written several articles and given several talks on implementing best employee practices. That said, too many breweries still need to get on this.   

 

4. Organizations are requiring appropriate actions

Organizations like my local Philly Beer Week non-profit impressed me by immediately writing two codes of conduct: one for board members and another for event vendors, volunteers and attendees. Now I see these codes everywhere, including on the app for the Pink Boots Society conference for women working in beverage alcohol.

 

5.  Activists are mobilizing

Influential craft beer people are getting together to provide resources to victims. Four to note: 

A. Women of the Bevolution. Brienne and some prominent partners spearheaded the Brave Noise collab as one way to fund their efforts to provide grants to women trying to leave toxic workplaces. They’re also compiling data on the problem and promoting resources for women, allies and event producers.

B. Embolden Act Advance. Picking up where Brienne had to leave off, this online group continues to share stories of workplace abuse and help victims access the help they seek. 

C. Safe Bars P.A.C.T. This team of beer professionals works to bring the Safe Bars code of conduct and training to breweries.

D.Transcending Trauma. Industry vet Meagen Anderson and I are working with the international TM for Women program to train current and former female brewery staff in transcendental meditation as a way to heal from traumatic workplace experiences. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown that TM is an effective way to treat many types of mental and physical distress.     

Julie Rhodes Owner & Strategic Business Consultant, Not Your Hobby Marketing Solutions

 

CODO: What do we know about Gen Z’s drinking habits? The oldest members of this cohort are only 24 or 25 years old—is this enough time to draw some broad stroke characterizations?

Julie: $150 billion and counting—that’s the current purchasing power of Gen Z as of the end of 2021 (Knit Gen Z Alcohol Report, 2021). Pretty impressive so far and they are only getting stronger. A large portion of Gen Z consumers are not even part of the working class yet, which means as time goes on, their buying power will grow exponentially. According to Bank of America Research, Gen Z is on course to take over the top spending spot from Millennials in 2030 in excess of $33 trillion dollars. But despite the massive presence that these new kids have, only a small portion of them are of legal drinking age right now, begging the question—how they are impacting the beer, wine, spirits, cider and “beyond” beverage market segments? The answer lies with their influence potential and shopping habits.

The biggest takeaway that brands can leverage about Gen Z is their digital prowess. This is the world’s first digitally native generation—that’s means they have never known a time without Google, smartphones, social media, and the like. They live and breathe online. Digital dependency was also bolstered by pandemic lockdowns in 2020 when worldwide quarantines drove “Zoomers” online to fulfill their social needs. Gen Z consumers defer to the internet for just about everything product related—brand research, situation modeling, nutritional facts, value statements, and referrals from friends. Savvy craft alcohol brands would be wise to take note that while a strong digital presence is essential to move the needle with these 20 somethings, Gen Z doesn’t buy into influencer marketing as much as their elder counterparts, the Millennials. Gen Z consumers are searching for deeper brand connections online, like personal referrals from friends, authentic product reviews from people who look like them, example of drinking occasions that appeal to their own lifestyle and core value statements that can be trusted. Digital channels like review sites and social media are how Zoomers spread word of mouth about brands to their friends, which is no small feat, their digital networks are extensive. Gaining a referral from Gen Z could possibly 10X your brand awareness levels.

And while we don’t have decades of data on how Gen Z shops for alcohol, they have provided brands some interesting breadcrumbs to follow. First, Gen Z seems to take an omnichannel approach to the way that they shop for alcoholic beverages. They will do extensive research online prior to purchase, but then execute the old fashioned way—in person at a brick and mortar location. This is due to the fact that Gen Z doesn’t have a ton of discretionary income at the moment and online alcohol purchases are still fairly expensive compared to buying drinks in person. By the time you pay for delivery or shipping fees, taxes, and any other type of DTC fee, the cost of that six pack has risen significantly. Only a fraction of their generation is part of the working class, a muscle currently flexed mostly by Millennials, so things like additional online fees do impact their purchasing methods. But that doesn’t mean you can skimp with your online marketing efforts. Gen Z is like the Inspector Gadget of consumers, they know any and all tricks to stalk your brand in the digital space. As time goes on and more Zoomers enter the workforce, we could see these habits change, but for the foreseeable future (2–5 years), the best place to secure a purchase commitment from these consumers is in person.

In the Off-Premise market segment, you will see the most Gen Z alcohol purchases in the grocery and convenience channels, and in the On Premise market segment, you will find them buying most of their drinks at restaurants, which parallels generals consumers trends over the past 2 years. Why is this the case? Zoomers want convenience, instant gratification, situational awareness, and social clout. Gen Z learned during the onset of the pandemic in 2020 that they can find the alcohol they crave right at their fingertips in grocery and c-stores, and since they were there anyways buying food or gas, these outlets became their go-to spots for libations. When the market began to open back up, Zoomers were craving social situations, but not enough to flood bars and clubs, and since they needed to eat anyways, restaurants became their go-to option for alcohol in the On-Trade. But one of the biggest reasons that restaurants are winning with Gen Z right now is that they give this generation a reason to drink beyond just being thirsty—providing situational awareness that shows an appealing occasion to head out and spend those dollars on Bev Alc. Zoomers want to be shown how they should consume alcohol, when to consume it, and where to imbibe. Brands should take heed and lean heavy into digital marketing campaigns that suggest specific occasions for when to consume their products, whether it’s a sporting event, a hike in the mountains, a community-focused holiday or a friend’s birthday party out on the town. Occasion drinking gives Gen Z the authentic reasoning they need to justify spending extra money combined with the social aspect they constantly crave.

Paige SopcicCEO, CanSource  

 

CODO: What is the most surprising (interesting?) beverage trend you’ve seen over the last year at CanSource?

Paige: At CanSource, the most interesting trend we’ve seen in cans over the last year is summarized in one word… Adaptogens. Adaptogenics is the idea that there are certain herbs and mushrooms that have health benefits such as stress relief or memory improvement. While the benefits are still being researched, these herbal plants have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries and now you can find them in your canned drinks! Look for words like ‘Ashwagandha’, ‘holy basil’, ‘ginseng’ or ‘goji berry’ on products to try them out yourself. A few products leading the pack are Rowdy Mermaid’s Ashwagandha Blackberry AdaptonicTM and Recess’ Pomegranate Hibiscus sparkling water. I believe we’ll see more and more of these products offered in 2022 and beyond as the Better for You beverage category sees growing demand from consumers.

The runner-up for this trend is the emphasis on Herbal & Botanical drinks. As a consumer of many of CanSource’s customers’ products, this is one of my personal favorites and almost guarantees I’ll like the product. A few of my favorites are Aura Bora’s Basil Berry sparkling water, DRAM’s Lavender & Lemon Balm sparkling water and AMASS’s Sun Sign botanic hard seltzer.

 

CODO: Are there any positives that could come out of the aluminum shortage?

Paige: There is a quote from Warren Buffet that I believe fits well here, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,” One positive outcome of the can shortage is it may demonstrate to craft beverage producers which can-suppliers they can depend on (hint: the suppliers that aren’t ‘naked’ without cans when the tide goes out). If producers make these discoveries, they can use this experience to strengthen their unique supply chains and build more sustainable businesses over the long term. I won’t minimize the stress the can shortage is adding to the industry, but producers that learn and adapt will likely weather future supply disruptions better as can demand continues to outpace supply.

Beyond shoring up supply partners, I believe the shortage may spur continued product innovation. The craft beverage industry is entrepreneurial at its core, from brewers releasing inventive flavors every season to startups developing alcohol-free drinks that make Dry January easier than ever. Over the last decade at CanSource, we’ve seen this entrepreneurial community live the philosophy ‘innovation from desperation’, which was never more prominent than the last two years with COVID-19. Producers may tap into this supply chain desperation as fuel for continued innovation. Will they experiment with different can sizes that are easier to find? Will they be forced to be even more laser focused on what they put in each can they do source? I believe they’ll do both and that they’ll do both successfully. 

1. Dram, 2. Rowdy Mermaid, 3. Recess, 4. Amass, 5. Aura Bora

Jim Watson – Sr. Beverage Analyst, Rabobank

 

CODO: Big Beer has traditionally grown through geographic expansion, M&As, and creating premium extensions. Is there any room for Big Beer to grow through beer itself or does the future look like endless line and brand extensions into whatever new category crops up that given day?

Jim: My joke for the last several years is that every time I am tasked with writing about beer, I end up writing about something that is not quite beer—like hard seltzer, NA beer or the great convergence. Big Beer is definitely in a period of transition where the old playbook for generating growth is not nearly as relevant.

Beer’s decline in the US is a cultural shift—driven in part by Big Beer fighting with each other (think Corngate from 2019) as opposed to elevating the category. Some of this is also a reversion to a global norm, as countries that over-indexed on beer are now moving to wine and spirits, while countries with historically little beer consumption are seeing real growth.

There is growth to be had in beer itself of course—but you are mainly looking at emerging markets with a long time-horizon before they generate meaningful growth. The time frame between ABI’s first investment in China and when it started to generate a meaningful percentage of profits was testament to difficulty of building out a whole new market. Even through this lens, much of the meaningful M&A like SABMiller and more recently Distell has been done. There are further moves to be made, but the remaining opportunity is skewed towards organic growth.

Extending into new categories is all the rage now—but I’ve always wondered if this is at odds with organic growth. Many moves into new segments seem to imply that obviously “regular” beer is not good enough. We often talk about whether Big Beer is simply leading young consumer into other categories. In reality it may simply be following those consumers into other categories—but the whole move is still driven by the lack of equity being built around beer.

I honestly wouldn’t have guessed at the existence of hard seltzers, let alone an entire sour or hazy beer category 10+ years ago, so we should not be dismissive of what interesting new segments are yet to be brought to the mainstream. Even though at times I feel everything has already been discovered.

But maybe some of the answer will lie in pricing as well—perhaps the shift to “less but better shift” will slowdown. Beer has become more expensive relative to wine and spirits over the last decade. While higher prices both drives and helps mask the pain of volume decline, eventually those volume declines impact the structure of scale and structure of Big Beer (think closing an entire brewery). 

Here’s to the next category, whatever it may be!

Bump WilliamsPresident, The BWC Company 

 

CODO: When trade press talks about the beer category being flat overall, do you think that matters to the average neighborhood brewery that might be producing anywhere from 400 to 3,000bbl annually? Or is this really just a concern for regional / national breweries?

Bump: I think the health and wellness of the total beer industry should be a concern to everyone in the brewing community. If we lose beer purchase/drinking occasions to spirits, wine, NA or emerging segments like RTDs and cannabis, this is not good for the local brewer. A healthy, vibrant, growing industry benefits everyone—manufacturers, distributors, retailers, consumers (innovation), packaging and agriculture.

 

CODO: What is the biggest challenge facing craft breweries as we make our way past the pandemic?

Bump: The battle for shelf space in the off-premise is the #1 challenge for craft brewers today. As laws change and the beer category gets squeezed to make room on the shelf for new products, RTDs, spirits and wine offerings, the beer shelf space will continue to diminish. In the on-premise arena, my fear is consumer’s avoidance of venturing outside due to the pandemic or the popularity of home-delivery services. If craft brewers can’t get their products on shelves in the off-premise and consumers are reluctant to go out and visit the on premise and tasting rooms, this spells hard times for the craft industry.

Beyond Beer

Mark Gallo – Sales Manager – Contract Manufacturing, Nor-Cal Beverage Co.

 

CODO: You’ve got $1 million to start a beverage brand in 2022. What’s your move?

Mark: Why should Liquid Death have all the fun in canning and selling water?

With $1,000,000 to start a beverage brand in 2022, it would be smart to diversify one’s portfolio and offer something nonalcoholic, especially a canned water. Let’s not begin to over think this—beer and water make up 2/3 of the world’s most popular drinks, with tea being the third. The ingredient is already sourced for your brewery leaving the focus on acquiring cans, potentially labels depending on whether you commit to printed cans or not, and lastly the branding. Only ask: don’t infringe on another brand’s IP to sell your canned water.

Stop selling irrelevant bottled water or offering tap water at your brewery/tap room. Take the opportunity to upsell consumers into a viable line extension that broadens your brewery’s appeal. Displace the FOMO feeling of nondrinkers of all types (age, religious/diet reasons, etc.) and serve up a canned water with a branding edge that signals inclusion and camaraderie. Bestowing a canned water offering meets consumers right where their drinking habits are taking them.

Craft breweries have always been successful in taking on established national brands and amplifying the “support local” message. Go get it done with Craft H2O.

 

CODO: Which niche/segment/sub category within the functional beverage category do you think has the most runway as we head into the next few years?

Mark: The functional beverage space’s best feature is that it focuses on what’s going into the product vs. what’s being removed. (e.g. “Diet, Zero and Light.”) While still controversial, the inclusion of electrolytes in alcohol products will continue to blossom because it’s an ingredient that consumers are trained to know, understand and accept.

Sufferfest crawled so the Nelk Boys and their Happy Dad Seltzer could run with brewing a beer with electrolytes. With the amount of attention & scrutiny they command, we would have good reason to believe a regulatory body would be all over them but so far, no lawsuits have been brought forward. Other notable offerings: Game Up Hard Seltzer & Navy Hill Soda and Tonic mixers both stress electrolyte inclusion. Something that you must witness with your own eyes—consumers spiking their favorite beers with electrolyte powder sticks from Liquid IV, Hydrate or LMNT.

The lesson being learned from examples above is no need to highlight the feature in one’s marketing. Consumers quest for healthy beverages will continue to spill over into alcohol and having an added benefit should be an attractive proposition and entice drinkers.

My good friend, Doug Veliky from Revolution brewing sees what I see in this growing trend. He is a bit more relaxed and sees the potential in both beer and non-alcoholic beers.

1. Game Up, 2. Sufferfest, 3. Liquid Death, 4. LMNT

Jess InfanteManaging Editor, Brewbound 

 

CODO: Hard seltzer is doomed. But now it isn’t. But now it is again? In reality, the segment is still doing quite well. Setting aside clickbait headlines for a moment, hard seltzer does seem to be slowing. So where do you see the hard seltzer segment going from here? Is there room for more growth or will we start to see it break off into various sub categories? 

Jess: If you’ve wanted to shake your fist at hard seltzer and shout at it to get off your lawn, the Summer 2021 seltzer slowdown served up some pretty delicious schadenfreude. But… it’s probably a little misplaced. 

Headlines calling for the segment’s demise may have drawn countless clicks, but failed to take into account that despite missed forecasts from the largest players and the return of the on-premise channel, hard seltzer still grew in 2021–it’s just not growing at the same crazy triple-digit growth numbers that it was putting up in 2019 and 2020. In 2021, hard seltzer sales topped $4.5 billion at off-premise retailers tracked by market research firm IRI, an increase of 16.8% over 2020. 

In 2020, when the pandemic forced us to stay home and do our drinking during Zoom happy hours and socially distanced driveway and backyard gatherings, sales of hard seltzer grew 160.4%, according to NielsenIQ. The bubbly beverage’s dollar sales increased 212.5% in 2019, generally agreed upon as the year it took off. 

Repeating those numbers would have been nigh impossible (despite what forecasts from some major hard seltzer producers called for). We’re seeing a segment whose shiny newness is wearing off as it settles into a stabler growth pattern. 

Consumers now expect an unending stream of new flavors, and the success of new entrants offering more than the standard fruit-plus-bubbles indicates they appreciate more flavor. Hard seltzer has begun to fragment into sub-segments to meet this need, modeled after familiar drinks both alcoholic (ranch water, margarita) and not (lemonade, fruit punch, iced tea). Innovation is going to drive growth, so producers should be prepared to keep up.

A majority of C-store retailers say a shakeout is underway, and it’s likely to benefit bigger players at the expense of smaller brands, according to a recent survey from Goldman Sachs. There’s still room in the segment for independent regional brands, especially if they’re able to make inroads in the on-premise in the ways White Claw and Truly haven’t. 

 

CODO: Do you think there’s an opportunity for smaller breweries to come together to form partnerships (or, “platforms”), along the lines of Artisanal Brewing Ventures or CANarchy, or is this strategy strictly for larger concerns? 

Jess: The notion of strength in numbers has been true for millennia–for early humans, herds of animals and now, craft brewers. The more buying power you have, the more clout you have, and this can be attained at smaller levels too.

Last year, Scofflaw Brewing announced it was forming IndieBrew, a platform that allows craft breweries to share resources, like centralized purchasing for big ticket items like hop and can contracts, but also sales, finance and HR teams. Bearded Iris Brewing became the first brewery to join in late December, and founder Kavon Togrye told me IndieBrew hopes to add three more member breweries with output of at least 15,000 barrels in the next year. 

The majority of country’s largest craft breweries by volume belong to multi-brand platforms–like Duvel Moortgat USA, Artisanal Brewing Ventures and CANarchy (now acquired by Monster)–or have evolved into houses of multiple brands by innovation or acquisition, like Boston Beer and New Belgium. To succeed in the beer industry’s current act, producers would be wise to engage in the buddy system when appropriate, both to navigate industry currents and to appeal to a broader consumer base. 

Eddie Sahm Chief Operating Officer, Sahm Hospitality Group

 

CODO: Your team has built one of the most enduring hospitality groups in Indiana, anchored by a production brewery, 13 restaurants and a catering company. How has your role at the company evolved as your network of restaurants has expanded?

Eddie: Well I think my imposter syndrome has grown year after year and restaurant after restaurant. In this industry, it is hard to think that you ever actually know what you are doing or at the top of your craft. There is so much innovation on the production side (beer and food) and there is so much change in the customer demand. Overall I started out as a Owner/Operator of one location. I bought in to help my father and run one of our failing spots. I did the normal restaurant owner stuff, wash dishes, learn to work every position, make community connections, figure out how to hire people who believed in the vision. It got to the point where the person below me on the management totem pole was ready for the promotion so I had to make the decision to open a new spot and take on a new management role. Today I am the Chief Operating Officer. I have a ton to learn and managing multiple locations and multiple departments doesn’t allow for a lot of disorganization. In order to stay creative and forward thinking, I try to make sure my expectations are clear and that our communication with management and hourly staff are as transparent as possible. It allows me to more readily make changes that keeps our company feeling fresh and exciting. 

 

CODO: What are some of the challenges, and benefits, of scaling a hospitality group vs. a single location brewery?

Eddie: The most challenging aspect is the external sales for our brewery. While we work closely with a lot of local purveyors and try our best to make people trust local restaurants so that everyone can benefit and hopefully get our customer base more likely to try other local places, other restaurants tend to balk when we try and sell them beer. We become identified as a competitor and the “why would we support a competitor?” line comes out a lot. There are cities that don’t have this problem, where local is local is local no matter if you both sell food, but Indy seems to be slightly more territorial. It’s not to say that I don’t respect their decision, you gotta do what’s best for your business, and if you think carrying Big Lug is going to somehow make us survive and you fall off the map, then hey, do you. 

There are definitely benefits. So many new people try our beer every day, week, month. It gives us a unique opportunity to get people into craft beer. Someone might like a domestic beer with a fried tenderloin, but look, I am not here to sell you that. I am here to sell you a Big Lug beer and explain why it’s a great choice for what you ordered. People trust us because they love the food so we have a better shot of winning them over than a random place who might sell both domestic and craft… I think we have all seen this battle play out, and it doesn’t play out in a fairy tale manner. 

 

CODO: Big Lug Brewing recently launched an RTD cocktail as a straight brand extension—Big Lug Cocktails. Why did you feel this strategy worked for this product and the Big Lug brand (vs. creating a new brand)?

Eddie: At some point we have to stop naming things random things or else people are going to think I’m a lunatic. I want Big Lug to be a well-rounded brand. Beer is our focus, both ale and lager, and we want to focus on our craft by not pulling our team off to work on projects that they are not in love with. I had a connection with West Fork Whiskey in Indiana and I reached out to tell them about our situation. It essentially went like this, “Hey guys, I am selling White Claw because there is no way I am making seltzer is a single vessel that could hold beer. Can you help me?” West Fork and myself both agreed that seltzers, malt beverage based seltzers, are demonstrably bad. The flavor is just not good. I understand the popularity and ease of which they catch on, but as far as any nuance to the flavor, White Claw and the whole family are not something I can get behind. We decided to take the cocktail route with a focus on a healthier and lighter option. I wanted something that tasted delicious and added something to the market. Working with the spirits flavor to make something more than just the sum of its parts was exciting. We have some new flavors coming this year and I think people are going to get a better idea of where we want to take this thing. 

Big Lug Brewing’s canned cocktail Brand Extension.

Bart Watson, Chief Economist, Brewers Association

 

CODO: What’s the outlook for regional breweries over the next 5 to 10 years? Is there room to grow as they have traditionally or are they in a no-man’s land between small breweries, Big Beer and spirits?

Bart: As always, this depends on not just size, but geography and business model. The key right now is to be local and nimble or have enough scale and/or share to deal with today’s market. Scale helps in the supply chain. It helps with distributor attention. It helps provide resources to market and brand in a crowded marketplace. But it’s not just scale that matters, but also market share. A regional brewery that is concentrated in a tighter geographic area is going to achieve some of those features (distributor attention for example) at a smaller total production size. I do see this being a challenging space going forward and those breweries in particular are going to really have to think about where they sit in their markets relative to competitors on things like price and brand positioning.

 

CODO: What do you think is the biggest issue facing breweries as we make our way beyond the pandemic?

Bart: Getting draft back to full health is going to be a challenge in the coming years. Restaurants have changed, delivery and to go have gained share, and many consumers shifted occasions back to their houses. 

That said, I think share of mind among distributors, consumers, and retailers is going to grow as a challenge. Craft is no longer the hot, fast growth category it once was. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t growth opportunities, but brewers will have to fight to stand out, not just within the craft category, but within beverage alcohol more broadly. Add in declining beer share and new products like RTD spirit cocktails, and brewers are going to have to fight collectively to hold shelf space and consumer attention.

 

CODO: Anecdotally, we’ve seen a steep rise in breweries putting out multipacks and variety packs. Do you have any data to back up our hunch that there are, in fact, way more multipacks being produced now than in the past?

Bart: Mix packs have been growing in recent years. Looking at scan data, mix packs (driven heavily by IPA mix packs) were 6.4 share of volume, up from 6.2 a year ago, and 5.9 share the year before that. 

This is speculation, but I wonder if as distributors and retailers have put pressure on brewers to reduce SKUs, the mix pack is coming back as a way to introduce new brands in the marketplace and gauge consumer demand. Whereas you could have put out those brands separately before, now a mix pack is a way to get them out in the market.

 

Brand Architecture

Andrew Emerton Sr. Brand Manager – Innovation & Specialty, New Belgium Brewing

 

CODO: New Belgium has done a phenomenal job of embracing the House of Brands Brand Architecture model (with a focus on brand building within its broader portfolio). I’m curious how the New Belgium parent brand factors in as you launch new sub-brands? Are new releases—Voodoo Ranger, Dominga, Fruit Smash—supposed to send value (goodwill and overall awareness) back up to the New Belgium parent brand or are you more focused on building out the individual brand itself?

Andrew: It certainly plays a large factor in the development of a new brand or growing existing brands. We discuss brand hierarchy A LOT and the implications it has. Our brand families are essentially our chess pieces; each one having certain capabilities or “permissions” from consumers on where it can go. This can be in the form of beer style or the brand’s core identity. From a value standpoint, we need brands like Dominga and Trippel to reinforce brand New Belgium’s fun-loving and credible brewing story. Brands like Voodoo Ranger and Fruit Smash are intentionally a departure from New Belgium and reaching consumers who might not know or care to know who New Belgium is. And we’re totally fine with that. But if they do discover New Belgium, we’re more than ready for them.

 

CODO: New Belgium recently launched Devilishly Light, a light lager extension within the Voodoo Ranger brand. Tell me a bit about that strategy: is a Voodoo Ranger drinker also a Devilishly Light drinker? Is this an opportunity to capture another occasion? Or maybe a chance to explore what else you can do with the wildly successful Voodoo Ranger brand?

Andrew: I think the answer is “yes.” Devilishly Light is effectively us trying to understand where Voodoo Ranger has the permission to go. There’s only so much we can ponder and debate internally before we need to put something in market and then listen like crazy. We’ve been testing the “light lager” territory for a while now with brands like Mountain Time (only available in CO) and a couple collegiate-focused lagers (Old Aggie and Old Tuffy). With Devilishly, we’re simply trying to learn everything you outlined by launching the brand only in North Carolina with some great retail partners that will help us monitor the brand’s performance. Light lager is very tricky to figure out and we’re still trying to understand if there’s a bigger future for us in that space. Devilishly is simply us trying to learn as much as possible before going big.

Voodoo Ranger’s Devilishly Light Lager Brand

Joel HuestonDirector of Marketing & Sales, First Key Consulting 

 

CODO: Do you think regional breweries can continue scaling through beer itself or will they have to break into adjacent categories (e.g. seltzer, RTD’s) to find growth over the next 5 years? 

Joel: I am a tad biased here because beer has been such a big part of my life, but I have always believed and will continue to believe that beer is king. It is unquestionably the engine of beverage alcohol consumption in the U.S., making up 3/4 of volume, triple all the other categories combined. This ratio is shrinking, but ever so slowly. Naturally, every time a new segment emerges it takes a chunk out of beer, but suds are very resilient. The biggest piece of the pie is always the most vulnerable. 

Beer is dependable. It’s tried, tested and true and it’s here to stay. There are dozens of beverage alcohol segments that have come and gone over the past few decades. Some of them stick, but most of them fade away into the night. As I am sure you can tell, I am a bit skeptical. The hard seltzer segment seems to have some legs and is forecasted to grow from 4% of beverage alcohol volume in 2020 to nearly 9% by 2025. That said, recent reports indicate that hard seltzer growth has slowed considerably in recent months.

So, what does this all mean? My advice is to be cautious about investing disproportionate resources into unproven segments. For any regional craft brewery, beer should the primary focus, the #1 priority by far. Diversity is good and it’s always smart to have a non-beer offering, but my advice would be to focus your energy on making sure your beer portfolio is high quality, is keeping pace with market trends and dynamics and is addressing consumer needs. Firestone Walker followed this formula to a tee and grew their volume by 45% from 2016 to 2019 before Covid hit. 

Put it this way: if a regional craft brewery is hanging its hat on the non-beer portion of their portfolio to succeed in the coming years, something is wrong. I believe that well-run craft breweries making great beer can thrive and survive quite nicely on the beer portfolio alone. Offering a non-beer option can be an effective strategy provided the quality is there, there’s a reason for it to exist and it’s not just another “me too” entry but beer is the one that’s going to keep putting bread on the table. 

 

CODO: What does the ideal startup craft brewery look like in 2022/23?

Joel: The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but some good things have come out of it too. The pandemic has helped to prepare a lot of craft breweries for future success by forcing improved product quality, pickup and delivery options, more sophisticated websites and social media strategies and production of packaged beer for retail. 

I think it’s safe to say that the process to open a new craft brewery in the coming years will be a bit more complex than in the past. Off the top, developing a good business plan and investing in a strong branding platform will be super-important and will likely require some expert support so new fish should budget accordingly. 

As always, beer quality is job #1 so hiring a great head brewer will be required. They do not grow on trees so conduct a thorough talent search. Also, put the right people in the right seats. In the past, craft breweries have been known to expect their staff to wear multiple hats and also for hiring a cousin to handle social media. Start-ups should ensure qualified people are filling key roles and keep an eye out for signs of burnout. 

I’ll say it again and again: offer a beer portfolio that is driven by market trends and dynamics and addresses consumer needs. I don’t care what beer styles the ownership or brewing team prefer. Everything, especially the beer, should be focused on the end customer.

If a start-up wants to be draft-only to start and focus 100% on the taproom that’s fine but they should consider leaving room for a canning line to package beer-to-go and to prepare for the day when they might want to distribute to retail. The craft breweries that did this during Covid generally fared better than those who didn’t. The taproom itself should offer a welcoming and unique environment that provides great (not mediocre) customer service. A cool and functional website offering online ordering, pickup and delivery options and a strong social media platform will also be key success factors. 

In short, opening a new craft brewery in 2022 and beyond is going to be a multi-faceted process and it’s not going to be cheap. Prices have gone up on pretty much everything, including construction, shipping, ingredients and equipment.   

I am hopeful that the new breed of craft brewers will be better prepared than their predecessors to navigate challenging market conditions through great preparation, strong market knowledge and executional excellence.

Matthew McLaughlinPartner, McLaughlin PC (& Co-founder @ Fertile Ground Beer Co.)

 

CODO: Are there any legal / Intellectual Property considerations breweries need to think about as they extend into other categories (e.g. seltzer, RTD cocktails)?

Matthew: Absolutely. Historically, breweries have focused on filing federal trademark applications in two primary classes of goods and services, International Class 032 (beer) and International Class 043 (taproom services).

Over the last 5 years or so, we have seen certain breweries shift from manufacturing a single good, beer, to more cross-production of beer, wine, seltzers, spirits and RTDs. In these instances, if a brewery has a federally registered mark for a brand in International Class 032 for beer, that registration likely does not cover other products. In these instances, a subsequent application made be necessary to cover a new product in International Class 032 or International Class 033, wine, spirits and spirits-based drinks.

In addition, with the expansion of alcohol beverage product lines, the volume of trademark applications with the UPSTO are trending up and making it more challenging to come up with brand names. This means that breweries must be increasingly more cautious when deciding on brand names and ensuring that brand names can be protected to the fullest extent allowed by law.

 

CODO: You’re opening a brewery! How has it been founding Fertile Ground Beer Co. during the pandemic and what changes have you had to make along the way?

Matthew: Since the inception of the planning process, the strategy of the founding team has always been to design what we refer to as “Brewery 2.0.” We believe Brewery 2.0 is a departure from the closed-in and overly industrialized spaces with a heavy design emphasis on wood and metal. We believe these spaces are less desirable to people in the wake of the pandemic because they are not overly inviting and feel cramped.

Our version of Brewery 2.0 is an open and airy space with lots of natural light and bright colors. Modularity of the taproom is critical as it allows us to move furniture around and create separate nodes for groups of people. We have an extremely large outdoor space that is directly across the street from multiple restaurants. This allows patrons to pick up food to-go, an experience that has become more normalized during the pandemic, and either eat at the brewery or take the food home with a six pack or crowler of our beer.

Pandemic notwithstanding, our focus will not only be on crafting bright, clean, and contemporary beer, it will also be on making sure we are responsive to the needs of everyone in our community whether in our taproom or experiencing our beer in another location.

Mandie Murphy Co-founder, Left Field Brewery  

 

CODO: Left Field has launched a few successful sub brands over the last few years—Ice Cold Beer, 7th Inning Seltzer. Why does this strategy work for your brewery vs. releasing more flagship beers / physical locations / limited releases / etc.?

Mandie: We release about one new beer every other week. Nearly all releases are made using our templated approach for the purpose of creating a strong and consistent visual brand family. We dig-up unique baseball stories that inspire our brands and that match the character of the beer style, and we have a system and a rhythm that works really well to bring these to life in a way that’s both practical and efficient. 

For key brands like Ice Cold Beer and 7th Inning Seltzer, both represented something very different for us from the outset. The ideas were different enough that we felt we needed to launch them as sub-brands to truly do them justice. For these two brands, instead of being all about beer and baseball tradition and storytelling, they each very distinctly have their own character. 

Ice Cold Beer isn’t as serious as the rest of our lineup, it’s a little more easygoing, fun and lighthearted, and plays off ‘cold’ as a key selling feature which is a somewhat ridiculous yet longstanding macro beer marketing strategy. We brew it with 100% local ingredients to remind drinkers that craft beer and cold, simple beer don’t have to be mutually exclusive. 

7th Inning Seltzer is the break from beer – it’s that fun, boisterous mid-game stretch that can often be a turning point (Let’s Gooo!), and when your palate is ready for something else. It’s not beer and we needed to make that abundantly clear in the way we created the brand.

Both have been hugely successful for the brewery and while we won’t shy away from this strategy in the future, I expect we will use it sparingly and only for the ideas that truly don’t work or fit neatly into our usual brand strategy. 

 

CODO: Similar question from another angle—do you see this sub brand model ever edging out Left Field’s flagship beers (e.g. Greenwood IPA or Bang Bang Dry Hopped Sour could become fully fledged sub-brands instead of flagship beers from Left Field)?

Mandie: I don’t think so. There are four times as many breweries in our market today vs. when we opened nearly nine years ago. On a crowded shelf, the importance of a distinct brand ‘family’ for us is more important than ever. As shelf facings continue to get squeezed, our flagship model helps us maintain a strong visual presence. 

What’s more, growing a sub-brand can be just as much work and just as costly as growing a family of core brands—they have unique needs in the on premise environment (tap handles, glassware, coasters, pitchers, signage) and as impactful as they might be, are just as challenging from a materials inventory overhead standpoint – packaging, promotional materials, etc. I think we’ll continue to use them sparingly and only where we think they can make maximum impact for the portfolio.

Left Field Brewery Sub Brands, Ice Cold Beer and 7th Inning Seltzer

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