Converting Consumers from 'Buds' to Craft Suds
No matter the region or the demographic, craft beer is growing. As a whole, the sliver of the overall beverage industry has reached double-digit growth for the past 20 years. By the end of the year, there will be a projected 6,000 breweries providing more than 100,000 types of beer.
In franchising, there are just a handful of brands capitalizing on the trend, and each value two main things: choice and knowledge.
Choice is the easiest part. Craft beer and choice are synonymous, every brewery churns through recipes nearly weekly. The trickiest part is staying on trend with the fickle bearded beer snob. The desire IPAs comes and goes, Mosaic hopped beer gives way to Cascade hops and infusions spread like a shockwave across the country.
Dan White, founder and CEO of Growler USA said even at 12 units, it's a race to keep up with trends like coffee-infused beers.
"By the time we were ready for production of coffee-infused beers, it was no longer a popular item," said White during the Franchise Times Finance and Growth Conference.
The brand features a wide swath of national and local beers, creating a space to explore unique beer that doesn't include the dangerous task of driving from brewery to brewery.
Food is another trend in the space. White said their first location was too small for a kitchen, but after seeing how long people could sit around drinking craft beer without snacks, he saw the opportunity to add a chef-driven menu in every new location featuring a core menu of beer-friendly, on-trend pairings along with localized offerings like rice with every meal at the Hawaii location.
At CraftWorks, the parent company of several concepts including Old Chicago and Rock Bottom Brewery keeping up with those trends is even harder at the more than 230 locations across both brands.
To address that, CEO Srini Kumar added mini tours to the brand's expansive beer tours. Shorter tours like a St. Paddy's tour or a tour of Rogue Brewing's beers drives traffic as beer fans try a handful of beers and are awarded with a T-shirt for their alcoholic adventures. Kumar said their strong 33-percent beverage mix has been growing "primarily because of the emergence of craft beer," said Kumar.
Educating the guests means educating the staff. At Old Chicago, it means 12 proprietary modules to educate staff on the near endless variations in beer.
"The server should be knowledgeable enough to say, 'Oh, you got a IPA from Deschutes, here are three other beers you might like,'" said Kumar.
Leaning on the industry, White said they pay for the staff to get official cicerone training from the American Beer Association.
"We pay for that for our franchisee employees to be cicerone trained because when you come back to the experience, when someone comes in and asks, 'How do you like this beer?' Even if the server hasn't tried that beer, they can speak to it," said White. "The consumer really absorbs that."
Talk to any of those beardy beer snobs for five minutes and it's clear they love to share that information.
So do Kumar and White see each other as competitors? Not really, as White describes.
"I've been a firm believe that activity generates activity," said White. "Craft beer, while the fastest growing retail product in the U.S., has a lot of market to be exposed to. As the consumer gets exposed to the product and it becomes part of their options to have a craft beer as opposed to one delivered by Clydesdale, it's an advantage to the whole industry."
Before long, consumers at either brand know their ideal IBU (international bitterness units) range, their favorite hop strain and are buying more and more craft beer (and maybe some beard oil too).