In her keynote address at the Craft Brewers Conference earlier this month in New Orleans, Kim Jordan laid out an explicit set of objectives for the craft beer industry. Well articulated and inspirational in tone, Jordan suggested specific goals the craft brewing community should strive for to achieve a lasting legacy. Her speech prompted a rare standing ovation at the close.
Describing the uniqueness of the industry, Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Company said “for us, brewing beer is more than a random career choice. It is a lifestyle. We are all different, but we all have much in common. We all began our businesses with two things; the love of beer and a vision.”
The idea that a unified vision is vitally important was a key point in Jordan’s talk. “The vision that you put in place leads to the success of your business, and lays the groundwork of the legacy that you will leave behind. If this is true for the individual brewer, I believe it is equally true for the entire industry. Just as each of us stewards the brands within our breweries, we also have a collective brand; the craft breweries of America.” Encouraging brewers to work together, something not particularly common in the past within the craft category, Jordan suggested that “we need to work on a mutually agreed upon strategy. Our co-opted brand is one that we must begin to invest in. The chance of having a long term outcome that plays to our strengths as an industry, is a lot more likely if we create a strategy for it ahead of time, rather let it happen by chance. A shared vision for our industry must develop over time, the result of our collective experience — and many discussions over beers.”
Jordan also submitted a growth goal for the segment: achieving a 10% market share. “Currently we have 3% national market share. We can’t sustain this business model over the long haul. Our access to market issues will only get worse if we are not seen as a vibrant part of our industry.” Encouraging brewers to unite and work together, Jordan said that if “we don’t thrive as an industry; our ability to succeed individually is a much bigger challenge. We need each other.”
Jordan then laid out the foundational theme of her talk, suggesting that “to succeed as an industry, we must work very hard at being both enduring and endearing.”
Equating product quality with an enduring industry, Jordan said “we can be as groovy as we want to be, but if we can’t keep the doors open because our beers lack quality, it won’t matter in the end. The quality of our beers as they leave our brewery, and in the marketplace as well, are the table stakes to remain in the game. Being enduring begins at the tip of the tongue with the quality of the beer that we brew.” Jordan propounded that all brewers, even the smallest who have limited resources should at least have a written flavor profile for each beer they brew, know the shelf life of their beer in both optimal and warm storage conditions, have a sensory quality program, have a system to handle customers complaints that lets the customer know that they have been heard and appreciated, and to continually invest in the quality of the beer.
Jordan also addressed the need for oversight in the marketplace, proposing that every brewery have readable ‘best by’ dates, audit the marketplace for proper handling and make corrections as needed, trade out beer when it is out-of-date, and be willing to pull it from the trade when a quality problem arises.
Another issue that Jordan brought up was the problem of improper and inadequate draft line cleaning in the retail trade. “I see a strategic opportunity for craft brewers” to educate the retailers about the importance of clean draft lines. “The increased quality of draft beer served in bars and restaurants in American can be a legacy that we can claim, if we choose to make it so.” Jordan suggested that craft brewers implement a program to educate and certify on-premise accounts that know how to properly dispense beer. “This kind of program for our industry would raise not only our profile, but more importantly it would support a beer culture mindset and highlight our distinctive beers,” said Jordan. “I love this approach, because it also turns into what can be perceived as a negative, into a positive.” Instead of complaining about the problem, and trying to individually work with retailers, Jordan suggested that an “industry stamp of approval” be created that “leads to a mind set of beer excellence.”
Explaining the importance of being endearing, Jordan pointed out that “we can make great beers, and get them out into the trade, but if our customers don’t have a compelling reason to care about us, to pull our beers off the shelves and visit our brewpubs, it won’t matter. Our customers like us because we are intriguing, fun and approachable. We are endearing. In a sea of hyper-marketing, we offer simple, fun brands. We are more than trendy-hip, we are deep-rooted cool.” Craft beer consumers “love that we are a part of our community in a way the mega-corporations can’t mimic. Our customers have a feeling that craft beer is what is good about the past, and also what’s bright about the future. We keep things at a human scale. These are competitive advantages, and as we grow our market share, we can’t let them go by the way-side. Distinctiveness is required for being endearing.”
Stating that craft brewers can’t replicate imports or do what the major brewers do, Jordan said that “our niche as an industry is small, American, distinctive, well made, fun beer. We’re pretty good at it, and it suits us too. We’ve made ‘keeping it interesting’ an art form.
“Another way to be endearing is to interact closely with those that drink our beer.” Listening to your customer is paramount, implied Jordan, citing the various fund raisers and events that small brewers hold across the country to share with their customers and raise money for local charitable organizations. Jordan cited many examples, including Deschutes Brewery’s Sage Brush Classic event that raised $185,000 for the local community last year. This year the event will surpass 1 million dollars since its inception.
In addition to being good community stewards, Jordan emphasized the attraction of small brewers to the consumer. “There are not many industries out there that are as much fun as we are. We are an eclectic, kooky, fun group of folks. We need to cultivate weirdos and remember that being buttoned up is for bankers, not brewers,” she said.
Jordan’s hope for the industry ten years from now includes “that we are having as much fun as ever, that our beers are unparalleled in America for distinctiveness and quality, and our customers should still see us as cool with deep roots.”
Jordan concluded her speech by calling for action. “We can be enduring and endearing. We can build a legacy for craft brewers. Let’s begin.” – Tom McCormick
– Can American craft beer companies attain 10% share? How? Join the discussion.