Boston Beer’s C-Store Strategy: Variety, Consistency Are Keys to Growth

Amid surging demand for its Samuel Adams brand, Boston Beer Company (BBC), the largest craft brewer in the country, saw a 10.4 percent leap in convenience store dollar sales over a 52 week period ending on October 26, according to Nielsen data published by Wells Fargo Securities. Among the top nine beer companies in C-Stores, BBC’s growth was trumped only by Crown Imports which, driven by its Corona and Modelo Especial brands, experienced a 13.5 percent increase in channel dollar sales during the same period.

While C-stores remain a very small component of BBC’s overall retail presence, it’s perhaps the fastest growing channel for the brewery, and one that, aside from a few recent hiccups, has been a consistent driver of new sales. BBC employs a dedicated team that is focused on growing the craft segment in C-stores, and at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) show held last month in Atlanta, Brewbound had a chance to catch up with Joe Kaczynski, BBC’s National Channel Manager for Convenience, and Joshua Grab, the company’s Trade Marketing Manager, for an informal discussion about how the company approaches the convenience channel in terms of sales growth and education of C-store operators and consumers.

From within BBC’s welcoming (and rather large) beer garden-style booth, Grab and Kaczynski explained the often limited shelf space in C-stores is the most challenging aspect of the channel, particularly for a craft beer brand, because it puts a limit on the variety that is a key driver of craft beer sales and enthusiasm in other channels. Although the company produces a wide range of beer styles, BBC distributes only its flagship lager and seasonal beers in C-stores.  Compounding the issue is the fact that many craft consumers are unaware that the beer is distributed in the convenience channel. For BBC, educating craft beer drinkers as to the availability of craft in C-stores is a critical objective for new growth, and ultimately, greater variety in the channel.

As it stands now, however, for most C-store consumers, a diverse range of options can be confusing, Grab and Kaczynski noted. In order to gain greater awareness in a retail channel in which the average store visit lasts just over 30 seconds, BBC looks to find ways to slow down consumers. It may sound simple, but the brewery has been effective in attracting attention — and educating consumers — via tried-and-true methods like in-store promotions and merchandising.

Despite significant strides in consumer education, C-store operators are often stumped about the best way to successfully market craft beer. BBC says the answer goes back to greater variety on the shelf — albeit limited to the best-selling, lead craft brands and styles on the market. Depending on what operators deem as an appropriate amount of space for craft based on their market and customers, operators can offer more or less variety, however, the key to selling craft in C-store is consistency; consumers in the channel want to be able to find their favorite brands.

As for its showing at NACS, Grab and Kaczynski said that in the years since BBC has been participating at the show, this year’s event was “by far” the best show for the company in terms of consumer and retailer interaction. An interesting footnote to the show was the number of attendees asking for sample pours of “lager,” a significant departure from years past, in which calls for “Sam Adams” or “Sam Adams Octoberfest” were the norm. Additionally, Samuel Adams’ new can package attracted a great deal of interest among attendees, many of whom were unaware of its availability. Now armed with a 16 oz. can that the company launched in September, BBC will look to make a deeper play in single-serve, a huge component overall beer sales in C-stores.