Brewbound Session Delineates Brands, Risks and Growth

Rising demand has made it a great time to be a craft brewer, but there are still branding, marketing and financial initiatives that can help breweries succeed in the business.

The interest in learning or sharing the best paths to that success is what motivated more than 130 craft brewers, distributors, and entrepreneurs to attend the Brewbound Session in San Diego on Nov. 29. They were treated to a full-day discussion of brand-building, risk-taking, and growth strategy — as well as the chance to sample each others’ products at several points along the way.

If craft beer’s rising profile led to some good-natured humor — Oskar Blues Brewery founder Dale Katechis introduced a mock intravenous delivery system for his Dale’s Pale Ale brand — the emphasis on branding itself nevertheless drew the most attention.

“Everything we do at New Belgium is about branding,” said New Belgium Brewing co-founder Kim Jordan during her keynote address, explaining the method her company has used to grow into the third-largest craft brewer in the country.

Jordan led off the day with a presentation that discussed the growth strategies for New Belgium since the company’s launch in 1991. Jordan explained the vision and execution required to grow a brand from just 225 barrels in year-one to over 770,000 barrels in year 20, saying that the founding mission — “to operate a profitable company that makes our love and talent manifest” — works in concert with the company’s goals of becoming a national brand by 2020.

“It comes down to those three tenets,” she said. “Profit, making sure the world we live in is loving, and that we’re excellent at the things we’re trying to do,” she said.

Jordan was asked about the role and importance of having a “flagship” beer in a portfolio full of unique offerings — and described a rare miscalculation in the company’s plans.

“When we started New Belgium, we thought that Abbey would be our flagship beer,” Jordan said. “Abbey was way too esoteric for the average beer drinker.”

Of course, the flagship role now belongs to Fat Tire, which Jordan called a “delicate, difficult-to-make beer.”

While a flagship is important, assortment is becoming much more of a factor, she added, mentioning that most breweries used to lead with five mainstay offerings and add to their lineups as growth permitted. Newer brewers have begun launching with 10-15 styles of beer in an effort to see what sticks — but they could be aided by market research, she said.

“It’s good to have a priority list,” Jordan said of brewers who are interested in trying to make a wide range of styles, “but beer drinkers massage that.“

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