New Belgium Founder at CBC: Honesty, Identity Will Determine Craft’s Fate

It’s been 10 years since New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan gave her last keynote address at a Craft Brewers Conference (CBC).

As Jordan can attest, the craft beer landscape looked very different in ten years ago, than it does today. There certainly wasn’t 2,400 craft brewers or steady 15 percent growth.

Drinking and listening: CBCers.

On Wednesday, Jordan took the stage to address CBC attendees, and even the audience was different: in 2003, there were fewer than 1,000 industry professionals in the audience. At this year’s conference, which began today, that number was closer to 6,400, filled with the brewery owners, distributors and suppliers who had beat a path to the Washington, D.C. conference to get their own piece of the craft beer boom.

Jordan wasted no time applauding the success of her brewing brethren.

“I’m not sure why we (craft brewers) are described as over-indexed,” she said. We are the best thing that has happened to this industry since the repeal of prohibition.”

But Jordan’s tone, while hopeful, was still cautionary. Her keynote speech addressed a variety of industry concerns including product quality, sustainable business practices, finite resources and even brewery expansion projects.

“We need to be absolutely vigilant about how our beers look, smell and taste,” she said.

Jordan didn’t stop at quality.

“Each of us needs to have a well-developed and honest plan,” she said of brewery expansions projects similar to the one New Belgium has embarked on in North Carolina.

For Jordan, part of having a well-developed expansion plan also means having a well-defined identity. She implored audience members to ask themselves a few key questions as they grow.

“What will our brand stand for in a far-away market?” she saidd. “What do I have to do to ensure quality? What is the purpose of growing into these markets?”

Her suggestion?

“Pick up the phone and have an honest conversation,” she said. “Aim for an outcome where everyone feels respected.”

Jordan also expressed concern for a dwindling amount of brewery resources like raw ingredients, trained staff members, shelf space and distributor focus.

“We are all likely to feel the pinch of this exuberance and marketplace flux,” she said.

Still, Jordan was hopeful that craft could achieve the Brewers Association’s stated goal of 10 percent market share by 2017.

“We will get to 10 percent and we will no doubt grow beyond that number,” she said. “Along the way I hope we ask ourselves, are we growing what we hoped to grow; will it make us smile about one another?”

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