Ninkasi Brewing Company leaders Nikos Ridge and Cheryl Collins shared their company’s evolving approach to innovation during Tuesday’s Brewbound Session in Santa Monica.
Ridge, who appointed Collins CEO in March, transitioning himself into the role of president, said the shift to a more focused approach to innovation is part of the Oregon craft brewery’s consumer centric approach.
“If we work from the perspective of craft beer consumer first and foremost, that benefits all of our other partners in the chain,” Ridge said. “It’s really about the retail customer that we have, creating pull off the shelf for the wholesale partners that we have. It’s about products that perform in the market.”
Ridge said Ninkasi is now focused on narrowing down its new products to the ones that are the most viable.
“It doesn’t stifle creativity as much as it helps direct the areas where we need to be focusing,” Ridge said. “This is no knock on our brewing team or our internal culture, but someone who has been brewing beer for 30 years may not have exactly the same palate as a new consumer to craft.
“We’ll brew a lot of things, and try a lot of things, but part of our process is not expecting every one of them to make it to market,” he added. “Your sales and marketing dollars become much, much more effective when the foundation of the beer that you’re putting out is much stronger.”
Collins added that there’s a misconception that creativity and innovation are synonymous.
“What we’re talking about is a very methodical approach to how we’re generating new products and how we’re going to measure their success in a more objective way,” she said.
Part of this intentional approach innovation involves conducting sensory and consumer testing, refining recipes and, sometimes, dumping beer.
“We’re staking our reputation every beer now,” Collins said. “And there are more people coming into craft so we really have to put our best foot forward. It’s pretty much a no brainer that if you’re being customer centric, you dump the beer if it’s not what you want.”
In another move to meet consumer demand, Ninkasi is adding a canning line. Ridge said the company won’t just package its flagship brands in cans, but will add a new line of “can-centric” products, including a “lighter beer” and a sessionable cryohop IPA.
Ninkasi will also be releasing a 15-pack to see how it performs in the Pacific Northwest, Ridge said.
“If it’s what the customer is demanding, whoever is willing to respond to that demand is going to eventually win the argument,” he said. “It has to be the right beer in the right package at the right price. You can’t undermine your business to support a volume package.”
In the video above, Ridge and Collins discuss the transition of power within the company, taking an external view of their business, addressing blind spots, and building and maintaining company culture
“Culture isn’t good or bad, it just is,” Collins said. “It’s forever changing. Forever morphing.”