Massachusetts-based Willie’s Superbrew emerged as the winner of Brewbound’s 2018 Pitch Slam competition, beating out seven other emerging craft brands during the two-day Brewbound Live business conference in Santa Monica, California.
The business pitch competition, sponsored by Craft Brew Alliance, featured eight contestants who delivered pitches during an initial judging round. Five companies advanced to the finals on Day Two of the Brewbound Live event.
The victory for Willie’s Superbrew, which underwent a rebrand and name change in May from Farmer Willie’s, marks a shift in the craft beer sector as entrepreneurs turn to new and innovative offerings as a way to stand out and capture new occasions.
Willie’s Superbrew founder and CEO Nico Enriquez impressed a panel of judges that included CBA director of innovation Karmen Olson, innovation brewmaster Tom Bleigh, Interact Boulder creative director Fred Hart, Wormtown Brewery managing partner Dave Fields, and OMAC Beverage Advisors managing director Ryan Lake.
According to Olson, Willie’s Superbrew’s brand story, healthy ingredients, and strong packaging design propelled the brand to victory.
In the final round, Enriquez competed against a diverse group of beverage companies, including founders and key executives from electrolyte-infused beer maker Sufferfest Beer Company; hard kombucha maker New Motion Beverages; non-alcoholic craft brewer Athletic Brewing Company; and Minneapolis-based craft brewery Indeed Brewing. Contestants who did not advance past the the first round included Cerveza XTECA, South Beach Brewing Company, and Young Lion Brewing Co.
“I think that this challenge, this Pitch Slam, has evolved with the category and more importantly with consumer needs,” Olson said. “We understand now that consumers need something different than they did when craft beer was on fire five years ago.”
During the final round of pitches, brands were given three minutes to present their business plans, share their passion for their products along with market research to illustrate their potential for future success in a crowded marketplace.
Margaret Link, director of marketing for San Francisco-based Sufferfest, highlighted her brand’s tagline, “Beer with Benefits,” citing a need for athletic consumers to have a functional better-for-you beer that can refresh after workouts and competitions.
Athletic Brewing Co. co-founder Bill Shufelt claimed that the non-alcoholic beer space could — eventually — be larger than the market for IPAs.
Indeed Brewing Company co-founder Tom Whisenand laid out his company’s strategy for targeting the highly competitive Wisconsin market. And New Motion Beverages co-founders Kyle Pool and Andy Sist sought to capitalize on the fast-growing kombucha category with a canned alcoholic offering.
In his pitch, Enriquez explained the brand’s “Superbrew” descriptor, highlighting the combination of superfood ingredients used to make the product as well as the fermentation process. The company’s offerings are gluten-free and include Ginger & Lemon and pomegranate and acai varieties with 4.5 percent ABV.
“What is a superbrew? We made it up because it gives us the white space to define who we are and what we stand for,” Enriquez told the judges. “We believe consumers deserve to know what is in their drinks. All of our products are made with real ingredients that are shown right on the can. Transparency is a key buzzword that is missing from this conference. Consumers everywhere are looking at their labels, turning them around, trying to find out what they are putting in their bodies — they don’t even have that option in alcohol.”
On stage, the judges complimented the product’s flavor and market positioning. Hart told Enriquez he believed the company was helping boost the need for transparency in the craft beer space. Fields called the company’s rebrand a “bold move” but suggested the it could tell its story better online via social media.
“I liked that they had the courage to take a risk and rebrand — I think that shows some real commitment to addressing a new category,” Olson told Brewbound after the Pitch Slam. “I also really liked that the need state they’re addressing with this specific product, [which] has a lot to do with permissibility and consumers’ need to feel OK about drinking alcohol. So things like ginger and turmeric and acai and all these different ingredients that are in the beverages make it more permissible for folks to drink.”
With its victory, Willie’s Superbrew won a $10,000 industry awareness package from Brewbound, as well as a trip to Portland, Oregon, for an education and strategy lesson with CBA executives and brewers.
Speaking to Brewbound after the Pitch Slam, Enriquez said the brand recently signed with New York wholesaler Union Beer and is looking to expand into other states throughout the Northeast as the company plans for an eventual nationwide expansion.
“I’m a little bit surprised that we won, there were a lot of good breweries,” Enriquez told Brewbound. “It’s a testament to the team that we have and the fact that we did take a risk together, and make that choice together to really try and make something different.”
Willie’s Superbrew joins previous winners of the Brewbound Pitch Slam, formerly known as the Startup Brewery Challenge, including Novo Brazil Brewing, Armada Brewing, Border X Brewing, Hopewell Brewing, Wynwood Brewing Company, Braxton Brewing Company, CODA Brewing, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, and 5 Stones Brewing.