There used to be a time when a far-away brewery finally bringing their beer to your area was an event. Tap takeovers, sales reps, and swag at every liquor store and bar was the norm for a new-to-market brewery. Now, with so many local breweries, it's getting harder and harder for regional breweries to make a big splash out of state. This week we asked the Fervent Few if they still get excited when a new brewery enters their market, and what these breweries can do to hold their attention.
Kevin York: “We may not be at the end of the multi-state-powerhouse-craft-brewery era, but it's certainly become much more difficult for a brewery to succeed with multi-state distribution. I also think it differs some by region.
In Massachusetts, I've actually seen a number of out-of-state breweries debut pretty successfully (Maine, Bell's, Cigar City, etc.). There's good buzz initially, people seek out the beer, but it dies down quickly—within months. Then those breweries almost become an afterthought compared to the next new beers released by local breweries. The craft drinker wants what's new, and they want new options consistently.
The key isn't the initial debut, it's holding people's attention. That's the hard part. Once an out-of-state brewery's beers are readily available, they lose their luster. This seems especially true if a brewery is only distributing its four or five core beers. How do they hold this new attention? I think they really need to invest in an area, working with their distributor to do more than simply distribute core beers. Hold special events, do special releases of harder-to-find beers, and have appearances by the brewing team. Perhaps it's also a focused distribution strategy that limits availability—a few limited drops a year. This is much more difficult for a big operation and even more difficult as a brewery expands its distribution outside bordering states. And of course, this limited approach may not balance with a brewery's sales goals associated with an expanded footprint (even though it may be best for marketing and branding).”
Rob Cartwright: “If you’re an existing, multi-state powerhouse, I think you can survive. But I don’t think we’ll see too many more brands succeed in this space. It's the ‘dangerous middle’—not large enough for national distro, but bigger than the home market. As the industry matures more and more, breweries looking for growth could play in that space, but whether they should is a different question.
Kevin York raises a good point regarding the core lineup. If you’re bringing an IPA in from 1,500 miles away, why should a consumer buy it versus a similar IPA made locally? On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to lead with your core (there’s a reason they’re called core beers), but often it seems that that decision is made in a vacuum, with little attention paid to the existing local beer landscape. Lately we’ve seen this trend changing a bit, with brewers from neighboring states entering with a very limited mix of core and more interesting options. The core offering lets me know you’re a real brewery and not just some place throwing random stuff in a can, while the more unique style grabs my attention. The latter is even more effective when you get a decent rotation going, as I’m always curious to see what’s new on the shelf. This strategy is unlikely to lead to powerhouse status, but it might allow brewers to successfully play outside their own backyard.”
Thad Parsons: “If you have focus, a unique selling proposition, and quality, you can survive. The best example I can highlight is the recent (eight months ago or longer?) launch of von Trapp Brewing in Virginia. At least for me, their focus on Lager (and a variety of them) has filled a slot while creating repeat customers. Hard to beat that!”
Tyler W. Plourd: “Branding and portfolio diversity are pivotal for an out-of-market brand coming over state lines. Showing up with an IPA, Pale, and a Stout won't set you apart enough to make a consumer want to buy your product over a familiar, in-state brand. Sure, some hazy IPAs have hype and it'll help, but for the long term there has to be something that will make you stand out. Living in Boston, we get a lot of out-of-state competitors, especially during beer festivals, and I think it's tough to put down roots and survive long term. Dropping off 20–30 cases will sell, but I don't know how sure I'd be with year-in-year-out success. It brings up another important topic regarding annual volume and expanding beyond reasonable measures: is it really important to be in five–six different states? Getting up over that 20,000 BBLs/year mark is a bit scary these days.”
Nick Yoder: “I think there's still room for the multi-state powerhouse, but breweries that attempt it need to be very deliberate about it. Gone are the days of just shipping in pallets and expecting them to sell.
There has to be local representation in the market. There can't be an expectation that distributors are going to do all the promoting. There need to be events to keep the brewery top of mind. And not just launch-week events. They have to happen frequently enough to keep the brewery at the forefront of people's minds.
Breweries entering a new state also need to limit how much they're sending in, especially at first. I've seen it far too often where XYZ brewery makes a big splash at first and then product just lingers on the shelves. Suddenly you're in a spot where there's only old beer, so people aren't getting the best representation or are informed enough to not buy it.
And please send more than just your core lineup. Core lineups are great to build a base upon, but there needs to be something to excite people, because the novelty of being some IPA from some other place wears off quickly.”
Dino Funari: “Maybe occasional drops are enough? Agree with Tyler. We see many out-of-state brands hit MA with a splash and then the market gets flooded and people lose interest. I get excited when we have big events because of the special drops we see when they are few and far between. As a new brewery with some brand recognition [Vitamin Sea Brewing], we're excited to do various national events to get our brand out there, with small drops at the same time.”
When was the last time you were excited about an out-of-town brewery that showed up in your area? Does the initial excitement always wear off, or do you go back for more? Join the Fervent Few and let us know where you stand on this and many other topics. Hang out with other enthusiasts and support the work of Good Beer Hunting.