Craft beer goes mainstream: What’s all the froth about?
Craft beer is no longer occupying a niche space in the market – it’s moved onto supermarket shelves. We talked with co-founder and director of Deep Creek Breweries Jarred Maclachlan about his brewery's move to sell canned craft beer in Foodstuffs supermarkets.
Simply put, craft beer is beer that’s been made traditionally by a small brewery, not a massive corporation.
Much like the organic and premium product movements in the food and beverage industry, craft beer is no longer just found shunted into the corners of liquor shops.
The big-flavoured beer has found its way into the mainstream consumer consciousness and onto the shelves of New Zealand’s main supermarkets.
Research by ANZ last year found off-premise retail sales of craft beer have soared 42 percent in the last 12 months, now accounting for 13 percent of total beer sales.
While craft beer rises to the top in popularity, the overall volume of beer consumed in New Zealand has fallen by 12 percent since 2008.
ANZ says this reflects a preference for quality over quantity, with craft ale becoming a fast favourite with consumers.
With this shift in tastes comes an adaptation by retailers to meet customers’ needs.
New World’s Thorndon, Wellington store in the craft beer capital was fast to acclimatise and now boasts over 600 different craft and imported beers.
But supermarkets outside the craft beer hub are also warming to the trend and expanding their ranges past the usual big brewery offering.
Craft beer’s journey to mainstream
One brewery encouraging the move into the wider market is Deep Creek. It began as a brew bar and restaurant on the North Shore in 2010.
Co-founder and director Jarred Maclachlan says its opening was pretty early days for Auckland’s craft beer scene.
“When we started Deep Creek Browns Bay, we had a lot of people coming in the door and going ‘I want a Heineken’ so we’d point them in the direction of a bar that had it,” he says.
“Auckland’s quite a way behind Wellington in terms of its maturity of a craft beer place.”
After a long process of coaxing stubborn customers to be more adventurous, Maclachlan says even some of their most ‘hardcore Lion Red’ customers became converted to big, hoppy brews.
Deep Creek gained a following and expanded to Orewa and Oneroa on Waiheke Island, as well as opening a brewery in Silverdale.
Maclachlan says he thinks in 2016, craft beer has definitely entered the mainstream consumer consciousness more.
Foodstuffs a fast mover
Deep Creek Breweries co-founder and craft beer expert Jarred Maclachlan says most supermarkets have a select few craft brands from well established brands.
It’s not widely around in most supermarkets, he says, but Deep Creek and Foodstuffs are about to embark on a New Zealand first.
Deep Creek has become the first ever craft brewery to stock its core range as six-pack cans in supermarkets.
The cans will be rolled out in New World, Four Square and Pak’n Save supermarkets in Auckland from June and then later, nationwide.
“Foodstuffs have been really good in recognising craft and making shelf space for us to get our products on the shelves,” Maclachlan says.
Cans over bottles
Deep Creek’s decision to stock beers in supermarkets is to encourage casual or first time drinkers to explore craft beer market more, he says.
“It’s helping people take a leap into something a bit more flavour fuelled. If they haven’t been exposed to the craft movement before, it encourages them to look around and see what other great beers are there. It’s similar to wine, as people get a more mature palate they start to look for something a bit hoppier or a sour beer – they start to explore.”
Though it also makes bottled craft beers, cans were chosen as the vessel for supermarkets as they are easier to manage than glass bottles, he says. No light can impact on the beer so it’s less oxidised, and it’s easier to freight around.
The cans are coloured silver with a lashing of different bright colours for each beer type.
Maclachlan says the stainless steel look reflects the brewing tanks Deep Creek workers are amongst all the time, while a small illustration on the back provides a snapshot into the “soul of the beer”.
“Our core range has a plain front face which is easily readable off a shelf, but they still have the character of a craft can and the explanation of the beer itself on the back,” he says.
The illustrations are based on an artist’s murals at its first Browns Bay brew bar and tie into the name of each beer.
Alongside this movement into supermarkets is a simultaneous launch of its Tap Room at its Silverdale brewery (pictured below).
The Tap Room incorporates an experiential retail theme to its mix.
Customers passionate about the craft can drop by and watch the brewing, bottling and canning process in action with a tour around the factory.
Meanwhile, a front room allows customers to taste its range of beers on site and even fill a flagon full of their favourite draught.
When looking at the bigger picture, craft ale is still a minority in the beer market, making up just 13 percent of beer sales. However, most are predicting this is only going to skyrocket.
Craft beer exports could increase by up to 300 percent in the next decade in New Zealand, while the local market grew 30 percent last year.
Maclachlan says the drive behind getting craft beer into supermarkets is to open up the movement to a wider range of people.
"The biggest thing for us is getting the six-pack craft to be accessible to more of the market. The volume of beer consumption is dropping, but craft is increasing significantly showing people are going towards a higher quality of product and not just drinking 24 packs of Lion Red," he says.