Nearly every industry has been impacted by rising prices. While the price of craft beer, hard seltzer, and cider has not risen nearly as quickly as gasoline or groceries, prices have gone up. In addition to ongoing shipping delays and labor shortages, rising prices for grain and fertilizer after Russia’s war against Ukraine is intensifying price increases. Restaurant prices have had the largest gains since the 1980s, also reflecting higher costs for food and workers. As consumers become more discretionary with their spending, they have been paying more attention to prices across brands and have even been willing to ditch brands they have been loyal to for years to spend less whether they are enjoying a beverage at home or at a restaurant.
Retaining loyal customers and recapturing their purchasing power once their budget can afford it or prices return to lower levels is reliant on brands having open and transparent communication with customers during inflation. While no one enjoys paying more for goods and services, it is something everyone is being impacted by, creating a universal understanding and acceptance that prices must go up. However, that does not mean that customers will be amenable to drastic or sudden price jumps, increases that seem out of alignment with competitors, or higher prices that appear to last longer than necessary.
Most marketing and sales experts would agree that customer retention is more cost-effective for a business than new customer acquisition. As consumers and businesses watch their discretionary spending and cut back on perceived extras, savvy companies will invest more effort into maintaining positive relationships to protect their bottom lines. However, receiving an email, text message or phone call may be the last thing a customer wants.
They might also be the last thing a customer pays attention to. The amount of promotional email the average person receives on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Not to mention that many email services now allow users to filter emails considered to be promotional into folders where they may never be seen, let alone opened and read. Text messages from unknown numbers typically stir feelings of suspicion. An unexpected text message might even be viewed as a smishing scam trying to steal personal information. A handwritten note is entirely different, it invokes curiosity versus fear or annoyance.
Nothing says “pay attention” like a personalized handwritten note. No one flips past or does not see a handwritten envelope in their mailbox. These stand out from everything else that was delivered. Recipients wonder what could be inside and while envelopes that look like bills or advertisements and graphic postcards are set to the side, handwritten envelopes are usually opened immediately. The attention-grabbing nature of a handwritten envelope provides an instant advantage that even the biggest and most prevalent direct mail marketers cannot overcome.
Spending hours writing notes by hand can be prohibitive, especially for businesses that have been struggling to hire, so consider hiring a robot to pick up a pen and do the writing instead. Handwritten envelopes have been found to have a 300% greater open rate than standard envelopes. And handwritten marketing has response rates 7-21x greater than printed mail, with a return on investment 3-7x greater than print. Some companies have even found that retention rates are 50% higher for customers who receive a handwritten thank you note.
The value of sending a handwritten note is enhanced by integrations with CRM systems that automate the process of when to send a note to a customer and what message to include. For example, a brewer can automate notes to send to customers on the anniversary of their joining a loyalty program, when there are special deals or limited time offerings, events taking place at local tasting rooms, or on other special occasions like customers’ birthdays.
A handwritten note could even be used to explain to customers why price increases are happening. While an end consumer might have heard that the cost of fertilizer has gone up, that there is an aluminum can shortage, and that labor costs are rising, that does not mean the will think of these things when they are standing in the refrigerated section at the grocery store or ordering from a menu at a restaurant. In that decision-making moment, brewers do not want to be a faceless corporation that is raising prices to take advantage of a consumer. A more advantageous situation would be to be the brewer who sent a handwritten note thanking that customer for remaining loyal to the brand, when possible, despite price increases that were necessary for x, y and z reasons. Reminding customers of the people behind the production scenes of their favorite beverage and explaining the challenges being face humanize the situation and remind customers that everyone is in this together.
Not all of the information a brewer may want to communicate to customers could be explained in one card, but that tool could be the gateway inviting a customer to visit a landing page that breaks down the need for price increases. Instead of just skirting the issue with a message from the founder, dive into the issue. Profile employees who go to great lengths to get to work on a daily basis and highlight the increased cost for them to put gasoline in their vehicles. Explain the challenges being faced by farmers who have had to pay more for diesel to run farm equipment, on top of fertilizer costs that rose 80% in 2021 and another 30% or more in 2022. Provide insights into the costs of operating the brewery and how higher energy bills might be impacting the bottom line. Knowing they why and how behind price increases will certainly not help retain or win over every customer but making the effort could be the difference-maker for some people. And if others cannot afford to continue buying while prices remain high, the good intentions of a brewer’s transparency could be what brings that customer back sooner or wins them over from another brand once prices are reduced. Especially if they feel a brand that they were fans of in the past took advantage of the situation and turned inflation into “greed-flation”.
In addition to providing insight to customers about why price increases are happening, invite and give them the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions. Ensure that customers have multiple avenues to contact a customer service representative at the company and that feedback and answers are provided in a timely manner. Allowing customers to provide feedback makes them feel more invested in the brand and can help build stronger relationships that can withstand difficult times.
By offering customers opportunities to provide feedback via the company website, email, or social media channels, brands can have more control over their ability to monitor and respond to the feedback they are receiving compared to customers leaving feedback and reviews on public forums or other social channels that are more difficult to track and can damage reputation. Responding to customer feedback is just as important as asking them to provide it.
Customers will feel more valued, appreciated, and heard by a company that thanks them for supporting the brand. And if feedback is negative, a brand might be able to win over a new customer while impressing those that are already loyal by listening and maybe even implementing change based on customers’ opinions. This makes customers feel that their feedback did not go to waste and was important. Building a feedback loop with customers creates more of a community, can help with customer retention, and is what brands that last the tests of time get right. Imagine getting a thank you note from a brand because of a review left on a website or commentary posted on a social media channel. Most customers would be amazed that a brand would care enough to go to that effort and would remember it.
There is no quick fix to help businesses recover from pandemic complications and now inflation. How deeply inflation will impact consumer spending habits remains to be seen. Identifying ways to recruit and retain employees as costs increase and labor shortages persist will take creativity and new approaches. As brewers develop solutions and evolve to thrive in the post-pandemic era, the need for effective communications will not diminish. After two years of a seemingly never-ending stream of new problems, making the most of upcoming opportunities will be critical to making 2022 as successful as possible.
Shortages, surcharges and sketchy availability: that’s not what any craft brewer, distiller or winemaker wants to hear about their supply stream. Yet that’s the reality that many brewers have been, and still are, living with after the pandemic played havoc with CO2 (carbon dioxide) availability.
The lack of regular, planned delivery and variable costs and surcharges of CO2 has brewers looking at ways to cut their costs or amount of usage of CO2, including replacing CO2 with nitrogen in some capacity. Nitrogen is readily available and an inert gas that does not typically react with its surroundings, so there’s no worry of adverse reactions with the brewed products.
Reducing and Replacing CO2 Use
Matt Malloy is the founder and CEO of Dorchester Brewing in Boston, Massachusetts, a contract partner brewery usually brewing for and partnering with 12 to 15 breweries at any given time. When facing a 75 percent reduction in planned CO2 deliveries from their supplier, Malloy knew it was time to look into new and alternative ways to keep his taphouse and brewery producing, especially as he is responsible for brewing beer for his partner breweries.
“We’ve long had a great relationship with our gas supplier,” said Malloy. “But this became a serious issue for us. We are a contract brewer for others, so production and quality are always our absolute priorities. We adhere to strict best practices with the required equipment for our industry and have to perform at a certain expected level. We have a bulk CO2 tank but couldn’t get the supplies necessary to keep us going, so we had to start looking at other options and even other suppliers than we had previously. We began by looking at where we use CO2 in our production. (Like other brewers, they found it in use virtually everywhere in their process.) We decided that the 25 percent supply we could get would go towards the most needed tasks. Then we would look for alternative solutions for other tasks that would cut the CO2 usage or, in some instances, replace the need for CO2 altogether with a better, more economical option. In our research and testing (Dorchester Brewing has a full-time quality control and testing lab), we found that we could initially replace CO2 with nitrogen in our canning, seaming and kegging operations. Additional notable savings came from using it to purge our two 60-bbl and one 120-bbl brite tanks. It was pretty much a one-for-one swap between CO2 and nitrogen. Our gas supplier helped with suggestions, and we were able to use our current piping systems by installing T-valves for switching use to liquid nitrogen supply, vaporizers and dewars when needed. We also found that cleaning under pressure used less gas than cleaning in place. All of these changes were made incrementally, using slow and steady testing to ensure that using nitrogen in place of CO2 did not compromise the quality of the beer in any one step of change.”
Malloy told Beverage Master Magazine that one very effective thing he and his brewers started doing is incorporating the German method of Spunding in their brewing process, using special valves attached to your tanks. Spunding literally means bunging, and the old German technique is making a comeback and something that Malloy says every craft brewer should at least try. It involves carefully monitoring the present gravity and sealing off the tank after the initial, aggressive fermentation stages have been completed. Once the wort ferments to near the targeted final gravity and orifices are closed off, you set the Spunding valve on the tank to your desired hold pressure setting. The valve’s attached gauge monitors PSI levels, and any levels above your set pressure tell the variable pressure relief valve to open automatically and release pressure down to the preset level when the valve will once again close. Spunding traps the naturally occurring CO2 created during fermentation so that it absorbs into the wort as it turns into beer. When done correctly, a brewer ends up with a perfectly carbonated beer ready for packaging and a decreased need for additional purchased CO2.
“Right from the start, we reduced our CO2 needs by 30 percent,” said Malloy. “Spunding saves us money, but I also believe it makes better beer. There is an increased sense of quality with better aroma components. We are making better beer, with less cost and more flexibility.”
Malloy encourages brewers to initially consider ways to save on and reduce CO2 usage before blindly transitioning everything to nitrogen.
“As brewers, we have to be super nimble and flexible in our thinking,” said Malloy. “Here at Dorchester Brewing, we’ve looked at and studied every step in our brewing and production process. As a result, we now see some of the duties that traditionally call for CO2 use, like purging and blowing down, as valid ways to use nitrogen instead and save money.”
Malloy says that Spunding, combined with an intense review of brewery practices, has gotten their facility down to a 50 percent reduction in the amount of CO2 they would typically require, but he’s not stopping there. He is currently testing nitrogen use in his can seamers and fillers. As a result, he expects to reduce his CO2 deliveries from once a week to once a month, resulting in even more savings.
Nitrogen offers a way to create your own gas supply or have a less costly bulk option. Onsite nitrogen generators provide nitrogen on demand and, depending on use, can pay for themselves in a short time, sometimes within the same year. Cryogenic bulk tanks offer an onsite nitrogen supply with fewer deliveries, and dewars are available for more minor production needs.
Innovation Leads to a Change inPhilosophy and Brewery Practices
“Spunding and nitrogen use have changed how we approach brewing, but those practices have also built a new philosophy within our brewery,” said Malloy. “We are always looking to improve, and now we see a change in behavior within our team. We’ve changed cleaning protocols and team behavior. Our team now sees value in every pound of gas used. Each pound used is sacred, and this type of thinking breeds innovation. We’ve used these protocols with all our brews, with no issues, differences or deficiencies noticed.”
Malloy says that these changes help production, but just as significantly, they also add up to reduced costs for brewers. The cost savings in buying bulk is significant, with some breweries paying up to eight times as much for supply as Dorchester Brewing.
“I would recommend that craft brewers first look at all of their production tasks in detail and, where applicable, incorporate the Spunding valves in their process,” said Malloy. “The upfront cost would be that of the valves, but the savings resulting from Spunding can be significant. Getting caught short can cause irreparable harm as a craft brewer, so you should also work with your gas supplier to investigate and research the possibilities of using nitrogen for as many practices as possible. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.”
Malloy is invested in the brewing community and is willing to discuss his experiences and help to show other craft brewers how they can start reducing costs through Spunding, nitrogen use or both in their brewery, pub or taproom. In addition, Dorchester Brewing offers free lid seaming checks and DO (dissolved oxygen) testing for area brewers.
Reusing Produced CO2 ThroughCarbon Capture: Earthly Labs
Due to the nature of the brewing process, breweries produce large amounts of CO2. With CO2 supplies being in such short and erratic supply, plus variable pricing structures, it may make sense for breweries to consider recapturing some of that produced CO2 for their use. Earthly Labs, a division of Chart Industries, is at the forefront of CO2 capture technology, manufacturing plug-and-play carbon capture units that enable a brewery start capturing and using their own produced CO2 within one day of installation.
The Earthly Labs CO2 capture technology is designed to capture CO2 waste from smaller sources that ultimately make up more than half of all CO2 emissions. For breweries specifically, this translates to allowing brewers to capture their own produced CO2 and subsequently purify it to food-grade gas for reuse in the packaging and carbonating processes.
Using recaptured CO2 for your beer immediately allows a brewer to reduce CO2 purchases and the associated delivery fees and surcharges. Additionally, peace of mind comes with decreasing worries and making an environmentally conscious decision to increase sustainability. Earthly Labs compares the capture and reuse of CO2 to brewers or distillers disposing of spent grain because it is also a way to become more sustainable while also simultaneously benefitting your brewery’s bottom line.
Amy George, founder and CEO of Earthly Labs, says that while distilleries and wineries don’t have the amount of need that breweries have, they are also in the early stages of showing interest. Distilleries are continuously looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, with some having plans featuring net zero carbon futures. Wineries are also exploring ways to capture and reuse CO2 onsite to help with tank purging or carbonation needs for specific products.
George says that their CO2 capture units are about the size of a double-door refrigerator and can be running and capturing gas the next day after installation if the brewery is producing gas. Training is straightforward, taking one to two days. After that, the brewery employees will be fully able to use the system under the oversight of the Earthly Labs team. Additional support is always available, including the possibility of remote monitoring. Return on investment timetables varies by producer, based on the amount of gas captured versus what a craft producer would have to pay for supply, surcharges, frequency of delivery, and more. As the price of CO2 rises, the return-on-investment timeline shortens, but on average, the client can expect the units to pay for themselves within two to three years.
Earthly Lab’s units are currently in use by breweries and craft producers of all sizes, but George says that the sweet spot for their workhorse unit, the CiCi ® (Oak), is for producers in the 5,000 to 20,000 bbl range. They can accommodate smaller producers with their CiCi ® (Teak) units, and larger producers will benefit from their CiCi ® (Elm) units.
George believes the complex, ongoing supply and delivery conditions will ultimately lead breweries to explore ways to remain viable and become more efficient in their operations. This includes capturing the CO2 waste for reuse that would typically be released into the environment and looking at replacement alternatives for CO2 within production operations.
Earthly Labs works to accommodate all producers, including offering a winery leasing program to provide flexibility during harvest seasons and to help eliminate the upfront expenditure by spreading payments into more manageable monthly programs. Additionally, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act also allows for tax credits for these types of purchases.
Chart Industries CO2 storage solutions and partner networks offer opportunities to turn waste streams into value for businesses while reducing environmental impact. Chart also partners with buyers and distributors to help sell excess CO2 to other partners in the exchange ecosystem. The ultimate goal is to reduce as many emissions as possible to help achieve overall climate goals.
Enabling customers to customize their purchases is a quick and easy way to expand into new markets and boost profits. Some distilleries and craft brewers are beginning to take advantage of this innovative approach to scale their businesses. For example, Silent Pool Distillers increased their orders fivefold in 2020 in part with the help of product customization.
Possibilities abound for other distillers and craft brewers to do the same. Moreover, it’s easier to enable customization than most business owners think. Today’s product customizers offer automated processes that reduce the required amount of attention and manual labor to little or nothing.
What is Product Customization?
Product customization allows customers to change the visual appearance of products according to their own individual needs and desires. Sellers empower consumers to build their own unique products, perhaps by adding their names or those of others. Depending on the specific product and customization service, customers may also be able to add photographs or longer messages of their own writing. In a sense, the product becomes a canvas for them to create upon.
Some of the beer, wine, and spirits industry’s biggest names allow their bottles to be customized, offering proof of concept. Tito’s Vodka and Hennessy VS Cognac bottles can be etched, and a large selection of bottles can be engraved, including Don Julio tequila, Woodford Reserve bourbon, and Dom Perignon champagne. Other makers, such as Maker’s Mark, Jameson, and Jack Daniel’s, offer bespoke labels. Silent Pool Distillers does this for four of their distinctive gins.
A wide range of items can be customized, including purses, jewelry, keychains, apparel, towels, and bedding. There are even services that customize things you wouldn’t expect, like USB drives, coffee sleeves, drinking straws, bobbleheads, and — believe it or not — cookies or cakes.
Why Enable Product Customization
The answer is simple: product customization improves the bottom line. According to a 2019 Tech Clarity survey of 285 companies that offer customization, 71 percent listed increased sales as one of its benefits. More than 50 percent pointed to differentiation and higher margins. Thirty-five percent nodded toward customization’s “cool factor,” and 34 percent said they experienced higher close rates. Forty-two percent indicated that offering customization had become a necessity in their industry to stay competitive.
Product customization elevates profitability for a number of reasons. First, customers are willing to pay more for customized products. According to Bain & Company, they will reach into their wallets to the tune of 20 percent more than the uncustomized version. This means manufacturers who customize can set higher prices. Meanwhile, they don’t incur new costs, since automated processes minimize the work required. While customers may only purchase a single customized item or a small lot, these sales are a painless way for the business to expand, and they do add up.
Secondly, product customization encourages customer loyalty. The same Bain & Company report also found that, “customers who had customized a product online engaged more with the company. They visited its website more frequently, stayed on the page longer and were more loyal to the brand.”
Happy customers can result in repeat business and referrals to their friends and family. The ability to customize sets a business apart, distinguishing it from competitors in the eyes of consumers.
If that wasn’t already enough, Bain reported lower rates of return for customized products than for their mass-produced counterparts. When customers take ownership of the look and feel of their purchase, they tend to be more satisfied with the outcome and less likely to change their minds.
All of this adds up to increased sales and a better business.
Why Customers Love Customization
Customization appeals to customers for many reasons. Part of the draw is that it makes customers feel special. They are willing to invest their time and effort into creating a unique product that is tailored to their own tastes and exacting requirements. Since they are the ones who determine what the final product looks like, it is sure to please them.
Another reason is that customization provides customers with a sense of control, that all-too-scarce commodity in today’s hectic, stressful, and sometimes overwhelming world. They are in the driver’s seat throughout the process. This is one element of their lives that they can impose their will upon and be confident of receiving gratification.
It can also be just plain fun. For instance, Silent Pool Distillery’s user-friendly website steps prospective customers through the creation process. After clicking on the option to personalize their gin, they are taken to a new web page with four varieties that may be customized: Original Juniper, English Garden, Fresh Grapefruit, and Spiced Pepper. When customers click on the name of the flavor they want to purchase, a new page comes up with the product’s specifications.
Beneath the “Add to Cart” button, a “Customize” option takes customers to an interactive interface where they design their bottle’s label. A large button with an upward-pointing arrow invites them to upload photographs of themselves, their loved ones, pets, or places special to them. Alternatively, they may choose from a library of 140 million stock photos arranged by helpful categories like “Business & Finance,” “Sport & Extreme,” or “Travel and Vacations.”
Next to the upload arrow is a button that allows clients to add text to the label, giving it a special name or writing warm messages to recipients. Customers can change the font size, make the text bold, position it anywhere from top to bottom, center the words, or align them to the left or right. They can even bend the letters along a curve of their own making. Magnifying glass icons allow them to zoom in to view fine details or zoom out to gauge the overall look.
If a given component starts to mess up the label, then the customer can delete it. If the whole design ends up being a disaster, they can reset the label with the click of a button and start over.
The result is a unique, bespoke bottle of high-quality, sustainable gin that’s perfect for gift-giving on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, as well as for celebrations, bachelor and bachelorette parties, showers, and weddings.
Throughout the process, customers delight in the knowledge that they are putting together a one-of-a-kind present. Surprise is guaranteed: No matter how hard the recipient might try to guess what’s coming, they will never be able to guess what this gift is going to look like. Connection also seems assured — people tend to react positively to seeing their own name on an item, which often translates to feeling good about the person who gave it to them.
No Hassle Customization for Sellers
Savvy distillers and craft brewers are understandably wary about adding a new feature to their already complex businesses. The last thing sellers want is to labor over a single item. Luckily, those days are over. Today’s customization services integrate with business’s existing websites and simplify the customization process itself.
Take the case of Silent Pool Distillers. The distillery got their start offline, producing artisanal spirits with local ingredients in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a nationally protected landscape in the United Kingdom. To take advantage of online sales, they built an online storefront on the e-commerce platform BigCommerce. Thus, the distillery was well positioned when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing pubs and restaurants in droves. The spurt in online shopping boosted their sales to new levels.
When the business sought a way to start customizing their products, they wanted a service that would integrate with BigCommerce and not force them to reinvent their online shop. They chose Zakeke, a visual commerce platform that works seamlessly with not only BigCommerce, but also many other ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, Etsy, Wix and WooCommerce. It can also employ an application programming interface (API) for integration if needed.
Silent Pool Distillers installed Zakeke’s software and configured its easy-to-use “plug and play” system. In the context of information technology, “plug and play” means software that does not require users to understand programming or make any adjustments. Instead, it is designed to work well immediately from the moment it is brought to life.
After this initial setup, the distillery’s preexisting online shop gave customers access to Zakeke’s cloud-based platform for designing their own labels for certain products. Since the process is automated, this personalization happens without requiring attention from the seller. Once an order is placed, all employees at Silent Pool Distillers need to do is download the customer’s file, print it out, and attach it to an appropriate bottle.
By equipping the Silent Pool Distillery to offer bespoke labels on their bottles, Zakeke boosted their sales while allowing the distillers to remain focused on what they do best: making high-quality spirits.
The Power of Personalization
Today’s customers increasingly expect the ability to personalize their products. A 2020 report by Dassault Systèmes and CITE Research found that 83 percent of consumers “expect products or services to adapt [to their individual specifications] in a matter of moments or hours.”
The future belongs to businesses who can meet this challenge. Local distilleries and craft breweries stand to gain by incorporating customization, just like the big names in the industry. Branching out in this direction enabled Silent Pool Distillers to capture a valuable new market segment and increase sales even during the dark days of the pandemic.
The power of personalization helps retailers please long-standing customers and attract new ones. That’s why distilleries and craft brewers of all kinds should consider adding product customization.
Restaurants, bars and other businesses within the hospitality industry were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, restaurant industry sales in 2021 were down a staggering $65 billion from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. During shut-downs, quarantines, social distancing and other pandemic-related disruptions, many hospitality businesses struggled or shut down, including 90,000 restaurant locations that temporarily or permanently closed because of COVID.
During the pandemic, bars were forced to reduce capacity limits, negatively impacting their profitability. Reopening after quarantine was expensive, requiring costly adaptations, including air filtration systems, plexiglass dividers, equipment for touchless transactions, cleaning and sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment for staff.
Hospitality businesses – like companies across many industries – also struggled with employee shortages, supply chain issues and soaring inflation.
This “perfect storm” of unprecedented challenges led four million small businesses to take out $390 billion in loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. The EIDL was part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and US Treasury as an expanded part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act.
Although the loan payments were deferred for two years, they’ve still been accruing interest until the first EIDL payment was due.
Many small business owners have questions and concerns about the repayment process. The timing is not ideal, as many businesses – including restaurants, bars, hotels, and other hospitality venues – need funds to prepare for holiday sales and events.
If you took out an EIDL loan,here are some valuable tips to act:
Contact: Business owners can contact their local district legislators by calling, e-mailing, or writing letters to express concern. Loanmantra.com has put together a tool kit with:
A sample form letter, an e-mail draft, a phone script and phone numbers to save time. Unsure of who a district representative may be? Find them here.
Share: There’s strength in numbers, so share this message with other businesses, business networks, chambers of commerce, businesses in the same area, associations and like groups.
Reach out: Talk to people every day for the “sphere of influence” to gain community support.
Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when and where it’s needed.
Also, here are some valuable repayment tips:
The loans won’t be forgiven: Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), EIDL loans won’t be forgiven and need to be repaid. All Economic Injury Disaster Loan recipients received an email from The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) with the subject line: Important EIDL Reminder, which contains important information regarding your EIDL account setup and payment.
Set up a repayment schedule: Payments were deferred for the first two years, during which, interest accrued. Now, business owners must start making their monthly payments on their due date, which is determined by the “Effective Date” noted on your business’s promissory note.
Another payment can seem overwhelming stressful given inflation, staffing and supply-related pressures. Don’t look at the big picture. Instead, think about the incremental payments today as steps in the right direction. Set a calendar reminder or appointment to make this payment every month so you will stay ahead of schedule.
EIDL loans must be paid via a special platform: There are two separate platforms you will need to access your loan information and pay your loan balance.
First, Capital Access Financial System (CAFS) maintains your EIDL & PPP loan information. This includes your original balance, interest, accrued interest balance, etc. To obtain the EIDL loan information for your business, please select ‘EIDL’ and then ‘borrower search’ from the menu options. When registering on the CAFS website, carefully follow each step. There is no room for error when using this system, so be thorough and accurate when inputting your information.
Secondly, pay.gov allows businesses to input their bank information and to set up recurring payments online. Inside your profile, choose ‘Make an SBA 1201 Borrower Payment’ as the menu option. While registering on pay.gov may be simpler than registering on CAFS, it is not easy to change bank account information after you begin your loan payments.
Use the right number: Keep in mind that your SBA loan number is different than your EIDL loan number. This information can be found on the top of the second page of the promissory note.
EIDL loans accrued interest: Many business owners received their first EIDL loan in early 2020 and a second EIDL loan in 2021. For many borrowers, that means interest has been accruing for more than 24 months, with additional interest accruing for more than 16 months. Borrowers are responsible for paying back the loan plus all accrued interest.
This type of loan program has ended: The COVID-19 EIDL program is not accepting new applications, increase requests, or reconsideration.
Business owners should focus on what they do best: Run the business and do it well. That’s why Loan Mantra is providing advocacy tools for business owners on loanmantra.com so they can be empowered to take action and have the latest information to make the best decisions.
Small businesses have been the backbone of the US economy and deserve fair economic terms and transparency. Loan Mantra is here as a resource to serve companies of all sizes and types during both good and turbulent times.
About the Author
Neeraj (Raj) Tulshan is the Founder and Managing Member of Loan Mantra, a financial advisory firm with best-in-class and proprietary fintech, BLUE (“Borrower Lender Underwriting Environment”). Loan Mantra, Powered by BLUE, is next-level finance: a one-stop-shop for business borrowers to secure traditional, SBA or MCA financing from trusted lenders in a secure, collaborative, and transparent platform. Clients turn to Raj because they know he will always pick up the phone and offer unparalleled financial counsel in a remarkably human—even friendly—way.
About Loan Mantra
Small business owners identify two obstacles to their success: access to capital and financial education. Loan Mantra removes these hurdles so business owners can spend more time actually building their business.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all aspects of life in 2020, from how we received medical care to how we dined at restaurants, shopped at stores and even enjoyed our favorite craft beers and spirits. In past years, craft beverage enthusiasts planned entire road trips and even flew to other countries to experience what the best brewers and distillers of the world had to offer. But during the COVID era, producers were forced to switch gears and consider offering virtual tastings as one of the many ways to stay in business due to restrictions and shutdowns.
We heard a lot about virtual beer, wine and spirit tastings during the height of the pandemic, but those conversations have dwindled as business picked back up as usual. Yet there still may be a place for virtual tasting experiences in today’s craft beverage industry, just as long as producers can evolve with the times and reestablish the relevance of this service among the mix of in-person offerings and events.
What Are Virtual Tastings?
Virtual tastings are a relatively new concept, and many people don’t consider trying them because they don’t understand what they are. Virtual tastings are immersive, alcohol-themed experiences you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. Many of them require breweries and distilleries to ship boxes to households with sample-size portions, materials to read and opportunities for online engagement.
During the COVID-19 shutdowns, some beverage producers turned to virtual tastings as a way to keep their customer base engaged and stay afloat as profits declined. But even during times of normal business operations, virtual tastings can be used to celebrate birthdays at home and corporate events in an office. Beyond the confines of a physical tasting room, there are also opportunities for virtual tastings at team-building activities, couples’ date nights and social gatherings to help local groups get to know each other.
Types of Virtual Tastings
Some breweries and distilleries have created virtual tasting packages with beverage and food pairings to entice customers’ attention, particularly when in-person tastings were not an option. Recently, we have seen cooking kits emerge with alcoholic beverage samples and opportunities to participate in live online events.
Other virtual tastings experiences involve sending a few bottles or cans of products to consumers with exclusive online access to an hour-long video call with a brewery or distillery representative. There have also been question-and-answer sessions offered with brewers and distillers, beverage judging sheets provided so consumers can rate and pick their favorites and seasonal experiences that highlight fall and winter brews, for example. To further capitalize on virtual tasting experiences, producers can offer the option of purchasing branded merchandise, such as hoodies and beanies, as part of a shipped package for an additional, discounted cost.
Benefits of Virtual Tastings
During the pandemic times, the benefits of virtual tastings were evident because of the lack of other tasting options allowed and available. Virtual tastings enabled beverage fans to support struggling producers during difficult times while still feeling like part of the beer and spirits community.
But even now, there are some significant benefits of virtual tastings that are worth considering for the months and years ahead. If marketed well, these socially distanced offerings can help breweries and distilleries reach new customers outside their home region who may not ever travel to the actual tasting room. During the winter cold and flu season, when COVID-19 cases tend to increase, virtual tastings appeal to some consumers as a safer and healthier alternative. If a tasting package includes printed materials that are informational and fun to read, there are opportunities here to help consumers better understand a beverage brand and its products. Since these packages can be designed around different interests and price points, they can offer something for everyone, from the casual drinker to the true connoisseur.
Challenges of Virtual Tastings
Yet many challenges come with putting together virtual tasting packages, first and foremost, their relevance and value. Beverage producers must make these types of delivery/online tastings worth the cost and add value consumers wouldn’t necessarily get by visiting the establishment in person. There has been declining demand for these services lately and less internal dedication to marketing them since people are willing to travel more and crave a return to normalcy in the outside world.
Meanwhile, some breweries and distilleries have been unsure of what to charge for virtual tastings. The average cost for this service is between $50 and $200, depending on how much product is shipped and other perks offered. For the virtual tasting industry to be sustainable, more effort will need to be directed to packaging and shipping beverages, which is a significant pivot from the previous experience of many beverage operations. There also need to be staff members who are tech-savvy and trained in how to plan and lead online events, as well as handle the inevitable technology glitches that so commonly occur during video calls and group chats.
Creative Ideas for Virtual Tastings
If virtual beer and spirit tastings will survive as a side gig in the craft beverage industry, now is the time to get creative with offerings, pricing and perks. If this is something that a brewery or distillery owner is interested in getting involved with, it might be worth hiring a company or consultant specializing in virtual experiences instead of handling all aspects internally. At a minimum, it is worth researching examples of successful virtual tastings and perhaps even reaching out for a discussion or collaboration. Denver Microbrew Tour, City Brew Tours and Common Space Brewery are a few of the many groups that have excelled in this space. Other examples to learn from include Brews Less Traveled, Sierra Nevada Brewery, Fullsteam Brewery and the Sommelier Company.
One idea to consider for future virtual tastings is to make the experience customizable for certain types of products, such as whiskey, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Promotions for the service can be centered on the benefits of receiving miniature versions of spirits so that consumers can try samples before committing to full-bottle purchases. Celebrity promoters and social media influencers may be able to help revive the virtual tasting industry if breweries and distilleries make the right connections. Also, the virtual tasting experience can be enhanced by social media participation and through educational lessons about mixology and beer-brewing.
The Outlook for Future Virtual Tastings
At least for now, it seems that most craft beverage producers, including Fullsteam Brewery, have stopped offering virtual tastings since the lifting of COVID restrictions. With people feeling increasingly comfortable going out in public and preferring in-person experiences to virtual ones, there are significant challenges for the virtual tasting industry right now, but not insurmountable ones.
Winter is an ideal season to revive virtual offerings because of the predicted increases in COVID-19 and flu cases. This is also an ideal time of the year for virtual options for holiday gift ideas, because of cold weather that keeps some people indoors and potentially more difficult travel with snowy conditions.
While we don’t anticipate virtual tastings ever replacing the actual experience of drinking onsite, they could be offered as an add-on opportunity for consumers to get even more involved with their favorite beverage companies. During the holiday season, these types of tastings can take the guesswork out of planning gatherings at home with a fun activity as the party theme. As the weather warms up, forward-thinking producers may be able to expand virtual tastings to virtual festival events and online education about beer and spirits. This could lead to more formal training in the craft beverage industry and perhaps even address the staffing shortages still so prevalent in so many places around the country. Yet, in the short term, these shortages may also prevent breweries and distilleries from having the labor resources to dedicate to the tech side of beverage marketing in the first place.
If you are interested in getting more involved in the world of virtual craft beverage tastings, you should know that this market is far from saturated, and there are openings for growth. Emerging, niche companies could assist with the production and execution of virtual experiences as a service to breweries and distilleries that do not have the time, expertise or staffing to do so themselves. But for now, these types of tastings will primarily be carried out by individual breweries and distilleries that are large enough, have ample staff and enough time and resources to expand their offerings to an online audience. If successful, those offerings could be models for an expanded online industry in the future.
As a small sampling for inspiration, here are some resources to check out and virtual tasting ideas to consider:
• The Drunken Grape has a team of sommeliers and offers interactive tastings, niche event planning and execution for private parties, wine and beer dinners, and weddings/corporate/charitable events.
• Book a beer expert for your event through City Brew Tours.
• Bourbon & Banter offers whiskey tastings for corporate events.
• Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery is still hosting virtual experiences upon request.
Precision in Bottling and Canning for Craft Breweries
By: Cheryl Gray
Savvy craft brewers want problem solvers on their team, especially when it comes to bottling and canning products.
Industry experts specializing in bottling and canning needs for breweries tout the equipment and technology to handle these tasks for operations of any size.
One of those experts isXpressFill Systems, a long-established player whose clients, the company says, know to expect cost-saving innovations from its products and solid customer service, particularly after the point of sale. California-based XpressFill was founded in 2007 and began with the idea of solving a dilemma for small-scale wineries stuck with trying to bottle their wines by hand. It continues to service the wine industry, which surrounds the company’s facilities in San Luis Obispo.
Today, XpressFill manufactures bottle- and can-filling systems in its San Luis Obispo plant, using top-quality components made exclusively in the United States. Its fillers come in several models, including volumetric, level fill and carbonated technology. With affordability, compact design and ease of use among its top priorities, the company continues forging ahead with new ideas to keep pace with customer needs in real-time.
The XFW200C is XpressFill’s latest addition to the line of filling products. Its weight-sensing technology is designed to ensure accurate fill volumes that will hit their mark every time. The importance of this precision, of course, is to avoid spills and underfills, which cost valuable production time and loss of product.
Rod Silver leads the company’s Sales and Marketing Division. He describes how the XFW200C is ideal for 12-ounce to 16-ounce cans. An industrial-grade touchscreen display allows the user to enter the desired weight and the technology installed keeps track of how much product fills the can. A larger flow path gives the user access to a smooth fill along with the flexibility of filling containers with almost any product of choice, including those with some level of particulates, such as flakes or small seeds. In addition to processing beer, kombucha, juice and RTD mixtures are among some of the other options.
Twin Monkeys Beverage Systems, based in Denver, Colorado, is the brainchild of Josh Van Riper and Brian LeFevre. Their attention-grabbing moniker, along with the duo’s business model of customer-focused design, has earned Twin Monkeys a global presence in the craft brewing industry, with customers throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia.
Both Van Riper and LeFevre have engineering backgrounds. They are focused on designing the kind of automated canning systems that didn’t exist when Van Riper was brewing craft beer.
“I started a brewery and quickly found there were not good options for buying automated canning machines for craft breweries then (2013),”Van Riper said. “I got Brian to come to the brewery to discuss this opportunity and we then started Twin Monkeys to make affordable, high-quality automated canning systems for packaging beverages. We’ve grown to a 30-person company in a 14,000-square-foot facility, and we have over 500 canning machines strewn around the planet. I’m an automation engineer who does mostly controls engineering and mechanical concepts. Brian is a mechanical engineer. Between the two of us, we can design automated equipment from the ground up.”
Twin Monkeys Brewing Systems offers a full range of can-fill-and-seam machines. The company offers craft brewers automation options that provide access to in-house, integrated canning lines equipped with three critical functions.
“We are singularly focused on canning machines that do three things: fill cans, put lids on cans and seal cans. We rely on other expert companies to do things like labeling, depalletization and brewing, and we want to just perfect the three things we do over and over. We’re also creating a new customer service paradigm to provide easier and more efficient access to our knowledge for our customers.”
Van Riper says that customer service extends to helping clients integrate their systems with a wide range of accessories.
“Although we only make canning machines, we consider ourselves to be systems integrators and that means we sell and support a wider range of equipment,” he said. “This provides more of a one-stop-shop model for customers to lean on us for a variety of their equipment needs. We plant 50 trees for every machine we sell, and in 2021 we became carbon neutral. We do serious work, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
The process of canning and bottling craft beer also entails protecting the integrity of the product before it hits the market. That’s the role of Industrial Physics, which brands itself as the world’s leading test and inspection corporation. Armed with a global network of technical and support teams, the company’s 75-year history in quality control has guided the testing and inspection experience for some of the largest beverage corporations in the industry.
Industrial Physics has a presence in 75 countries, with manufacturing facilities in 13 locations. Through its vast portfolio of more than a dozen testing and inspection brands, including CMC-KUHNKE, Quality By Vision, Steinfurth, Eagle Vision and TQC Sheen, test and inspection solutions are deployed to ensure premium quality control for beverage packaging, materials and products. At the same time, the company assures clients of personalized solutions for their product needs.
Whether a small start-up or a global name in the brewing industry, Industrial Physics says its
Testing and inspection solutions cater to every need and budget. Steve Davis, global product line director at industrial physics, has more than 20 years of engineering experience. He leads a team of experts who ensure that the equipment provided by Industrial Physics does its job.
“When you’re dealing with bottles, cans and metal packaging, you’ll need reliable inspection machines to ensure the quality of your drinks,” Davis said. “With Industrial Physics, you’ll improve the efficiency of your processes and improve your product, saving yourself time and money and, ultimately, you’ll keep your customers happier. Through our leading brands, including CMC KUHNKE, Quality by Vision and Eagle Vision Systems, we’ve helped thousands of beverage fillers and breweries to taste success.”
Davis went on to say, “From seam inspection and metal can testing to an inline inspection of empty and filled containers, our devices offer unmatched innovation and help you meet your quality needs. We protect the integrity of some of the biggest brands on the planet, as well as hundreds of emerging brands and everything in between. But how do we do this? By providing first-class test and inspection machines and products that check the quality of your packaging, materials and coatings.”
Davis provides an example. “Let’s take seam inspection. Our CMC-KUHNKE Auto XTS is a state-of-the-art, fully automated seam inspection solution. There’s nothing like it in the world, and it has the power to completely revolutionize seam solutions for your production line. We also have a wealth of smaller solutions to fit different needs and budgets.”
The company offers instruments designed to provide functions that include double seam inspection, non-destructive seam inspection, bottle, keg and can vision inspection, abrasion testing and headspace and dissolved oxygen testing. Customer service, Davis adds, is a priority at every point of the client experience.
“We understand that being fast, efficient and truly reliable is critical when it comes to servicing the instruments that keep your business running. And that’s why we’ve established a global network of dedicated service specialists to ensure you have an expert ready and waiting at a nearby location who can offer you support.
Wherever you are in the world, our experts are on hand to support your needs, whatever they may be. We know that having the right people ready to help is critical. It’s critical to delivering quality and speedy service that ensures your instruments can get up and running as quickly as possible. From installation to calibration, repair and preventative maintenance, we’ve got you covered.
We’re also passionate about being there for our customers in a more holistic way. We don’t just provide products. We’re there as a true partner. We have a wealth of solutions available across the beverage space, from metal packaging to bottles, our instruments test across an incredibly vast range of applications for many different manufacturing and laboratory needs.”
Canning and bottling craft beer is a process that engages the expertise of filling, packaging and protecting products. Selecting the partner for one or more of these steps is not only based on budget but also depends upon which companies can accommodate the individualized needs of a craft brewery, no matter the size. Another important factor, experts say, is which company will stay with a brewery for the long run, ensuring that it can accommodate growth while not compromising on quality control.
Actors, musicians and other celebrities love craft beer and spirits just like the rest of us. Yet the difference is that they often have the means, resources and connections to make significant investments in the industry. An increasing number of famous individuals have been getting interested in the craft beverage business and putting their names onto labels of products they stand behind or perhaps have even helped create.
Here’s what the celebrity craft beverage industry looks like right now, major players in this field and what there is to look forward to in the future.
Celebrity Involvement in the Industry
Celebrities take a step away from their typical work to get involved with craft beverages for various reasons. Some have a true passion for the craft, while others are in it for the money or just looking for more exposure and additional ways to promote themselves. While some celebrities learn about the production process and engage in making beer and spirits themselves, others do little more than attach their name to a brand for cross-promotional purposes.
Either way, celebrity-brand craft beverages are often unique because of their higher price tags and limited availability. Some celebrities use their beverage-related profits to benefit charities, and others use their star power to launch tasting rooms for VIP guests. However, there are unique challenges that come with producing, marketing and selling celebrity craft beverages that other beer and spirit companies may not encounter. For example, a beverage brand may suffer when an affiliated celebrity declines in popularity or is involved in a scandal. Meanwhile, a celebrity’s popularity may be affected if the beverage he or she promotes isn’t received well by the public. Some craft beverage fans believe that beer and alcohol belong to them personally and not the rich and famous. Therefore, they might be turned off by the concept of celebrity affiliations and avoid these products entirely.
But for people who are loyal to certain celebrities or just curious to try celebrity-affiliated beverages, these are accessible products that can often be purchased in stores and online. More popular beverages are usually found in liquor specialty stores, such as Binny’s and Total Wine & More. But you might have to search for more obscure and exclusive celebrity-brand beverages online through sites like Cask Cartel and Sip Whiskey.
Examples of Celebrity Beverage Endeavors
From musicians across all genres to television personalities and film actors, a diverse array of celebrities have been making their mark on the craft beverage industry in recent years. Some of these examples were limited editions that are no longer sold, while others are ongoing efforts that are changing the industry one bottle or can at a time.
For example, actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd co-founded Crystal Head Vodka as a way to introduce additive-free vodka and bring more creativity to the vodka industry. Along with his business partner, artist John Alexander, Aykroyd envisioned a new kind of vodka without unnatural ingredients and has a true passion for the product.
Several years ago, pop music star Justin Timberlake entered into a co-branded partnership with Sauza Tequila to create Sauza 901 silver tequila. The name 901 references the area code in Memphis, which is Timberlake’s hometown. Timberlake said that he developed a love for tequila after visiting Jalisco, Mexico and seeing the craftsmanship that went into each bottle of the spirit.
Iconic hip hop legend Snoop Dogg partnered with his friend and co-founder of Trusted Spirits, Keenan Towns, to establish his own spirits brand. Known as the “King of Gin and Juice” because of his famous song of the same name, Snoop Dogg developed Indoggo Gin, which mixes seven premium botanicals with all-natural strawberry flavoring. In the past, the musician has also had marketing deals with the Corona beer brand, released his own rosé wine and made investments in the cannabis industry.
Meanwhile, actor William H. Macy co-owns Woody Creek Distillers, which is based in Colorado and operates a distillery and tasting room just west of Aspen. Not only has Macy invested in the brand, but he has also rebranded himself as Willie Creeks, an alter ego who is a musician and offers life lessons that ultimately promote rye whiskey.
Another celebrity who has been involved in the spirits industry is actor Ryan Reynolds. He teamed up with Aviation Gin in 2018 after falling in love with the spirit and investing in the company. Since then, Reynolds has become a co-owner of Aviation Gin and driven the creative marketing for the brand. In recent years, and staying true to the aviation theme, he and the brand have teamed up with businessman Richard Branson to serve the gin onboard Virgin Atlantic and British Airways flights.
A financial success story in the celebrity spirits industry brings us to the actor George Clooney. The idea behind Clooney’s tequila brand, Casamigos, came about after he and his friend, Rande Gerber, were in Mexico and wanted to find a smooth tequila they could sip all day without the dreaded next-day hangover. This was back in 2013, but the friends still personally tasted every batch of tequila made four years later. The brand exploded in popularity, mainly through word-of-mouth and having Clooney’s name attached to it. In 2017, they ended up selling the brand to Diageo for $1 billion, which made Clooney the highest-paid actor of the year.
Thus far, celebrities have been more involved in the spirits industry than in craft beer or wine. But to a lesser extent, those markets are also drawing the attention of the rich and famous.
The late-1990s and early-2000s pop band Hanson, comprised of three brothers who love craft beer (now that they’re old enough to drink it), launched the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Hanson Brother Beer. They created their own craft beer business in 2013 with their flagship beer, Mmmhops, a 7.5 percent English-style pale ale. Since then, the brothers launched the Hop Jam Beer and Music Festival, collaborated with other breweries to create unique beers and dedicated a portion of their beer-related profits to clean water wells in Africa through a nonprofit organization they created.
Another celebrity beer collaboration involves The Grateful Dead and Dogfish Head Brewing, based in Milton, Delaware. The psychedelic rock band has been involved with the brewery since 2013 and has worked together since then to create a third version of American Beauty HazyRipple IPA. The band’s “American Beauty” album and famous track “Ripple” inspired the beer, which features the iconic Grateful Dead dancing bear image on the label. However, the band’s involvement with other aspects of the beer production process is limited.
To show how diverse and widespread the celebrity beverage industry has become, here are some additional examples of celebrities and their affiliated beer and spirit brands:
• Kenny Chesney – Blue Chair Bay Premium Rum
• Kendall Jenner – 818 Tequilla
• Marilyn Manson – Mansinthe
• Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – Teremana Tequila
• Mark Wahlberg – Flecha Azul
• Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson – Effen Vodka
• Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul – Dos Hombres Mezcal
• Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs – Cîroc Vodka
• Channing Tatum – Born and Bred Vodka
• Drake – Virginia Black Whiskey
• George Strait Código – 1530 Tequila
• Bob Dylan – Heaven’s Door Whiskey
Considerations and Looking Ahead
The celebrity-brand beverage industry continues to be exciting because there’s always something new in the works to look forward to. There is always a strong public fascination with rich and famous people, and that trend is not likely to disappear anytime soon. As an increasing number of celebrities enter this industry, the competition increases and drives the demand for superb product quality that goes beyond just a popularity contest of celebrity status.
Yet there are significant legal considerations that celebrities must keep in mind as they venture into the beverage industry for the first time. Collaborative efforts between celebrities and spirit-makers can take on various forms. These include development deals that give celebrities greater control over the final product and endorsement deals that offer little more than using a celebrity’s name. Other deals involve simply using a famous person’s image to promote an existing brand all the way up to full ownership, in which a celebrity owns both the brand and the means of production.
Specific state and federal laws separate the roles of beverage producers, distributors and retailers, which can make it challenging for celebrities to navigate if they want to be involved in more than one part of the business. Other issues that celebrities must consider before diving into the beer and spirit industry are background checks needed to obtain alcohol beverage licenses, the age of their target audience, morals clauses in their contracts and endorsement disclosures required by the Federal Trade Commission.
Alcohol production is proving to be an enjoyable and profitable side gig for numerous celebrities interested in connecting with their fans in new and unique ways. But to get beyond the initial hype and keep craft beverage customers coming back for more, it is time to embrace the spirit of innovation and achieve long-term growth with products able to stand on their own, even without a familiar name and face behind them.
Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is not your ordinary brewery. Situated along a confluence of highways connecting seven million tourists annually to central Pennsylvania, the brewery’s location is a perfect model for generating traffic. But it’s not the locale that truly captivates the visitor, it’s what’s inside. Whether you’re in the 5000-square-foot tasting room enjoying one of Tröegs’ award-winning brews or exploring the menu at the Snack Bar for scratch-made food to complement your beer, you are actually immersed in the brewhouse, with views of open-air tanks, and a glass-lined self-guided tour path that cuts through the center of the facility and allows you to experience — firsthand — the entire beer-making process, from fermentation to bottling lines to barrel-aging. It’s clearly a place for the adventurous and the curious.
“We’re not a bar, and we’re not a pub,” said Chris Trogner, who co-founded the brewery in 1997 with his brother, John. “It’s a place where people can walk around and discover and learn. Our entire operation is on view, including the fermentation/filtration hall, packaging lines, an art gallery, a general store and our new Scratch Lab, where we experiment with new recipes. This is not just a place to drink beer, it’s where you can come and have a semi-immersive experience.”
The Tröegs story is one of extraordinary growth and innovation. The Trogner brothers, who were always inventing something new when they were young — from skateboard ramps to homemade cannons — reunited after leaving home and going their separate ways, only to discover that a craft brewery might be in their future. Chris was attending college in Colorado in the midst of the craft beer explosion, and John, at Chris’s urging, joined him in Boulder. John began taking brewing classes and working at Oasis Brewing Company, and Chris went to England to study English brewing techniques. The two then hatched a plan to return to their native central Pennsylvania and open a small brewery in Harrisburg. They decided to name it Tröegs, a combination of their last name with “kroeg,” the Flemish word for pub. John was 25 at the time, and Chris was 23.
Chris Trogner recalls rough patches during the brewery’s early days. “It was just my brother, John, and me,” Trogner told Beverage Master Magazine. “We started primarily as a packaging brewery, selling only bottles and kegs.” Their first pint sold was a Tröegs Pale Ale, and it helped get the little brewery off the ground. The first keg sold went to a Harrisburg restaurant shortly after the brewery opened.
Fast forward 25 years — the brewery just celebrated its anniversary in July— and Tröegs has changed dramatically since its humble beginnings. Despite early challenges, Tröegs managed to gather such a large fan base of family, friends and “kindred spirits” that they quickly outgrew their facility in Harrisburg. In 2011, they built a new 90,000-square foot brewery (three times the size of the original) in nearby Hershey. With the craft beer industry booming, the move opened up an entirely new realm of possibilities for the Trogners’ innovative spirit. “As the industry grew, we were able to grow with it,” Trogner remembered. “Each year, as we’d sell more beer, we’d reinvest in more equipment and hire more people.” Now, Tröegs boasts three brewhouses: a three-barrel brewhouse for experimental brewing, a 15-barrel brewhouse and a 100-barrel brewhouse, which the brewery uses for distribution. Annual production is 118,000 barrels. The brewery employs 250 people, with distribution in nine Mid-Atlantic states, plus Washington, D.C. “We look and feel a lot different than we did 25 years ago,” Trogner recalled, “but we’re still very much a family business. Because we’ve stayed true to our core values of independence and family ownership, we’ve kept the small-brewery DNA we all hold dear.”
Today, their production focuses on specialty and seasonal beers. Their signature beer, the Perpetual IPA, is the best-selling IPA in Pennsylvania and is brewed with six different hops. Other standard beers include Tröegenator Double Bock, brewed in the German tradition of malty, sweet beers; DreamWeaver Wheat, a German-style hefeweizen; Sunshine Pilsner, a classic German-style pilsner and Haze Charmer, a hazy pale ale. In June, Tröegs released a limited amount of one of its most loved beers, Nimble Giant, described by Trogner as a “big beer that goes down easy.” Nimble Giant is always rated “outstanding” by Beer Advocate and is a fan favorite on Untappd. Equally popular is the seasonal holiday beer, Mad Elf, a legendary ale made from five varieties of tree-ripened cherries. “We’re always adding new beers,” Trogner said. “We try to have something for everyone.”
In their never-ending quest for flavorful beers, the Trogners established the three-barrel Scratch Lab so that a dedicated team of tasters could meet weekly to test new flavors, equipment and brewing techniques. Beers are not given a name, but rather a number. Today, there are over 450 varieties in the Scratch Series, and in fact, many signature brews started in the scratch tanks. “We’re into getting to know the whys of our beers, where the flavors come from and how the process affects the flavor,” Trogner told Beverage Master Magazine. “We try around 100 new recipes a year. The recipes may not all become beers, but the experiments can make us more knowledgeable and help us become better brewers.” The Scratch Lab at Tröegs is on the self-guided tour and the Guided Production Tour (named in 2020 by readers of USA Today as the Best Brewery Tour in America). Here, visitors can have a ringside seat to see what the staff is doing and enjoy that same learning experience.
While the Trogners are always seeking innovation in the Scratch Beer Lab, they’re just as inventive in providing refreshments to their visitors. Soon after opening, they added a Snack Bar to offer foods as original and interesting as the beer. The menu ranges from soups to salads, sandwiches, sweets and even a kids’ menu, with the majority of food made from scratch using local ingredients. “We develop our Snack Bar menu items much like we do beer recipes with our Scratch Series,” Trogner said. “We’ve thought long and hard about not just what food pairs with our beer, but why. We’re not out to tell you what to eat, but to inspire you to create pairings that perfectly suit your own palate.” For those who want to try a new food and beer adventure, Tröegs offers regular beer dinners with local restaurants, complete with tasting notes and recommendations on what hops variety may pair well with fruit or cheese, for example. “It’s our way of constantly experimenting and moving forward,” Trogner stated.
Clearly, the Trogners’ desire to create is the heart and soul of their operation. Not only is this evident in the Scratch Beer Lab and the Snack Bar but also in a distinctive feature of the self-guided tour, the Art of Tröegs Gallery. “Artwork is important to us,” Trogner explained. “As brewers, we express our creativity with ingredients, tastes and flavors, but we enjoy what others are able to do, whether it’s making art with our bottle caps, labels and cans — anything that will give a sense of what’s in the bottle or the keg.” Every year Tröegs sponsors a contest and narrows the submissions down to the top two dozen for final judging. The grand prize artwork is featured in the gallery, and the winner receives a limited-release beer label created in honor of their artwork by Tröegs’ in-house artists. Over the years, entries have included a video game, a Smurfy miniature of the Hershey brewery, a multi-tiered cake, a hand-embroidered jean jacket and custom Tröegs sneakers.
While the Trogners are committed to providing visitors with a unique experience at their brewery, they also focus on remaining active in their local community. Every year, they participate in local activities, whether it’s a large, organized event like a mountain biking ride or a fly fishing contest, or a simple beer tasting set up by a local distributor. Every year, the brewery also donates to more than 150 nonprofits involved in animal advocacy, arts and culture, education, health services and more. Additionally, the brewery buys more than 225,000 pounds of local grain, honey and fruit for use in their beer and seasonal fruits and vegetables for their Snack Bar.
As Chris Trogner looks back on his 25 years in the craft brewing industry, he has witnessed many changes. “When we opened, there were fewer than 2,000 craft breweries in the country,” he said. “Today there are close to 10,000. There’s more innovation and more diversity. Now is one of the best times to be a beer drinker.” Trogner is equally optimistic about the future of Tröegs Independent Brewing. “We’re young and we have a lot of gas left in the tank. We’re making long-term investments to increase capacity and improve infrastructure to set us up for the next 25 years. And, with good geography — Baltimore, DC and Philly are only two hours away, Pittsburgh is three hours away— we’re right in the sweet spot, distribution-wise.”
Undoubtedly, the Trogner brothers will continue to be driven by adventure and a sense of curiosity. With creative brewers like them, it is indeed a good time to be a beer drinker.
For more information on Tröegs Independent Brewing, visitwww.troegs.com
Whether online ordering for pick up, requesting additional items to-go or purchasing single-serve containers from a local market, these options reflect the alternative and increasingly essential revenue streams for craft beverage producers. Additionally, they have proved to be a popular and effective way for craft producers to get their products into the hands of new and potential consumers. According to data supplied by Arryved, a leader in Point-of-Sale (POS) systems for food and drink businesses, many of the consumers that participate in the online and to-go craft beverage markets are different than those that choose to frequent brewpubs, tasting rooms and taprooms in person.
The good news for craft beverage producers is that participation in the single-serve, ready-to-drink and to-go markets continues to grow. Consequently, it makes sense to nurture those relationships and make the off-premises consumer experience an event that provides value and enjoyment while enhancing your bottom line. The proper POS system can do that.
Your Business, Your Point-of-SaleSystem: Arryved
“Of course, there was a sea of change beginning with the pandemic,” said Nancy Trigg, chief people officer for Arryved. “It seemed like, over the course of one night, the brewpubs, wineries and taprooms all had to scramble and pivot business models to come up with a functioning online and to-go ordering system, as well as a safe and viable delivery or customer pickup option. Point-of-Sale systems had to evolve and quickly match that change in direction. In haste, many businesses simply installed a separate system for this newfound revenue stream. It all seemed good until the businesses realized that, in reality, they were using two separate systems pulling out of a single inventory base, causing supply confusion and accountability problems. Point-of-sale systems, like Arryved, that looked at the situation and responded in a more business-sensitive, proper way were the ones that not only helped their clients survive but also helped them grow their consumer base during the uncertainty and shutdowns.”
Trigg says that a proper POS system is one of the most crucial tools a craft producer has to understand and analyze for how they are doing business, and she urges owners to approach their businesses with that exact mindset.
“If you have the proper POS system set up for all of your revenue streams, including on-premises, single-serve purchases and online ordering with customer pickup, you will immediately receive valuable insights into what you are selling, when you are selling it and how your products are being used,” said Trigg. “Are some products more popular at certain times, like lunch or dinner? Are some being consumed more with food? Which beverages are more popular at which times? Are they being sold in smaller pours? Larger pours? Are certain products more popular for carryout over in-house consumption? For flight purchases? So much data related to your specific craft products concerning single-serve and online-ordering revenue streams can be harvested from the right POS system.”
Trigg told Beverage Master Magazine that the applicable laws about these types of sales will generally stick around because of the great work from the guilds, communities and cities to help food and drink businesses remain afloat during the height of the pandemic. Now, craft beverage producers must have a POS system that integrates these transactions into their daily business practices by highlighting and providing data tailored to their specific products, customer profiles and unique business situations.
“When craft beverage producers start packaging their products, the inherent level of their risk rises, if only based on the costs of packaging,” said Trigg. “That little extra risk can be just enough to inhibit the creative experimentation that makes up the backbone of what a brewpub, taproom or tasting room is supposed to be. But with the right information derived from an inclusive and detailed POS system, that risk is minimized. Now they can offer the right products to the right consumers at the right time, including single-serves, ready-to-drink varieties or a wide range of to-go flight-type options or mix-and-match packs tailored to specific tastes. Unfortunately, not many POS systems properly provide these types of flight tools or pick-six options within their makeup. Arryved does just that, providing the craft producer meaningful insights into what is and isn’t working, and when.”
Trigg said that Arryved is a POS system genuinely built to care for an all-inclusive beverage program, including those that, either now or in the future, want the option to offer food sales. In addition, Arryved enhances brewpub or tasting room atmospheres by allowing its customers to order drinks to-go, online or in single-serve, ready-to-drink options.
“There are always developing options within the single-serve and ready-to-drink markets that craft beverage producers need to stay aware of,” said Trigg. “This includes the growing popularity of flight options and different sizes of mix-and-match take-home packs that the customer can customize. Craft producers need a POS system that recognizes these trends and supports mobile guests just as well as it does with on-premises guests. Arryved supports craft beverage producers in all facets of their revenue streams, while featuring unmatched support for the industry. In addition, we stay engaged in the business sector and always have someone available to speak with directly.”
Ready-to-Drink, Single Serve andTo-Go Markets Thriving
The ability to try and enjoy craft beverage products off-premises was, and still is, a game-changer for many craft brewers, winemakers and distillers. For the past couple of years, these markets have helped many establishments remain open and proved they could be a robust, new revenue stream. Breweries have traditionally offered their products in growlers and crowlers so their consumers could enjoy the beer at home. Additionally, the popularity of individual can seaming devices, like those offered by Oktober Can Seamers, gives craft beverage producers more flexibility in to-go offerings and allows consumers more flexibility in how and where they choose to use the beverage.
In its primary function, can seamers allow craft beverage producers to get their product out the door and into the hands of consumers for off-premises enjoyment. But Dennis Grumm, CEO and lead engineer for Oktober Can Seamers, told Beverage Master Magazine that many clients realize additional untapped revenue possibilities by canning beer, mixed drinks and specialty cocktails for to-go orders. Brewpubs, distilleries, and wineries can all use a can seamer to offer their beverages, unique brews and house cocktails on a to-go basis. It’s an economical and very effective way to get new customers to try your products while satisfying your current customer base. Distillers have had great success canning their best-known, ready-to-drink cocktails, but canning is also an effective way to offer seasonal or limited-release drinks and cocktails.
Pouches are another way to get your product in the hands of consumers that would not normally spend time in your place of business or would just like to take your crafted offerings with them on the go. Pouches range from those in the refrigerator for individual pours of wine to the single-serve cocktail and wine pouches that resemble the child-friendly juice pouches. The benefits of using pouches include offering a resealable, portion-controlled package that reduces packaging weight by up to 94 percent and can be shipped and packed using fewer resources.
Enhancing the Single-Serve andReady-to-Drink Market: O-I Glass
O-I Glass, based in Perrysburg, Ohio, is looking to elevate the single-serve, to-go and ready-to-drink markets to better reflect the on-premises, brewpub and tasting room experience. Megan Henry is the global marketing communications business partner for O-I Glass. She told Beverage Master Magazine that they are transforming the to-go, single-serve and ready-to-drink markets by offering a new glass packaging alternative called the Drinktainer™ for these markets.
“In an increasingly common world of to-go packaging, we feel that it’s time for craft beverage producers to elevate that part of their business and the consumer experience,” said Henry. “Growlers and crowlers are great, but they have limitations. As soon as you open them, you’re under a time constraint as to how long that product will be good. Using our wide-mouthed Drinktainer™, you’re promoting a sustainable packaging option with the recyclable glass and RipCap® closure, and you’re allowing the consumer to enjoy your products as if they were in your brewpub, taproom or tasting room.”
Henry said that capacity and shortage concerns still affect many industry players, but those worries are not an issue with Drinktainer™, which is currently available in inventory.
“We know that many beer aficionados prefer to consume their beer out of a glass, straight from the tap,” said Henry. “Offering to-go, single-serve options in a recyclable glass container is just a naturally better way to enjoy beer and craft beverages in general. Glass packaging provides great flavor retention in any environment and allows producers to feel more comfortable offering their consumers different types and combinations of products without the fear that alternative packaging, like plastics or pouches, will taint their beer, cocktails or wine. In addition, with the wide mouth (42mm), consumers get the deeper flavor and more robust aroma experience as if they would be drinking from a glass on premises.”
Sustainability is a significant issue of consideration in every phase of craft beverage production, and the Drinktainer™ is a fully sustainable product, available in clear that is customarily used for beer and in a flint tone that highlights the color combinations of cocktails and other beverages. It’s sealed using a RipCap®, an easily applied and highly secure closure that O-I Glass believes brings a nostalgic feel to the products. Drinktainer™ has been successfully used to offer pick-six trial packs and beer flights, and it requires no other glasses or barware to enjoy as the beverage maker intended.
Find more information on the Drinktainer™ at www.o-i.com