Re-Opening After the Pandemic

By: Donald Snyder, President/Consultant, Time & Tasks

For the first time as an author, I hope this article does not age well. With a bit of luck, you are reading this article in a post pandemic world where these concerns are a thing of the past. That said, as I write this, the world is slowly recovering from a pandemic that had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry including craft distilleries large and small. As you begin to welcome visitors and bring back staff, here are some important and helpful tips when planning your reopening.

Advice from Distillers who have Re-opened

  Throughout the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published fluid and ever-updating recommendations for operating a business to keep both employees and patrons safe. Suggestions like contactless payment, outdoor and reduced seating, staff and customer mask use, and social distancing were mandated to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread to keep businesses open, if only at a lower capacity. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus)

  However, the ultimate decision of whether a tasting room could re-open to the public was in the hands of local regulators. Every state had a different set of requirements for operating a business during the pandemic. Some states, like Florida, reopened and removed capacity limits very early in the pandemic as compared to New York City where most hospitality restrictions were not rescinded until the summer of 2021. Soon after the nation-wide lock down in the spring of 2020, some distilleries were able to re-open under various restrictions.

  Cardinal Spirits Distillery in Bloomington, IN was able to open in 2020 under pretty tight restrictions. The distillery opened for carryout bottle, food, and cocktail mixes only.  Additionally, they re-configured their front entry area into a curbside drive-by for order pickup. The state of Indiana did not permit cocktails-to-go so Cardinal Spirits developed hand labeled bottles of mixer kits that people could use to make cocktails at home. Using social media and on-line platforms, they maintained and increased customer engagement with distillery tours, cocktail classes, and even virtual tastings. They hope to fully re-open in Spring 2022 although they have recently re-opened their restaurant for in-distillery dining. Jeff Wuslich, co-founder and President of Cardinal Spirits, recalls his concerns with reopening. “We are most worried for our staff. We do not believe they should have to enforce mandates and safe behavior, but we know it will likely happen. It keeps me up at night. I believe that with our air circulation, safety protocols, and distancing we will all be safe, but I hate to think about our staff having to argue with customers.” Jeff offers this additional advice for distilleries thinking about their own re-opening. “Think of the customer and what experience you would like them to have. Then, work backward from there.” 

  Smooth Ambler Distillery in Maxwelton, WV was also impacted by COVID-19. At the beginning of pandemic, the entire distillery closed public-facing operations, including their gift shop and tours for about a month. During that time, they re-allocated their labor and resources into making hand sanitizer to be donated to front line workers across the country. Once they had a better understanding of the virus, they slowly reopened their production facility with a new set of rules that included social distancing, segregated teams, masks wearing, and frequent sanitization. Smooth Ambler’s continued priority is the safety of their employees and guests.

  They were cautious about reopening the tasting room. Many of their customers were from out of state so they initially re-opened to the public with curbside pickups only. A few months later, they opened with limited capacity and slowly increased indoor occupancy as the guidance from the state permitted. Masks, temperature checks, and hand sanitization were available for all guests. So far, the re-opening has been successful for Smooth Ambler as more and more people are beginning to travel again. Travis Hammond, Operations Manager of

  Smooth Ambler, cautions distillers not to be too hasty or rigid during their public reopening. “The past year has been very difficult on everyone – the best advice I can give to other distilleries that are about to reopen is to be patient and flexible.”

  Reopening slowly and cautiously with the appropriate safety protocols in place has given many distilleries across the country a beacon of hope that things can return to a sense of normalcy. However, even with the best precautions, there still can be issues. Asymptomatic employees and customers that spread the virus can be a serious risk to all parties involved. For those in the beverage industry, contracting COVID-19 can be especially dangerous as a possible long-term loss of taste and smell could impact a distiller’s ability to make and blend high quality spirits. In addition to transmission risks from reopening, there are also risks from patrons fighting required safety protocols.

  Golden Moon Distillery in Golden, Colorado experienced that firsthand when a customer refused to wear a mask and retaliated by shoving an employee. Physical altercations with employees about safety policies or verbally abusive customers are real risks that distillers need to consider when planning for a full or limited re-opening. Stephen Gould, Proprietor and Master Distiller of Golden Moon Distillery has made employee training a pivotal part of his re-opening plan. “We’ve coached our team members to be extremely polite and courteous when asking folks to wear masks. Our main concern is the safety of our staff and customers. Having said that, the one piece of advice I can give folks that are reopening is that they need to work hard to make both their staff and their customers feel safe.”

  Another consideration for reopening is how to deal with heavy foot traffic as people continue to feel more comfortable traveling. Large tourist areas like central Tennessee have many craft distilleries that offer tours, tastings, and spirits for every palate. Pigeon Forge, TN is in the gateway to Smoky Mountain National Park that sees over 10 million visitors per year. In the spring of 2020, when everything shut down, the owners of King’s Family Distillery in Pigeon Forge were understandably nervous. Like many distilleries, by taking advantage of small business loan programs and pivoting production to hand sanitizer for local consumption, they were able to stay afloat. Cara King, Owner of King’s Family Distillery, is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “When our state began lifting restrictions in 2020, the people flooded back in.

  More than before, even. We took precautions, put up plexiglass, and welcomed the tourists, masks, and all. Our distillery has reached the other side of this epic world event bigger than we were before.”

Capital Investments and Infrastructure

  Safety protocols, standard operating procedures and thorough employee training are critical to a successful re-opening. However, some additional capital investment may be required. Dalkita, an engineering and architecture firm that assists distilleries with design, safety, and construction, was instrumental in helping businesses re-open.

  Colleen Moore, Director of Marketing & Operations for Dalkita, kept up to date with all the CDC recommendations, re-opening phases, and safety recommendations. Dalkita kept the distilling industry updated with recommended and required re-opening procedures via regular webinars and blog updates (https://www.dalkita.com/news/).

  The group quickly became aware that each state and jurisdiction had varying requirements for re-opening protocols, social distancing rules, seating capacity limits, and mask requirements.

  In terms of physical and capital improvements to the distillery’s public spaces, Colleen Moore from Dalkita has been advising distilleries what they should consider. “With COVID-19 in mind and trying to reduce the likelihood of a lockdown situation due to a highly communicable airborne disease from recurring, I would suggest upgrading ventilation inside buildings. Any feature that would increase the amount of outdoor air you can bring into a building such as window walls, roll-up glass garage doors, and new increased air handling units with better filtration media and filters.

  If cold, rainy, or snowy weather put a stop to your outdoor activities, consider adding flexible open courtyards or structures with roofs and no walls for use during inclement weather. Anything that can increase the health of the people using a facility is a good investment.”

  As I write the article, I fully acknowledge that regulations are still changing. I began writing this article in March of 2021 before the mass availability of COVID-19 vaccines while most distilleries were under 30-50% occupation and seating capacity. It is now July 2021. Some states are open 100% with no restrictions but the Delta variant is growing. The article will be published the Fall of 2021 and who knows how much the world will change by then.

  For distilleries reopening or increasing capacity in 2021 or early 2022, connect with local authorities for the latest restrictions. Make every effort to keep employees and guests safe. Then again, by the time you read this, hopefully the pandemic and social distancing will be just a distant memory as we all return to normal.

Legal Implications of Playing Music at Your Brewery

By: Tarah K. Remy, Dinsmore & Shohl, L.L.P.

Visiting a brewery is meant to be an experience, and customer engagement plays a large role in creating a great one. As the owner, you know your brews are unparalleled, and your goal is not only to share them, but to keep customers coming back. One way to do this is to establish an inviting atmosphere. In most cases, that involves music.

  Music and beer go way back. In 1800 B.C.E., the Sumerians composed the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” which served as not only a song of praise to their goddess of beer, but also as an ancient recipe for brewing.  So, it is safe to say when a customer walks into your brewery, they’ll expect to hear music playing over the loud speakers, or even to see a live band. However, there are serious intellectual property considerations every brewery must take into account when choosing music to create that perfect experience.

What the Copyright Act Protects

  As a general matter, the Copyright Act lays out the basic rights of a copyright owner. Among other things, it protects a songwriter’s and their publishers’ (the copyright holder) musical composition or written work, also known as a musical work. When a musical work is performed or broadcasted in a public space, the copyright holder is entitled to receive a performance royalty, which is the money paid to the copyright holder in exchange for the right to publicly perform their musical work.

Why Your Brewery Needs a Performance License to Play Music

  Copyright is a form of property, and once music is written down or recorded, it is copyrighted. The copyright holder is the owner of that copyright and is granted a performance right to the copyrighted materials. If you want to publicly perform a musical work, you need to pay a performance royalty to the copyright holder. The performance license acts as written permission to play a copyright holder’s musical work in a public space.

  Doing so without a performance license, (without legal permission) places your brewery at risk for litigation. Though the Copyright Act limits the award for copyright infringement to between $750 to $30,000, it is within the court’s discretion to award between $200 to $150,000, not including attorney’s fees and costs. Whether the court can increase or decrease the award depends on whether you knew you were violating copyright law. No matter the circumstance, if you violate copyright law, you will be required to pay, and the gamble of just how much is not worth the risk. Acquiring a license removes the guesswork and allows you to maintain control over your brewery’s finances.

When You Need to Consider Acquiring a Performance License

  You will need a performance license or permission from a copyright holder under at least the scenarios below:

1.  The musical work is played in your brewery using Spotify, Amazon music, Pandora, Apple Music, or any other streaming service. Though you are covered bunder your personal subscription to play music for yourself or in very small spaces, once you plug your device into a loud speaker to be played in a large space where a substantial number of people are present, this triggers the performance license requirement.

2.  The musical work is played in your brewery using CDs, records, or anything similar. Buying the CD or record does not count as obtaining a performance license. Once you decide to play your favorite CD or record inside your brewery to be heard by a substantial number of people, in most cases, you must obtain a performance license.

3.  A live band is hired to play covers of music originally written by a third party in your brewery. In this case, the venue, not the cover band, is required to acquire the performance license.. If you hire a band to play in your brewery and they plan to play covers, make sure your brewery has a performance license covering the songs on the band’s set list before hiring. Keep in mind, however, this generally does not apply if the band is playing music it has composed or is playing music in the public domain.

How to Obtain a Performance License

  Contact a Performance Rights Organization (PRO):  You can obtain a performance license through a Performance Rights Organization such as BMI , ASCAP, and SESAC. These entities function as middle men between the copyright holder and the entity acquiring the performance license. Given the rate at which music is played and experienced around the world, it is virtually impossible for copyright holders to keep track of performing rights. Acting as facilitators, PROs acquire rights from these copyright holders and grant a performance license covering their entire music set to businesses and requesting parties. So not only do PROs simplify the process for copyright holders to receive their performance royalties, but business owners no longer need to contact individual copyright holders to acquire performance licenses.

  Each PRO covers specific musical works by various copyright holders. By obtaining a performance license through just one PRO, you are limited to that PRO’s specific list of music. Be sure to review each list covered by each PRO to determine whether you need a license from one or all. You can also consider acquiring a blanket license that covers all three of the main PROs (BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC) to reduce the chance of potential copyright infringement claims from these organizations. A blanket license is convenient, as it likely covers a large list of music, which in turn reduces the need to carefully review a cover band’s set list and further gives you the freedom to stream music without a second thought.

  Sign Up for a Streaming Service Business Account:  Some streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, offer business accounts. Simply by signing up and paying a subscription fee, business accounts provide access to fully licensed songs. Via their business platforms, these streaming services have obtained performance licenses from PROs on your behalf, and in most cases, they have performance licenses from more than one PRO, which broadens your music list options.

How much a Performance License will Cost

  The cost of obtaining a performance license through a PRO may vary depending on various factors, including how many breweries you have, the square footage of your brewery, your brewery’s customer capacity, how often music is played, whether the music is recorded or live, and more. The costs start at $500 and increase from there. Streaming service business account costs can be found directly on their websites, where they periodically provide discounts. At the end of the day, though obtaining a performance license may seem pricey or a low priority, the costs of arguing a copyright infringement claim are significantly higher. Budgeting in the cost of a performance license will save your brewery money in the long run.  Here is a link to help you learn more. https://www.bmi.com/digital_licensing/more-information/business_using_music_bmi_and_performing_rights

  Finally, keep in mind the Copyright Act covers exceptions to the performance license requirement, meaning it’s possible your brewery may not require a performance license. So before you sign up or register for anything, we always recommend reaching out to an attorney to review the performance license agreements and your circumstances. Additionally, if you are not sure whether your business meets the requirements, or whether your business might be exempt from the performance license requirement, for peace of mind, reach out to your attorney or the Dinsmore Beer, Wine and Spirits team. We are here to help!

An Ingredient For Success: Adding a Business Coach to Your Craft Beverage Company

By: Chris Mulvaney, President, CMDS Marketing Agency

So, you think you have it all. A great product, niche location, rockstar staff … ultimate success will no doubt come knocking at your door to order one of your specials. Right?

Well, maybe.

  Hard truth. When it comes to craft beverage marketing and branding, making those delicious bevvies is only half the battle. Many craft beverage companies that failed also had a great product, perfect location, and an awesome staff. So … why did they fail?

  For one, planning. Part of a craft beverage business is, well, the business. And while that part may not taste quite as good, it’s still a huge part of running and scaling your company so that it thrives for years to come.

  Planning your craft beverage business takes into consideration some very important components. Branding is one of them. If you don’t have solid branding, then you’ll have a tough time standing out in today’s crowded craft drink market.

While there was a time that breweries and distilleries could succeed without strong branding, much has changed. Today, statistics show that a new brewery opens up almost every day. That means crazy competition, and as a result, you really need strict branding and positioning in order to stand out. Without that, even the best product can get lost in the mix and drown into a drain of obscurity.

The What, The How, and The Why

  Simon Sinek familiarized the concept of the “What,” the “How,” the “Why” in his book, “Start with Why.” The concept is about having three layers to your brand story.

  The “what” explains what your business is in simple terms (“My business offers locally produced cider”).  The “how” is how you do it (“we use on-site fermentation and locally-sourced apples”).

Unfortunately, while most craft beverage companies may be able to explain the “what” and the “how”, they tend to lag in the “why”. And the “why” is usually the most interesting part of the story because that is where the emotion comes in (“my partner and I both have celiac and were not able to enjoy a traditional brewery experience, so we wanted to offer a delicious beer alternative for gluten-sensitive customers and those who want something a bit different”).  The “Why” is key because it draws people in and creates a deep emotional connection, which is more compelling.

Your brand is the perception of your company by your customers. It is the heart of your message and it’s how your customers will portray you on social media. The emotional connection with your customers is what drives the purchase. It is your “why”.

  This is where it also gets tricky. You can’t forget about the product. Above all else, your customer has to like the taste of what you sell, so quality is also vital.

  Therefore, branding involves defining key concepts, creating emotional attachment, and differentiating yourself from your competition, all while keeping a great product offering. It can be a challenge to balance it just right, and that’s where a business coach comes in.

  Typically, business coaches are experienced entrepreneurs and business owners who then decide to use their talents for building and growing a business to help other business owners reach their goals.

  They can provide far more valuable and personalized advice than any found online. They are essential to success – and are used by most humans across the board in other areas, yet the same principle often fails to apply to a business’ growth.

Take sports or music. If an athlete wants to improve their skills, the best thing they can do is join a team with a great coach. Likewise, a musician will hire a teacher to help them reach rock star  heights.

  Essentially, having a business coach is like having a trusted coach or teacher, and they can prove essential to your brand’s ultimate success.

Why Every Craft Beverage Businesses Should Enlist a Business Coach

  In simple terms, business coaching is a process used to take a business from where it is now to where the business owner wants it to be.

If a business owner has tough questions or runs into problems along the way, their coach will be able to help them navigate their issues in the most effective way possible.

Getting Started

  A good business coach will ask you to list your core values and help you figure out what will make you stand out from your competition. Your customers have to understand your brand and concept to immerse themselves in the experience. You will also be asked how you would like to grow in a manner consistent with your brand.

  The hiring process should include a discovery period between yourself and the potential business coach to make sure you are both aligned and should include the following:

1.   Answer detailed focus questions so your business coach gains insight of what you want to accomplish.

2.   Review their coaching/consulting package thoroughly, so you’ll have a good idea of features, benefits, time alloted and pricing.

3.   Schedule a 20-30 minute discovery call to talk through the project and determine if you are a good fit to work together.

  A Business Coach should also address focus questions. These can include the following:

•    What do you need help with? Be as specific as possible about the problem you need to solve or opportunity you want to tackle.

•    What is the ideal outcome or result you want to achieve? What does it look like?

•    How urgent is this project? How important is it to tackle this (1 to 10)?

•    What’s your timeframe for this project/goal: 1) ASAP, 2) within the next few months, 3) sometime this year?

  In addition to evaluating strengths and weaknesses, it’s also important to define business goals. For some people, the goal is the freedom to do what they want. For others, it’s financial security. When setting goals, make sure they are specific, optimistic (but realistic), and offer both short- and long-term plans so you can evaluate your progress. 

  Throughout this entire process, business coaches serve as an invaluable source of personalized information and advice, providing business owners with specific industry navigation tools and assisting in setting attainable goals.

  Coaching Packages will reflect just how much time and assistance your business will need and a coach will work with you regarding budget and timelines.

A good business coach understands that exponential success does not happen overnight. That is where their coaching and development services come into play. A great thing about a business coach is that you can hire one at any stage and scenario of your business, whether you are just starting out, your business is struggling and you need a way to revive it, or you are an established name looking to take it to the next level. There will always be a need for a business coach to provide you with considerable entrepreneurial insights, expertise and innovative business ideas at any level. The benefits of having one cannot be overstated.

Large vs Smaller Businesses

  In many cases, the challenges and goals of small businesses may differ from those of large businesses.

  For example, a start-up brewery in a more localized setting, looking to attract more local customers, will have an entirely different set of goals and strategies than a large establishment that caters to multiple locations and ships on a large scale.

With that said, most business coaches will be experienced in working with small or large businesses since a big part of their job  is to learn as much as they can about each company and owner that they are working with, and developing a strategy that is uniquely suited to the specifics of each situation.

In other words, a high-quality business coach will likely be able to help you regardless of budget, company size or how large you want it to grow.

The Last Gulp

  The most important rule of self-evaluation and goal-setting is honesty. Going into business with your eyes wide open about your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and your ultimate goals lets you confront the decisions you’ll face with greater confidence and a greater chance of success.

  Look at the coaching experience through honest eyes and know that the purpose of a business coach is to make the life of the business owner less stressful and their business more successful, which in amongst itself is something to raise a glass to.

  If you need help on where to start, Chris Mulvaney has been providing Business Coaching Services to business owners and fellow entrepreneurs for over 15 years. His marketing agency, CMDS, can be a great compliment to these services. Feel free to reach out for a consultation and you will be put in the right direction by someone who can take your business to the next level of craft beverage success.

Exploring the Variety of Spirit-Based Canned Cocktails

By: Becky Garrison

Over Memorial Day 2014, Bronya Shillo launched the Fishers Island Lemonade, a signature cocktail that originated at her family’s bar, The Pequot Inn, on Fishers Island, New York.  She refined their decades-old recipe and canned the premium distilled vodka, whiskey, lemon and honey cocktail. The drink is one of the first craft cocktails in a can, making Shillo and her brand a leader in the ready-to-drink market. Fast forward to 2021, and she’s expanded her portfolio to a full family of vodka and whiskey lemonade canned cocktails, as well as a fun and innovative frozen Fishers Island Lemonade spirit popsicle.

  Convenience remains the most touted selling point in the growing RTD market. According to Nielsen IQ, in 2019, annual sales in this segment were up 574%, and malt-based cocktails now account for $4.7 million in annual sales. Spirit and wine-based RTD cocktails are generally available in smaller packages; they’re also more established and generate larger sales—$62 million and $83 million in annual sales, respectively, according to the May 21, 2019, Nielsen IQ. One factor that may be influencing some of these sales from growing even higher is that in con-trol states such as Oregon, spirit-based cocktails can only be found in liquor stores instead of grocery stores in non-control states.

  In 2020, consumers in lockdown sought ways to savor their favorite spirit-based cocktails once enjoyed at a bar or restaurant. Establishments responded to this demand by offering cocktails-to-go. Depending upon state laws, these to-go packages contain all the ingredients needed to make a given establishment’s signature drinks or all the items sans the alcohol.

  This to-go trend looks to continue as the world opens up post-COVID, with customers looking for convenient ways to consume their favorite cocktails while on the go. Molly Troupe, Master Distiller for Portland-based Freeland Spirits, speaks to the appeal of canned cocktails. “Canned cocktails are great for those who like convenience and don’t want to make their own cocktails at home. Cans can go much easier than a bottle to the lake, on a hike or wherever adventure may take you.”

Carbonated Canned Cocktails

  The majority of spirit-based cocktails appear to be carbonated and designed for easy sipping with a low ABV. Ali Joseph, co-owner of Portland, Oregon’s Wild Roots, commented about their 2021 foray into the RTD market. “We always recommend simple two-ingredient cocktails to our fans and wanted to take that idea one step further. There’s nothing easier than cracking open a can.”

  According to Tuan Lee and Hope Ewing, co-founders of Los Angeles-based Vernet, they launched their line of sparkling craft cocktails when they observed the market was dominated by bulk spirits made with flavoring agents. Ewing said, “We really wanted to make something high-quality that we would drink ourselves. Tuan’s dream was to share his love for LA’s immigrant cultures through food and drink, and ready-to-drink cocktails felt like a great vehicle for this. We wanted to package in cans for convenience—being pool-friendly, beach-friendly and lightweight —and because aluminum is the most recyclable packaging around.” She added that their goals in producing these products were twofold. “We wanted to showcase the awesomeness of LA’s immigrant food cultures by using ingredients we loved from local farms and markets and to make something as complex and high-quality as I was used to making in craft cocktail bars.”

  Canned vodka cocktails like those produced by Wild Roots differentiate themselves by using natural ingredients instead of “natural” flavorings often found in canned vodka products. Wild Roots’ canned cocktails are made using their top-selling raspberry, blackberry/marionberry and peach spirits. They also added lemon to the lineup because they often use citrus in their Wild Roots cocktails. Spiritfruit is a ready-to-drink canned vodka soda made using all-natural ingredients, a splash of real fruit and five-times distilled corn-based vodka.

Gin & Tonic Canned Cocktails

  In the spirit-based RTD market, taste and innovation are already proving to be key market differentiators. Take, for example, the different ways three distillers produced a canned classic gin & tonic.

  Melissa and Lee Katrincic, co-founders and co-owners of Durham Distillery in Durham, North Carolina, launched their Conniption canned cocktails in 2018 and were among the first distilleries in the U.S. to add them.

  “We saw the increasing popularity of malt-based seltzers and with them mimicking cocktail flavors and/or names. We wanted to bring authentic, delicious spirits based cocktails in the convenience of a can,” Melissa Katrincic said. They chose rosé spritz, cucumber & vodka and gin & tonic because they found that these seasonable flavors are perfect for the warmer months in the southeast United States. Their gin & tonic emerged as the fan favorite.

  Durham’s canned cocktails must be prepared in large batches of approximately 5,000 cocktails. This process involves ensuring that the precise amount of ingredients are measured and pumped into their 450-gallon tanks, then mixed and carbonated. They have an automated canning line for getting the product into containers, whereas their spirits are hand bottled. The canning line is made of hundreds of working parts that are finely tuned but can sometimes be problematic if out of adjustment. Carbonated products can also be prone to “misbehaving,” leading to the final product being foamy or difficult to get into the cans at the right volume.

  Freeland Spirits added canned cocktails to their lineup following the success of the kegged ver-sion of their Gin and Rose Tonic, which they offered in their tasting room. They launched their canned version in 2019, followed in 2020 with the French 75. The latter is a collaboration made using women winemakers and distillers and features Freeland Gin, Chehalem Chardonnay, lemon and simple syrup.

  According to Troupe: “While canned cocktails add an additional step to spirits production, play-ing with carbonation levels and different cocktail ingredients is a lot of fun.” Also, stability is a more significant issue because these canned cocktails are lower-proof than their bottled spirits.

  As the makers of Aria Portland Dry Gin, Martin Ryan Distilling Company in Portland, Oregon, is known as a gin house. So rather than develop another product in a different spirit category, a G&T seemed like a natural extension of the Aria Portland Dry gin brand. Ryan Csansky used his background in the bar and restaurant industry to create an in-house tonic using a proprietary blend of lime, bergamot and lemongrass, hints of allspice, orris and star anise, a flavorful tonic that complements the classic London Dry style of Aria Gin. The result is a G&T canned cocktail made using all ingredients with chemicals or artificial sweeteners and one of the lowest sugar counts of any tonic on the market. Since a canning line is an expensive system to purchase, they work with a mobile canning company that brings their system and operating crew to them as needed.

Other Non-Carbonated Bartender Inspired Cocktails

  Drnxmyth, a collective of drink makers with a shared interest in bringing fresh craft cocktails to people everywhere, invented an ingenious bottling technology that, in their estimation, unlocks the freshest cocktails ever produced. Each drink created is a collaboration between them and a bartender, drink maker or drinksmith, who shares in the sales profits for this particular drink.

  The TTB licensed Drnxmyth’s factory to handle bulk spirits and fresh cold press juicing, batch-ing and filling. A patent-pending bottle separates the spirits from the fresh ingredients, since al-cohol alters the sensorial nature of juice and freshness over time. Then the drinks are pressurized at 85,000 psi, which brings the microbial count in the juice close to zero. After that process, the beverage will remain fresh for five months while refrigerated and unopened.

  Through his work in the music festival industry, Neal Cohen, co-founder of Atlanta-based Tip-Top Proper, saw demand growing for quality cocktails, though in his assessment, the category had yet to deliver the quality and convenience for classic, spirit-forward, non-carbonated cock-tails in high volumes. “We fantasized about creating a world-class cocktail in an easy-to-serve vessel, thinking maybe we could help solve a problem for venues, events, restaurants, bars, air-planes and regular folks at home on the couch. Eventually, we stopped fantasizing and started actually doing it,” Cohen said.

With that mindset, Tip Top Proper was founded in 2018, focusing first on the trifecta of bitters-forward, stirred, high-proof cocktails—Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Negroni. Next, they gravi-tated toward a “Shaken Line”—Margarita, Daiquiri and Bee’s Knees—all cocktails that allow for warm weather, outdoor consumption. Their products come in 100ml sizes, which Cohen said is the appropriate single-serve size for a cocktail.

  In 2016, The Perfect Cocktail began offering classic cocktails—Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Negroni—packaged in mini bags. Their “made in Italy” production process and functional and sustainable packaging are patented to ensure the best mix of convenience and flexibility.

  Alley 6 Craft Distilling in Healdsburg, California, first came out with their canned Old Fash-ioned in 2019 in response to consumer demand for a portable version of the drink made in their tasting room using rye whiskey or apple brandy and candy cap (mushroom) bitters. A bottle didn’t seem to fit their purposes when compared to a canned cocktail that could be enjoyed while on the go, traveling or adventuring.

  Oregon-based 503 Distilling offers their canned Mt. Hood Old Fashioned, a blend of their rye whiskey, hazelnut bitters and maple syrup. This canned cocktail follows their first release, the Wicked Mule, along with other offerings—Blood Orange Greyhound, La Vida Mocha, Five-O-Tea and Huckleberry Lemonade.

  For a Brazilian twist on the Old Fashioned, Novo Fogo is launching a Brazilian Old Fashioned Highball hybrid that features tropical flavors of orange and vanilla. Their initial foray into the canned cocktail market was their Sparkling Caipirinha, a canned version of Brazil’s national cocktail available in three flavors found across the Brazilian food and drink spectrum—lime, passion fruit and mango.

  Finally, for consumers looking to savor a hot, after-dinner hard coffee that’s easy to make, Cask and Kettle produces small-batch hard coffees in flavors such as Irish, Mint Patty, Hot Blonde or Mexican Coffee, and a Spiked Cider in a k-pod. The k-pods, packaged and distilled by Temper-ance Distilling in Temperance, Michigan, contain liquid distilled spirits, concentrated coffee and flavorings, and can be placed into any pod home brewing system or poured into hot or iced water.

The Power of Persuasion: Why Your Craft Brand Needs Social Media Influencer’s NOW!

By: Chris Mulvaney, President, CMDS Marketing Agency

In the past, reviewers and critics were the ones who determined what foods you wanted to eat and what movies you liked to watch. Then, when you turned on the TV, you would see a product-endorsing celebrity tell you what you wanted to buy.

  Now, not so much. You still have celebrity endorsements, sure, but you are much more likely to see them on social media than on prime time. With online technology far surpassing any printed newspaper, tv commercial or critic comes the birth of a new legion of opinion-swayers  – the social media influencer.  And, when it comes to craft beverages, there is no better place to be for brand promotion than having your product in one of their hands – and selfies – on social media.

  This new breed of influencer is not necessarily a celebrity. In fact, most aren’t. They are bloggers, cell phone photographers, Yelp reviewers. All someone needs is an online platform to post. Take that platform, add a determination for a large following, sprinkle in an enigmatic personality and the right “look” and viola! The new ”influencer” can take a brand like yours to an insane level of success.

  This proven method is exactly why the craft beverage industry is utilizing the social media influencer to further their reach and skyrocket their sales. On the internet’s various platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, lives a world of craft beer influencers, liquor afficianos and self-promoting humans commanding attention in the space.

  Whether they are self-proclaimed writers, brewers, distillery fans, liquor conoissors, beer sommeliers, beer-tenders, models, advocates, happy hour fans, or just plain-old well-respected craft beverage lovers, they are, in short, people we deem influential in this world.

  And, as of December 2020, there were 2.3 billion of them on Instagram.

  By strategic use of tagging, sharing links, posting photos of what and where they are drinking, sharing videos, stories and reels of new releases, encapsulating the crowd ambiance and engaging your audience with filtered selfies – they will make sure your product gets the ultimate endorsement advantage in hand and puts your online following on speed-dial.

So Why Are Influencers So Important?

  Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram were built with connection and humanity as its purpose and are primarily meant for person to person relations.

  And, those people will typically buy for two reasons:

1. Recommendations from someone they trust, and

2. Price.

  Influencers have an established credibility and can persuade others by virtue of their trustworthiness and authenticity. Your brand’s target influencers are users that employ your brand hashtag and who have the largest number of followers. What they like, buy, share and post will sway their followers to do the same.

  Influencers can be useful in three main ways for craft beverage businesses:

●   They can create content

●   Their audience can associate themselves with them, and

●   They can provide exponential revenue growth.

  In addition, this past year alone shows the skyrocketing success of the craft beverage hashtag. The following hashtags were used over and over by influencers all over Instagram:

●   #craftbeer: $29million

●   #cocktails: $28.9 million

●   #supportlocal: $26.6 million

  Influencers are also a great way to achieve a great engagement rate for your brand.

  As of July 2020, 35% of online adults in the US used Instagram. The average engagement rate of a video post on Instagram was 1.45 percent, which is considered a good engagement rate. Additionally, image posts on the photo-sharing social site had an average engagement rate of 1.74 percent. Carousel posts (multiple photos on one post in succession) had a higher average engagement rate than single slide posts.

How to Choose An Influencer that is a Good Fit for Your Business:

  Before hiring an influencer, it is very important to make sure that they fit in with your business model and ethical strategy.

Ask yourself these questions:

●   Are They a Natural Fit for Your Products or Services?

●   Does Their Performance Data Align with Your Campaign Goals?

●   How Engaged is Their Community?

●   Do They Align with Your Budget?

●   How Are They Working with Brands Already?

●   How Do They Disclose Sponsored Posts?

  Keep in mind, an influencer can become synonymous with your brand, so if it doesn’t feel like quite the right fit, always err on the side of caution.

Micro vs. Macro Influencer’s

  Here is where a marketing agency can be of huge assistance. Once you decide to use an influencer for your brand, then you have to decide what type of influencer will work best.

  Surprisingly, the most successful influencers are not always obvious celebrities. In fact, in a report by mediakix listing the 30 most influential influencers in 2021, an Instagram personality by the name of Mr. Pokee (@mr.pokee) made it to #18. Why is this newsworthy? Mr. Pokee, with over 1.3 million followers to date and whose page is run by Litha Girnus, is a world-traveling … hedgehog.

  So, it’s best to use the focus of your brand and test that out with various influencers because you never know what will hit best with your audience.

You also have to decide whether or not to use a “micro” or “macro” influencer.

  Micro influencers cost about $1,000 for a one-feed post, two IG stories and an audience reach of 50K-100k.  A Macro influencer costs an average of $50K with an average audience reach of 500K to one million. After doing math, the micro-influencer in many cases makes more sense. However, performing your own metrics or having a qualified marketing agency do this on your behalf will assist with what type is better for your business, brand, size and goals. 

  Marketing agencies can also help with locating the influencers using sites like thisishey.com, tagger.com or clouthq.com, and taking on the evaluation and decision-making process on your behalf.

The “Taste-Test”

  Testing out various influencers is the best way to see which one is most effective for your brand. It is always best to have around five to start with.

A great process for you to use is the following:

●   Find one influencer for each focus in your brand strategy, run them, and test to see what is most effective.

●   Use unique UTM tags for each influencer

●   Offer to pay to advertise the post to their lookalike audiences (this can only benefit your brand so is a win-win)

●   Have them post on the weekends when engagement will most likely be higher

●   Identify winners, then put money into the influencers that are bringing returns.

●   Share metrics with influencer and work with influencer to optimize videos, etc.

  An additional option is to let the influencer in on a revenue share, in which they provide more content but you pay the ad spend.

The Law

  Once you find an influencer who meets all of your criteria, you must be aware of the laws governing their posts.

  In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission published its Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising and followed by a 2015 FTC Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertising. These regulations state that consumers must be aware that the influencer is compensated by a marketer and that an influencer does not hide any connection with the brand or marketer.

  FTC guidelines also state that an influencer’s sponsored posts (even on their own website or under their own social media account) must be considered advertisements as well as noting a “material connection” between the influencer and the brand.

  Recently, the FTC has also taken an interest in controlling influencer-based marketing. Any Influencer must be aware of four points the Federal Trade Commission issued in its “Updated Guidance”:

1.  Clearly disclose when you have a financial or family relationship with the brand.

2.  Don’t assume that using a platform’s disclosu tool is sufficient.

3.  Avoid ambiguous disclosures like #thanks, #collab, #sp, #spon or #ambassador.

4.  Don’t rely on a disclosure placed after a CLICK MORE link or in another easy-to-miss location.

  The FTC has also given guidance to brands who use influencers. In a 2017 Consent Order, the FTC required a brand to:

1.  Provide influencers with a clear statement of his/her responsibility to make clear disclosures of material connections to the brand.

2.  Establish and maintain a system to monitor and review influencers.

3.  Terminate influencers who don’t comply.

  Being aware of these regulations will save you and your business from any potential (and hefty!) lawsuits in the long run.

The Last Gulp

To Recap: In simple terms, influencers provide:

•    Content creation

•    Brand elevation/Product validation

•    Revenue Growth

In turn, your craft beverage brand can use that for:

•   Paid social content

•   Organic content

•   Amplification/association

  In order to be successful in your craft business, you need social media. It’s the absolute best way to grow your brand, engage with your customers and achieve tremendous sales growth. And, using an influencer is critical to this business strategy and can help you reach an insane amount of success.

  Finding the perfect influencer partner for your brand can take some time, but with careful consideration and a strong strategy, you can avoid having any big setbacks that can cost you money or put your reputation at risk.

  And, allowing your customers to associate a trusted influencer with your brand, in addition to having all of the above factors work together on social media, will increase your craft beverage sales exponentially. And that’s a notion that goes down real smooth.

What’s In a Name?

The Craft Beer Industry’s Obsession with Styles

By: Erik Myers

When Kevin Davey, the brewer at Wayfinder Brewing Company in Portland, OR spoke on record about what his new style of “Cold IPA” meant from a process and ingredients standpoint, the craft beer industry erupted with contention. Soon, like Brut IPA before it, it was the buzz of online brewer forums. Some brewers were eager to make their own version, some ranted in angry indignation about a new sullying of a classic style, already much maligned.

  If you’re unfamiliar with the “style”, I’ll catch you up now. A Cold IPA is made with lager yeast and fermented at around 65F – much like a Steam Beer. It is dry-hopped during active fermentation to take advantage of yeast’s ability to biotransform hop oils. One could almost consider it a cross between an Italian Pilsner and a Hazy IPA. Almost.

  Somewhere on the Internet, the debate still rages. If it’s made with lager yeast, how can you possibly call it an IPA? After all A stands for “Ale.” And if you’re fermenting with lager yeast at a warm temperature, doesn’t that stylistically make it a California Common? If you’re hopping during active fermentation, it’ll certainly pick up some haze. Does that make it New England Style? We may never know.

  It’s not an unfamiliar debate. A decade or more ago, beer industry veterans will remember a similar debate around Black IPA. How could you possibly call it an IPA? After all the P stands for “Pale.” We’ve had Brown IPAs, Red IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Brut IPAs, Session IPAs, Hazy IPAs, Juicy IPAs, and even IPLs. “India” is one of the most over-used meaningless words found in beer styles, yet the industry is happy to pedantically argue about every word that happens to land anywhere near it.

  The industry is both obsessed with style classifications and their definitions and crippled by its hyper-focus on them. At the largest beer competitions in the world – The Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup – beers are judged as “best” by how closely they adhere to style guidelines written and maintained by the all-holy gatekeepers of beer, the Brewers Association. The US-based organization essentially functions as the worldwide arbiter of what makes a beer “authentic”.

  Here’s the problem. Brewing “to style” is not a measure of quality, and customers would rarely recognize it if it were.

  The arcane and specific definition of beer styles emerged at around the same time as the country’s first craft breweries with the 1985 founding of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) by Pat Baker of the Home and Beer Trade Association along with support from the author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and veritable Godfather of Craft Beer, Charlie Papazian. From its originators, it seems quite clear that the purpose of defining beer styles was to further interest in homebrewing.

  Using styles as an educational tool created a common language for homebrewers to learn how beer differed around the world. It created a framework for writing about historic origins and context. It gave homebrewers a language for their dreams of recreating that beer they had when they were traveling right in their own kitchen. It gave them the ability to share recipes with other homebrewing enthusiasts in a shorthand that they could all recognize, to save the countless hours that would otherwise be needed to explain over and again the nuanced differences between an American Brown Ale and a Robust Porter.

  The vast majority of the craft breweries in this country were built by homebrewers which amplifies these definitions on a commercial level and gives them an outsized importance, particularly to the people within the industry itself.

  According to the Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), there are 5 classifications allowed on a label: beer, ale, lager, porter, and stout. Well-style-versed brewers scoff at this list for the same reason that they roll their eyes at Cold IPA. Porter and stout are both ales, and both ales and lagers are beers. It’s not so much a list of styles as it is a Venn diagram.

  By contrast, the 2020 GABF Style Guidelines listed 91 different styles, with 127 subcategories. The style guideline document itself I     s 61 pages long and is updated every year. Somehow, though, brewers still think that when they put the words “Czech Pilsener” on the can, that their customers can accurately determine that, of course this isn’t a “German Pilsener” and obviously it’s not an “American Pilsener” or an “International Pilsener.”

  Styles are great tools. They’re good communicators. In a short description, they can communicate to the drinker exactly what they should be able to expect inside the package, assuming, that is, that they know what the words in that description are referring to.

  Unfortunately, craft beer consumers don’t have this level of education. Their knowledge of beer styles has been imparted to them through one reality television show hosted by the irreverent Scottish founders of Brew Dog and another focused on the weird antics of the country’s “extreme” brewery, Dogfish Head. They’ve learned styles from airport menus and that one brewery tour they went on a few years back when they got a Groupon, and they’re pretty sure they learned something at that beer festival that they went to on their birthday when they tried to have one of every single beer there and passed out in the parking lot.

  The fact is that styles are industry jargon. They are not marketing materials, or a meaningful form of communication to customers. They don’t really describe what’s inside a glass, so much as they describe what’s inside a recipe. Every brewer in the country has a story about a customer walking into their bar, looking blankly at the list of beers and asking, “Do you have any ales or lagers?” That’s because the meaningful differences between an ale vs. a lager can be summed up by describing what a beer tastes like, rather than referencing the species of the fungus that digested the barley sugar.

  Sure, because of the growing popularity of the industry, some of those terms have made it into modern beer-drinking vernacular, but only on a limited basis. In fact, the reason IPA has worked so well as a moniker for craft beer is that it is short, easy to remember, and is attached to a bold flavor profile. Consider, though, that the term IPA has been on a centuries long journey. What currently constitutes an IPA today would be completely unrecognizable to the people who originally made them. Consider, too, that many customers do not know that IPA is an acronym. Nor do they associate it with a particular color or the species of yeast, and they would be hard pressed to tell you why the word “India” is involved at all. It probably involves boats.

  Calling Davey’s iteration of a style a “Cold IPA” is fine, even though it’s not really cold, nor an ale, nor Indian, because it’s created a term in which industry members can communicate the techniques he’s using in order to iterate upon the idea at another brewery. Like the homebrewers that created this classification system, he’s using familiar points of the naming system to communicate to others how they should take a stab at their own version of this creation – and that, ultimately, is the soul of what the craft brewing industry is about – and what will insure it moves on into the future: experimentation, innovation, and creativity, and then, iteration. Style guidelines are merely the framework with which that is communicated, and nothing more. They are not a holy book of information and to most of the rest of the world, the words used within them are largely meaningless.

  Style guidelines are excellent tools for internal communication. They’re great for recipe development. They’re even okay when used to classify beer for competition. But that’s where they stop being useful. When you’re selling beer in packaging or across a bar, it’s important to meet people where they are. Communicate with your customers in their vernacular, not your jargon.

Mixology Mishaps:

How To Turn Negative Online Reviews into Successful Sales

By: Chris Mulvaney, President (CMDS)

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never …hurt us? Wait, never mind.  In the craft beverage industry, words can do damage, especially online where your reputation is always one Google search away.

  Facebook, Yelp, and Google are the three most-trusted review sources for local searches.  Reviews on these sites matter.  The way that your business treats a negative review can tell your customers a lot about you.  So, if you do happen to receive one, you need to act fast.

And while you are no doubt used to handling the difficult customer in person, social review channels are open for all to see, and negative comments can reflect poorly on your craft brand and, ultimately, cost you sales — right?  Well, yes and no.

  Yes, if you don’t manage your negative comments properly, then it could be bad news for your revenue stream. However, there are ways to offset negative reviews. And, if you respond the right way, you can turn those negative comments around and avoid having a damaging social media mishap.

  In fact, you can leverage them to actually improve your conversion rates, “boost” your sales, and ultimately create success for your craft beverage brand.

Create a Game Plan

  Before you take any action on a review, you should always have a game plan in place. That way, your social media presence remains consistent across all review platforms.

  Look at it this way: think of each negative review as an opportunity to show your customers that you care.

  Here are some game plan directives to put into place:

1.  Don’t Ignore Them or Be Defensive:  Hearing someone criticize your business hurts. It can be tempting to close your browser every time you read a bad review, or, even worse, to respond with a cutting retort, but burying your head in the sand or exhibiting online “road rage” isn’t going to solve anything. Instead, come up with the right response. Address them by name. Humanizing your approach will demonstrate your brand ethics. Make sure that you remain genuine. Don’t answer with an auto-reply. Take the time to actually investigate each issue. Don’t debate the validity of their statements, argue, or respond in an aggressive or combative way, even if you don’t agree. Arguing with a dissatisfied client online makes their original complaint seem more valid, and worse, it never makes you look good.

       Instead, thank the reviewer for their feedback and offer a sincere apology for their experience. You don’t have to take responsibility, but do show empathy.

2.  Respond as Quickly as Possible: It is vital to respond to negative comments as quickly as you can.  Doing this will give you a better chance to salvage those bad reviews. Each minute matters on social media because everyone has real-time access to it.

       To help you manage your social media responses in a timely manner, it’s best to hire an agency. They can assist with implementing tools so you are alerted in real-time whenever you receive a comment on one of your channels. You can quickly resolve any issues and prevent significant customer loss.

3.  Really Make the Effort to Solve the Problem: Making something right will also show potential customers that you are completely committed to ensuring satisfaction.

       In addition, many reviewers will go back and post their experience if it turns into a positive one, and every positive review takes the sting out of a negative one. Highlight these experiences so customers see that you care about the outcome.

4. Keep it Real:  An imperfect, but pretty strong rating appears much more believable to customers than having a perfect record. Unblemished reviews can look “fake” and more untrustworthy than their blemished counterparts. In a nutshell, negative reviews provide some honest feedback on your craft beverage product or service and can mix in nicely with the positive commentary.

Leverage Other Business’s Negative Experiences

  As the saying goes, a person who learns from other people’s mistakes is a wise person. And leveraging other people’s negative experiences can offer many benefits.

  Learning from others by doing your research helps you avoid the same obstacles.

  For instance, here are some top online customer complaints about various craft beverage establishments swirling around social media right now:

●    Place not open as advertised/Website not updated/Hours not listed.

●    Want a bigger pour for the price.

●    Employees are rude/non-compliant with safety.

●    Tour was longer than it stated.

●    Not clear about rules (kids, food, etc).

●    Not enough offerings/limited selection.

●    No Flight Layout (for breweries).

  All of these comments boil down to the same two issues: Online presence and customer communication.

  You know what takes to manage your business and your inventory. And, with the popularity of craft beverage businesses, there is a steady stream of new customers. Some patrons, used to a different type of establishment, or ones who are simply impatient when it comes to being served at a busy place, offer a different level of frustration.

  To counteract this, make sure you take notice of negative reviews from similar businesses to limit having the same thing happen to you.

  Here are some counter-acting responses to the above examples:

●   Always keep your website and hours of operation updated. Do you require reservations or are you first come, first serve? Do your hours change with the seasons? Close for private parties? Planning these updates in advance and keeping your business information up to date ensures you do not get disgruntled customers who are more likely to chalk up their “bad” experience through a negative review.

●   Be CLEAR with your pricing, online and in person. Be transparent about promotions and their start/end dates. State whether sales tax is or is not included. Be open about the size of your pour. Being transparent can avoid any unwelcome surprises.

●   Train your employees in the art of customer service. While you know there will be times when it will get busy and your staff may get pulled in different directions, the customer should always be treated in kind.  Consider security cameras to give peace of mind to both the customer and the staff so that any situation can have an objective eye.

●   Be aware of the most up-to-date safety and cleanliness measures. Make sure your business adheres to them to keep everyone as safe as possible all round.

●   If you provide tours, state when your tours begin and finish. If they can be more lax, state that too. Make sure this is stated online and in person.

●   Let your customer be prepared before they come to your business on what your rules are by posting them and in your place of business. Do you have a food menu or do you use a trusted vendor? Are kids allowed? Is there an “Adults-Only” area? Tasting rules? Your menu and offerings should be clearly stated online and in person. Make sure to keep this updated. Are you a brewery with a flight menu? Let them know either way. Some things cannot be avoided (such as running out of a flavor or not being able to offer growlers) … try to keep up on this as much as possible. Mention it on social or display it on a board at your business.

  You will always have to take the good with the bad, but the more you know, the more you can prepare for.

  It’s True: Those Bad reviews Can Actually Improve Your Sales. Believe it or not, bad reviews have the power to improve your sales and conversion rates, too.

  As previously mentioned, if your business gets only positive reviews, consumers might question whether those reviews are legitimate.

  Since nobody is perfect, having a healthy mix of both positive and negative reviews will help customers view your business as more trustworthy. Most customers actually expect negative reviews on your site, and if they don’t see them, they think your reviews are fabricated.

  And, when there are negative reviews mixed in with the positive ones, that reduced skepticism will add to your brand’s authenticity.

  For that reason, it’s important not to delete your negative comments on your social channels because they can actually work in your favor by making the positive comments that much more credible.

The Last Gulp

To recap:

●   Create a uniformed GAMEPLAN.

●   Use other competitors’ negative review experiences to improve your brand strategy.

●   Leverage negative comments to drive beverage sales and conversion rates.

  That’s why it’s important to hire the right agency to manage your online presence with these initiatives and more. Doing so ensures that you uphold a valuable asset – your business’s reputation, without taking away from your valuable time.

  All in all, your social media strategy in how you respond to negative comments can flip the unsatisfactory customer experience on its head, turning them into positive sentiments and increased sales, resulting in the happy sound of clinking glasses.

  Chris Mulvaney is a business developer, entrepreneur, and an award-winning creative marketing strategist. His extensive professional background includes working with some of the world’s leading brands – and personally helping clients refine their corporate vision and generate the kind of eye-popping results that too many companies only dream about. Visit… cmdsonline.com

2021 Beverage Trends

By: Tracey L. Kelley

No producer wants to feel like their business is simply dictated by trends and not backed by individual vision and a solid plan. However, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be strategic, targeted and, most of all, flexible.

  To understand what consumers want in 2021 and beyond, Beverage Master Magazine gathered some trend data and talked with Holly McHugh, marketing associate for Imbibe, a beverage development company focused on the formulation, customization and commercialization of cutting-edge beverage products that provide a “bolt-on R&D function” for companies without R&D or that need to expand in this area.

So—What’s New?

  Taking stock of the past year and establishing aspects of revision is still a personal and professional journey. Still, maybe some of these indicators will resonate as either extensions of current practices or sparks of innovation.

People are Eager for To-go and Online Options

  “The pandemic changed the way we shop, socialize, entertain and more,” McHugh said. “This created a need for CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands to offer products that provide an escape from the mundane but can be enjoyed at home.”

  In December 2020, Forbes reported that “total eCommerce penetration experienced 10 years of growth March through May 2020.” It cited research from IWSR that stressed “online sales of alcohol in the U.S. alone are expected to grow by more than 80%” in 2021. The IWSR analysis indicated that “beverage alcohol eCommerce value grew by 42% in 2020,” and the forecast is that the U.S. will overtake China “as the world’s largest beverage alcohol e-Commerce market by the end of 2021.”

  Quite simply, customers are fond of the convenience and expanse of options online ordering provides. In major and secondary market areas, consumers use platforms like Drizly to browse various selections and receive their purchases within 60 minutes. Many local producers also have access to DoorDash and other delivery services, regulations permitting. “Ghost bars” — extensions of virtual or cloud bars or restaurants often accessed only through third-party delivery services — also saw an increase in consumer interest as producers found new ways to lower overhead but expand product offerings and brand awareness.

  Do-it-yourself kits, mixology classes, premium bar selections, unusual or over-the-top experimental selections and other experienced-based offerings continue to drive consumer interest in 2021. They also still desire personal connections with makers.

Non-standard Products Continue to Rise

  Hard seltzer, cider, tea, kombucha and beer tap into consumers’ desire to balance healthy libations with beverage-driven exploration.

  For example, pandemic purchases of hard seltzer, in particular, rose significantly in 2020, moving beyond previous limitations of seasonality, and there’s no stopping point yet. Nielsen reported that “Hard seltzer-correlated ready-to-drink cocktails drove $120 million in U.S. off-premise sales in the 52-week period ending June 2020, while growing at a 127% rate compared with the previous year.” That growth, Nielsen states, “opened the doors to an even broader array of new and bolder flavor options accompanying the base liquid, and it’s allowing manufacturers to expand the limits of what ‘hard seltzer’ means.”

  Zero-proof spirits, especially those enhanced with adaptogens – herbal substances that promote wellness – botanicals and CBD also have growth potential.

  As regulations shift, CBD- and even THC-infused products are positioned for a meteoric rise, according to a 2020 report by Grant View Research. “The global cannabis beverages market size is expected to reach USD 2.8 Billion by 2025 at a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 17.8 percent.” While some consumers might opt for THC’s “therapeutic effects along with the euphoria it provides,” Grant View Research indicated, people consider CBD products differently.

  “Lack of psychoactive effect in the CBD drinks is widening its scope for usage of the drinks in medical purposes. Many consumers are considering CBD drinks as a wellness and anti-inflammatory products, such as kombucha, a probiotic drink. This drink can potentially be used for treating chronic pain, anxiety, substance use disorders and central nervous system diseases. These factors are expected to boost the adoption of the product, resulting in the growth of the segment,” the report outlined.

Health is Front and Center

  “Since the onset of the pandemic, improving physical and mental health has become a top priority for consumers,” McHugh said. Imbibe’s trendspotting indicated a sharp uptick in non-alcoholic wellness beverages and other forms of “permissible indulgence.” While this doesn’t seem to align with alcohol initially, it presents opportunities to consider communications and branding that acknowledge aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

  Spirit-forward classics, which celebrated resurgence in 2020, aren’t slowing down in the new year and might provide another way to acknowledge the balance of responsible consumption that focuses on taste and experience.

  Combating stress with beverages, otherwise known as mood boosters, that allow for clarity, relaxation and sleep is another trend for 2021, similarly to non-traditional offerings.

There’s a Greater Awareness of Ethical Practices and Cultural Appropriation

  In addition to a greater interest in immunity and mood-boosting beverages, McHugh said there’s an increased demand for global products and flavors — with a caveat.

  While culinary tourism is at a high, panelists at Bar Convent Brooklyn last fall stressed that consumers would continue to share dollars and social media influence with businesses that are more progressive when addressing workplace inequalities, sexism, racism and other societal concerns. They want inclusion and diversity, but from the originators. For example, tiki bars are replaced with nautical or tropical themes; an introduction to popular new tequila includes cultural history from someone in the Latinx community; and a closer examination of whether the producers’ table includes people of color and women, especially when it involves other rising spirit trends such as sake, soju, South American spirits and Japanese whiskey.

Value and Safety Still Prevail

  While this really isn’t a surprise, it’s simply a reminder that we can’t move into what was once normal just yet.

  “Economic uncertainty created demand for value, which we anticipate will be evident through increased sales in multi-use and multi-pack products and private label innovation,” McHugh said. “Safety is something we always think about in the industry in the sense that we don’t want to sell a product that could be dangerous to the consumer, but concern about safety has been heightened by the pandemic. Consumers are purchasing groceries online now more than ever, paying closer attention to product packaging and checking what safety precautions food service establishments are taking before eating out or ordering in.”

Brewing Social Media Success:

How to Use the ‘Gram to Maximize Your Craft Beverage Brand  

By: Chris Mulvaney, President (CMDS)

What three things do Tito’s, Blue Chair Bay Rum and Trillium Brewing Company have in common?  All three have mastered the ‘gram game and have boosted their brand success by putting out a consistent cross-formula of brand content, brand awareness and maximizing audience engagement across the ever-growing social media platform.

  Whether you are a craft brewer, startup spirit producer or global drinks company, your social media presence should be at the top of your priority list. But how exactly can crafters use Instagram to grow their business?

  Instagram is a visually appealing social media platform. In recent years, it has started to dominate Facebook in that it is not as overcrowded and expensive. The beauty of Instagram is that brands can still establish an organic relationship with their followers and can develop brand personas, becoming known for a certain tone, content and style. They can build their brand immensely just by being an active user. Also, the influencer market has never been so powerful for brand awareness.

Instagram Strategy

  Once you get a grasp of the platform, then you must define your social media strategy to gain the right followers and maximize engagement.

   This should include:

•   Increasing brand awareness.

•   Driving website traffic.

•   Increasing website engagement to generate leads and drive sales.

•   Increasing customer retention, engagement, and followers.

  How can a brand stand out in an increasingly competitive market?

•   Quality products, first and foremost.

•   Great marketing.

  After that, tell your brand story through photos, partnerships, video and human interaction. Think about what separates your product from others in the market. This isn’t something that’s achieved by one post, but over time, and means connecting your product to something much wider than the drink itself.

  For example, Mexican brand, Corona, understands the appeal of their beverage isn’t just the beer itself. A Corona and lime brings to mind vacations, beaches, relaxation and sun.

  They’ve fully embraced this as their brand, tying the image of plunging a fresh lime into a cold Corona to diving headfirst into the waters of a clear blue ocean.

Organic Media vs. Paid Media

  In the past, the goal of most marketers on Instagram tended towards growing a big following, then continuously publishing content that’s relevant to their brand and audience. One important point to realize, however, is that just because you have 1000 followers doesn’t mean every time you post all 1000 of them will see that post.

  In fact, the reality is a much smaller percentage of them will ever see your post and that’s where the term “organic reach” comes in.

Organic

  One of the most important things to understand about social media marketing is that the way companies can succeed on social media will be entirely dependent on whether they can create an organic experience for users.

  Organic reach determines how many of your followers will see your post without you paying.

This concept of organic reach is prevalent on Instagram since the algorithms used to determine who will see your content at any given time are based primarily on engagement.

  Tips to Get More Organic Reach:

•    Feed your audience with more value.

•    Upload at least two posts a day.

•    Make use of all the features (posts, stories, comments, hashtags).

•    Use attention-grabbing headlines.

•    Use paid sites like Sprout Social to understand the industry atmosphere and create an ongoing dialogue with your audience.

Paid Distribution

  Due to changes in organic reach over the years, companies have been forced to rethink their social media strategies, and in many cases begin exploring other avenues to reach their users on social media, specifically through paid distribution.

  Utilizing paid channels has a number of benefits because it can target users based on demographic information, behavior and interests. Because of this, marketers are able to drill down to specific audiences.

Seven Steps to Success

  Gaining followers and engagement isn’t about simply posting once a week and hoping for the best. In fact, a successful strategy on Instagram should include concrete goals, an ongoing content calendar, a scientific approach to who you’re trying to reach and how many people you expect to interact with.

  The following are seven important steps to grow your brand on Instagram.

1.  Be consistent:   It’s important to define a core strategy for your brand. It should be consistent across all channels and the narrative should be easy to follow. You’ll need to balance product content, campaign content and brand content to be most effective.

       How to maximize consistency on the Instagram platform:

•   Post stories often.

•   Like and comment on posts.

•   Run a contest.

•   Post engaging captions.

•   Offer free advice or information.

•   Post during active hours.

•   Use Instagram ads (paid distribution).

•   Have a strong visual brand strategy.

2.  Use clever alcohol hashtags:  Using clever alcohol-related hashtags can help get your brand trending online or inspire a sense of community with your customers.

        Studies have shown the optimal number of hashtags to use in Instagram consistently is seven. However, even more important is to define your hashtags, include them on packaging and don’t change them too often to make sure fans can refer to you easily.

3.  Use Influencers:   The influencer market has never been so powerful. There are hiring sites for influencers that will allow you to enhance your brand and vision through them. It’s a great way to promote engagement because it boosts brand awareness fast and increases your potential to go viral.

4.  Keep the “social” in social media:  A great way to inspire your fans is to use social media to inspire real world engagement. Your brand will get the most out of social media by catering to the interactive experience. It’s important to be part of the conversation around social events which will resonate with your market – both in terms of pre-planned campaigns and via reactive content.

       Just having a social media account is not enough. Successful brewing and spirit brands actively encourage their fans to engage with their accounts. Many have received some serious engagement by re-posting user generated photos.

       Whether you’re sponsoring a national event, or you can be reactive in a more local way, providing up-to-date content and being part of the conversation will help to keep your brand relevant.

5.  Offer a Backstage Pass:  Take your followers behind the scenes. Let your audience peek behind the curtain and see how their favorite drinks are made. Post photos of the start-up days, of the staff living life and having real experiences.

6.  Connect to a Cause:  Just as social media users don’t only care about likes and clicks, drinkers don’t care solely about their alcohol. More and more, consumers care about the ethics behind the products they’re buying. Remember, they are buying a brand.

       For example, New Belgium Brewing Company put meaning behind their message with their #FindingCommonGround campaign, which not only connects their outdoorsy aesthetic brand to a public land cause, but raised over $250,000 for charity.

        It’s worth the investment, on multiple levels, to put some of your efforts into giving back.

7.  Partner with other brands:   A drink is better with friends. Likewise, a brand is better in a partnership.

       Consider doubling up your power for promotions with a complimentary brand. Partnerships are especially good on Instagram for giveaways, allowing you to expand your offer and reach two different audiences.

       Make sure to find a brand aligned with your goals, and of similar size to get maximum value from a partnership.

Don’t Make These Common Instagram Mistakes

  Common mistakes brands can make on Instagram can hurt them exponentially. Here are some important ones to avoid:

•    Sharing more reposts than original content.

•    Taking too long to respond to comments.

•    Favoring quantity over quality.

•    Misusing hashtags.

•    Buying likes and fake followers.

•    Not paying attention to analytics.

Recap

Craft beverage companies have a product that is in demand, but they are working in an increasingly competitive market. Digital marketing allows them to stay ahead of the game through creative branding and audience engagement.

As a recap, here are some main social media tips as discussed above:

•    Get to know how the Instagram platform works.

•    Define your social media strategy.

•    Tell your brand story.

•    Utilize organic search and paid distribution.

•    Be consistent.

•    Use hashtags.

•    Use influencers.

•    Inspire real world engagement.

•    Take your followers behind the scenes.

•    Connect to a cause.

•    Partner with other brands.

•    Keep it going; don’t stop!

The Last Gulp

  If craft beverage companies hope to engage consumers and boost their sales in this competitive market, they have to adopt a social media strategy that ensures success. While there is no cookie-cutter formula to success on Instagram, there is a pattern that works across the platform if utilized properly.

  The realness is in the engagement and knowing how to maximize your followers and their engagement. So keep thinking: just how can you brew up a social media campaign as unique as your beverage?

Chris Mulvaney is a business developer, entrepreneur, and an award-winning creative marketing strategist. His extensive professional background includes working with some of the world’s leading brands – and personally helping clients refine their corporate vision and generate the kind of eye-popping results that too many companies only dream about. Visit… cmdsonline.com

Continuously Improving Your Incentive Program

By: Nichole Gunn, Vice President of Marketing & Creative Services, Incentive Solutions

The first years after launching an incentive program are an exciting time for craft beer producers: supply chain trading partners, drawn by the excitement of new promotions and an improved channel partner experience, are more responsive, more motivated and more likely to recommend the brand’s products to restaurants and retailers. During this time, craft beer producers often experience a period of rapid sales growth or improvement in other KPIs the program was designed to target, such as improved partner data profiles or increased referral business. The incentive program’s ROI grows exponentially.

  However, often after 12-30 months, growth begins to stagnate and the ROI curve starts to flatten. If left unaddressed once an incentive program’s novelty starts wearing off and supply chain trading partners become habituated to the program’s value proposition, the incentive program’s ROI may start to decline, leaving craft beer producers scrambling to find ways to replicate the program’s success.

  The good news is that by planning ahead, craft beer producers can anticipate this drop off in interest level and continuously improve their incentive program in order to sustain a competitive advantage in their channel.

Keeping Incentive Programs Fresh

(and Profitable!)

  In order to stay relevant, a channel incentive program has to be able to evolve with the interests of its participants, scale its value proposition over time and respond rapidly to the tactics of the competition. Below are several factors that craft beer producers can focus on in order to continue to drive ROI once program growth begins to stagnate:

•  Evolving incentive program technology.

•  Incorporating elements of gamification.

•  Adding new, richer reward-earning opportunities.

•  Personalizing brand interactions to build loyalty.

•  Re-launching the program with updated features and branding.

  Ideally¬, these are all elements that craft beer producers will consider from the inception of the program, with plans for program expansion at certain intervals. However, these factors can also be incorporated to bring new life to existing programs.

Evolving Incentive Program Technology

  Today, incentive programs are a technology platform, and craft beer producers should be as mindful in selecting incentive program technology as they are in selecting any B2B software platform. From an administrative standpoint, this means choosing an incentive platform that integrates with existing CRMs and other business software and provides streamlined admin tools and generates detailed reports on engagement and ROI.

  However, perhaps more importantly, craft beer producers should focus on selecting incentive software that is fully supported and will be continuously updated to improve the user experience for their supply chain trading partners. More and more, B2B customers expect a seamless B2C-style user experience. Partners will be less likely to engage with a rewards program that uses stale, outdated software, no matter how exciting the reward offering.

  Additionally, agility is key. Craft beer producers should look for incentive software that allows them to quickly go to market, adapt to the tactics of the competition and launch new promotions. These factors will offer an edge when it comes to maintaining engagement throughout the lifetime of their program.

Incorporating Elements of Gamification

  Gamification is the use of game-like elements – such as points-scoring, interactive leaderboards and other competitive components – to increase engagement with a web-based application, such as an incentive program. Gamification is a powerful tool that supply chain trading partners already seek out in their day-to-day lives, from collecting likes on their Facebook page to scoring achievements on Peloton bikes.

  When interest in the program begins to stagnate several years after launch, adding gamification features can give the program new life. Interactive trivia, spin-to-wins, badges and achievements, personalized leaderboards and limited-time point bonuses make the program more compelling and can give a sustainable boost to the program’s effectiveness over time. Additionally, by not relying strictly on reward value to drive engagement, craft beer producers can help lower program costs to increase their ROI.

Adding New, Richer

Reward-Earning Opportunities

  As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons an incentive program can lose its effectiveness overtime is that participants become habituated to the program’s value proposition. Top performing supply chain trading partners may have already redeemed for their most coveted rewards and find themselves with more points than they know what to do with. The competition may have launched their own reward program with comparable, or even more compelling, rewards.

  It’s up to craft beer producers to constantly up the ante with their program’s value proposition. For instance, launching a points-based merchandise reward program alongside an existing debit or gift card program will offer new value for participants. Elevate a points-based program by offering top performers a concierge service to redeem for custom rewards – using their points to buy a new truck, renovate their home or pay for their child’s college tuition will personalize the reward experience and boost the program’s value proposition in a way the competition will struggle to match.

  Additionally, incentive travel promotions can be added onto any program type, giving craft beer producers an opportunity to connect with their supply chain trading partners on a deeply personal level. Given recent restrictions, the demand for incentive travel is projected to be particularly high once it is deemed safer.

  If minimizing rewards cost is a concern, try setting higher qualification thresholds for these more exclusive reward opportunities. Doing so can also help tap into supply chain trading partners’ competitive drive, keeping them more engaged as they compete for a limited number of higher tier rewards.

Personalizing Brand Interactions

to Build Loyalty

  In their early stages, incentive programs are typically geared toward growth. However, if well designed, the program will be able to convert that initial interest and motivation into brand loyalty over time. Loyalty is about more than rewards; rewards appeal to self-interest while loyalty is rooted in creating mutual interest. Craft beer producers can create this loyalty by using their incentive program to provide a highly personalized experience and to help their channel partners become more effective salespeople.

  This personalization should extend through every phase of the incentive program, from designing program communication to be relevant to each segment of their channel partners to basing reward selection on participant lifestyle and interests. Craft beer producer can use engagement metrics from their incentive program to identify which of their supply chain trading partners have a high level of buy-in and which of their partners might need a little more help. They can provide enablement to their partners by providing online courses and certifications and using their incentive program as a platform to educate partners on their brand and product lines, equipping them to more effectively sell their products.

  By using personalization and focusing on partner experience, craft beer producers can build loyalty with their supply chain trading partners in ways that make extrinsic rewards less important. This makes trading partners drastically less likely to lose interest in the program.

Re-Launching the Program with Updated Features and Branding

  Finally, when the growth of an incentive program begins to stagnate, it might be a sign that it’s time to re-launch the program. A program re-launch gives craft beer producers the opportunity to step back and figure out what their prior program did effectively, as well as what they can do better. During this time, craft beer producers should also explore other pain points they would like their new program to target.

  A pause between programs can help build anticipation, as supply chain trading partners realize the value proposition of the previous program that they had begun to take for granted. Once the new program launches, with updated branding and new features, supply chain trading partners will enthusiastically re-enroll and craft beer producers will experience a renewed period of growth. Better yet, by using the knowledge gained from the previous program, craft beer producers can make their re-launched program even more effective than the first.

Planning Ahead for Program Management

  Additionally, craft beer producers can enlist the help of incentive companies to design and manage their programs. Just like crafting an excellent brew requires years of experience, so too does managing an effective incentive program. Working alongside an incentive company with a proven track record can help craft beer producers avoid potential pitfalls and take advantage of decades of experience in managing successful programs.

  Whether a craft beer producer is looking to launch their first program or improve a program that is currently underperforming, the initial investment of partnering with an incentive company can pay dividends down the road.

  Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing and Creative Services at Incentive Solutions (www.incentivesolutions.com), an Atlanta-based incentive company that specializes in helping B2B companies improve their channel sales, build customer loyalty, and motivate their employees. Nichole Gunn can be reached at ngunn@incentivesolutions.com.