The secrets to stocking craft beer

19 February 2021, 08:48 AM
  • We speak to the experts to discover what makes a stand-out craft beer offering, and how to find the independent brews that will keep your customers coming back for more
The secrets to stocking craft beer

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the craft beer industry, with 200 million fewer pints brewed in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), due to the closure of beers, bars and restaurants.

Retail offers an alternative channel to bolster craft beer sales. While farm shops and delis may have historically leaned towards wine and spirits, the local provenance and premium standing that independent brews offer make them a strong sell for fine food retailers.

For those who are new to the craft beer scene, however, the vast array of options available can be overwhelming. Where does one begin?

Variety is key

Finding the right balance of styles is critical, says Combie Cryan, co-founder of Round Corner Brewing. “Venture beyond high strength IPAs and pale ales and consider stouts, brown ales and red ales – variety is key,” he said.

One-of-a-kind offerings provide a unique selling point for independent shops, too. “If you’re offering something that’s not available in their local supermarket, then that alone can be a compelling reason to grab something for the fridge while dropping in to pick up food,” said John Longbottom of Signature Brew.

“A good selection of beers can be a deciding factor, but equally many drinkers are happy just to take a chance and pick beers on the fly,” John added.

Don’t forget the classics

But building on those adventurous one-off sales with more reliable options is key to keeping your stock moving. “While many breweries are obsessed with IPAs, lager remains the biggest-selling style – representing over 80% of total beer volume,” said Combie. “Its enduring popularity is why we just put our Kiwi-style pilsner ‘Mainland’ into cans for the first time and also why we sell so much ‘Gunmetal’, a black lager.

“So, stock accessible lagers that are around 4.7%-5.5% ABV; you’re aiming for people whose ‘go to’ lagers are the likes of Peroni and Stella,” he said.

When it comes to IPAs, Combie advises retailers not to be afraid of higher ABVs, which customers have become more used to over recent years. What IPAs are customers reaching for today? “Session IPAs like Signature Brew’s own Roadie are obviously a go-to fridge filler, but juicy New England IPAs are still extremely popular with today’s drinker and something like a sour beer can immediately add breadth to any beer selection,” John said.

“Even a small but diverse offering of craft beers can pack a big punch.” On stocking a session IPA, a New England IPA, a sour and a dark beer - like a porter or a stout - he said, “that’s a compact but appealing offering, with enough diversity to keep everyone happy”.

Change with the seasons

Shifting your stock to suit the seasons can also help to influence sales. A coffee porter can work particularly well in the winter months, whereas fruitier and lighter options should be stocked ahead of summer. “We especially love using fresh green British hops in our September releases,” said Combie. “Using seasonality gives you themes for the fixture that are easy to understand and promote.”

Push the local message

This sense of locality and provenance in craft brewing is also a key selling point. “Breweries that have meaningful roots in a particular location or community are the ones that appeal most – they’ve got good back stories and have ‘roots’ and substance,” Combie continued.

The story behind a brand can not only help with marketing – more so than a wacky label or a unique ingredient, Combie assures – but provenance also ensures that customers form a connection with a product, as they do with locally sourced meat and produce. “As it should, substance above style wins every time,” Combie said. “Follow that principle and you’ll be stocking beers from breweries that people keep coming back to, as opposed to trying once and never again.”

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