I’m in Rochester, New York. Yesterday, we went to this shop:
|This is a very big beer shop.|
I’ll save the beer porn pictures for later, because there’s something else that cut through my gibbering excitement and imminent worry about weight limits on the flight home.
Blue Moon. It’s not my favourite beer. I find it too sweet, and the serve with a slice of orange a bit forced. But I’m glad it has been launched in the UK. I’m glad Molson Coors are at least showing recognition of the need to develop a craft beer portfolio if they want to prosper long term. And I know various people who really do like the beer.
With my marketing hat on – and because there are people working on Blue Moon whom I count as good friends – I also know that the launch of Blue Moon has taken an awfully long time and cost a serious amount of money. Not because they fucked up (they didn’t) but because that’s how big companies work.
In Beers of the World, they also stocked these:
Instantly, to my mind, Blue Moon becomes a much more interesting beer. I’m curious about trying the range. I don’t expect these beers to blow my socks off, but now we have a global brewer launching a series of seasonal beers and I think ‘Yay, they’re finally getting it!’
So given that these beers have already been manufactured, tested and distributed, why don’t we see them in the UK?
I may be completely wrong (and if I am, I’m certain to be told so in no uncertain terms very soon) but I think this is a perfect example of how the systems and processes of big brewers are stifling their creativity. I’ve worked on ‘New Product Development’ (NPD) projects a hundred times. These companies are risk averse – they actively reward caution. A typical ‘critical path’ to even get to a regional test launch for a new brand is at least a year long and costs hundreds of thousands of pounds. There will be at least two sets of focus groups. Both the ‘liquid’ and the brand positioning will be tested against various target groups, both at concept stage and much closer to pre-launch. Consumers will be asked their opinion on everything, down to the shade of orange on the box. At each significant juncture there will be a ‘gate’ where the team responsible has to present to the board or whoever, to convince them not to even launch the thing, but just that it’s worthwhile proceeding to the next stage of research and development.
I’ve maybe worked on eight or nine different new beer launches for big brewers in the last few years. I think one of them saw the light of day – and despite all that investment and caution, it failed.
Look – here are the beers, sitting unsold in a big beer shop in North America. What’s stopping some bright, beer loving person at Molson Coors (there are plenty of them) simply saying, why don’t we ship a palette of each one over to the UK, stick ’em in places like the Rake, the White Horse, North Bar, go down there and chat to punters and see how they go down?
That’s what a micro brewer would do. That’s what the likes of James Clay are doing with brands like Saranac, Flying Dog, Stone and Goose Island. You might take a bath on one shipment. But you’ll probably make it up on the others.
Multinational brewers in theory have an infrastructure that would make this very easy. But it’s too much of a risk. It has to go through the system. I’ve no idea if Molson Coors are looking at bringing these seasonals to the UK, but if they are, it’s going to take a lot of research, a lot of time.
I’ve only singled Molson Coors out because it’s their beers I saw in the shop yesterday. But all the big boys operate like this – it’s a general criticism. And it’s not a criticism of the people who are genuinely passionate about beer in these organisations, it’s a criticism of the systems and processes that stifle them. I’ve worked with many of their competitors and found them all the same. Great for me, because it can mean up to several months of lucrative and much-needed freelance work. Bad for them, because at the very least, the market will have moved on and developed between saying ‘let’s look at launching brand x’ and actually getting the product into pubs and bars.
Come on, Big Guys. Take a chance. Live a little. Every single marketing text book I’ve read by gurus like Tom Peters urges businesses to embrace risk. Brew Dog are at the other extreme – some of what they do is unspeakably bad, but I always support their stance because if they didn’t have the attitude to risk that produces the stinkers, we’d never see the likes of Paradox or 5am Saint either. It nets out pretty positive in the end. You don’t have to go as far as they do. But really, what’s the worst that could happen?