What's On Tap?
Pilsner. Lager. Porter. Imperial stout. Irish stout. English pale ale. India pale ale. Scotch ale. Brown ale. Golden ale. Wheat beer. Barleywine. Maibock. Doppelbock. Dubbel. Tripel. Quadrupel.
And you thought your options were limited to regular and light.
According to the Brewers Association's Web site, over 210 million barrels of beer were sold in America in 2008, generating $101 billion. To put this into perspective, that is approximately one barrel per adult citizen, equivalent to two kegs, 31 gallons or 330 bottles per person. Not that you drank that much, of course.
Beer is big business, as is the bar and restaurant industry that serves as the bartender to most Americans. The National Restaurant Association anticipates industry sales to increase 2.5 percent in 2009, making it equal to 4 percent of the GDP—or approximately $560 billion. Time to tap into the keg's potential and watch the profits flow like, well, you know.
99 Bottles of Beer on The Wall
Sidle up to any bar in any town and you'll find yourself surrounded by the familiar logo-bearing trappings of the industry: Bud Light lights, Sam Adams coasters, Miller Lite pint glasses. Bars brand themselves by showcasing their own brand loyalties, so it may be tempting to approach the big name breweries, but there's a reason their logos are already everywhere. "Generally, there is no room for distributors to work directly with large breweries—the breweries can tell you how much each product costs and they probably know the factory that makes [it]," said Jim Wysopal, president of Openers Plus, Costa Mesa, Calif., a bottle opener manufacturer with nearly 20 years experience making openers for companies such as Budweiser and Corona. His advice? Think locally. "There's tons of opportunity for the promo distributor to work with the beer distributors, importers, microbreweries and restaurants," he stated.
"The beer distributors are a network for the larger breweries and all are individually owned—even though they have Budweiser signs, they all make their own decisions on promotions," Wysopal explained. Beer distributors are the connection between the manufacturer and the seller, responsible for putting the bottle in the bar, and consequently can be instrumental in introducing new products. They will be purchasing all the caps, T-shirts and bottle openers given out at bars during promotions. "The beer distributor sells many brands and all those brands need promotions," he advised. "Sell them on the fact that you can promote all their brands."
On the other end of the spectrum, craft and microbreweries manufacture their own beer, and may sell through distributors or directly to bars. Due to their size, these companies focus marketing dollars not on Superbowl ads but on promotions that emphasise the quality of their products. "The advantage with microbrewers is that they want to be held to a higher standard," Wysopal said. "Importers and microbreweries typically use more expensive and more effective promotional products that are perceived to be more valuable." He also stated that, due to their smaller size, it is much easier to contact the buyers for these companies.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Once you're loaded on beer (knowledge, of course), the trick is finding the right promotion to get it into the bar. "There are people coming in all the time saying, 'Will you carry my beer?'" said Patrick O'Neill, general manager of the The Belgian Cafe, Philadelphia. Along with its sister bar Monk's Cafe, The Belgian Cafe is one of the premier beer spots in the United States, with over 200 different bottles of domestic and imported beer—if anyone knows what sells beer, it's them. "They'll usually bring in some [promotional] stuff, and I'll tell them if it's something I don't need."
What, then, do they need? Bar mats, check presenters and table tents seem like solid choices, but as O'Neill explained, "I have all the table tents I need, I don't need everybody to bring me more." If the restaurant is established, it likely has all the staples, and these items see low turnover. The smart move is to focus on products that will be frequently in demand.
"We can always use branded glassware" O'Neill said. Anyone who has spent time with a few brews on a Saturday night is familiar with the conversation-stopping sound of a shattering pint glass, and because the glassware is so fragile and the bar environment is less so, there's a constant need for new drinkware. "I buy a lot of glasses, but if I'm fortunate I can get some nice branded stemware from the distributor," he said. By the same token, disposable imprinted items like napkins and coasters are necessities that need constant replenishment.
This emphasis on beer branding is a trademark of the industry—people are loyal to their drink of choice, and like to showcase their pride. What's more, restaurants and taverns are eager to display to patrons what they offer; few industries not only accept, but encourage, the use of branded products like the service industry. "When someone brings in a keg, I always ask, 'Do you have a tap? Do you have glasses?'" O'Neill said, adding, "It's okay if they don't, but it's nice to have brand artwork in here." You can drink to that.