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VOL. 062

The Regional Brewery Playbook (What we're seeing in our Regional branding work)


This is the second of four exclusive topics we’re covering here in our newsletter from our larger 2024 Beer Branding Trends report. 

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Let's get into it.

The entire beer industry is dealing with a down economy.

But mid-market and Regional Breweries are dealing with a uniquely challenging set of headwinds today.

They’re small enough that they face competition from more nimble, local outfits, but are still big enough that they often compete with Big Beer for placements (and price and distribution channels).

Today's hyper-competitive market sees more breweries than ever in operation while we're also seeing troubling consumer preference shifts (i.e. they're drinking less beer).

Throw in a labor shortage and increased interest rates and it’s not hard to see why so many larger breweries are dealing with flat (to declining) sales.

So, not a super rosy picture.

But take heart—it’s not all doom and gloom.

We’ve worked with several Regional Breweries over the last year who are making smart moves aimed at shoring up their flanks and better positioning their business for the long term.

Here’s what we’re seeing in our projects and field work.

(Above): The Brewers Association (BA) defines a Regional Brewery as any outfit that produces between 15k and 6 million barrels per year.

Internally at CODO, we consider any brewery that produces approximately 7k bbl to 75k bbl per year and distributes across state lines to be a Regional. (This is a little more precise than a 5.9M+ range.)

Brand Strategy as a Diagnostic Tool 

Brand Strategy is an integral part of our branding process, and for good reason: Without framing your brewery’s positioning and differentiators, key messaging, values, personality, voice, vision and essence to guide downstream design deliverables, anything we design will just be pretty form making.

Could it help you sell more beer? Sure, maybe.

But properly defining your Brand Strategy allows us to understand your entire context, including pain points and threats to resolve as well as opportunities to seize.

We usually go into projects with a well-defined scope (e.g., revamping your brand identity, packaging or building a new website), and frame Brand Strategy en route to knocking out that work.

Today, we’re seeing a rise in Regional Breweries who are wanting us to frame their Brand Strategy as a diagnostic to figure out where they currently stand, pain points they can address and opportunities they should consider targeting.

As we mentioned earlier in our annual review, there can be a sense amongst older breweries of having no idea
where the hell they even are right now.

And a Brand Strategy process can be an insightful way of bringing in an outside set of eyes to size up your situation, tell you where you sit relative to your competition, and make recommendations that you might explore based on what we’re seeing.

(Above): Several Brand Strategy, Brand Essence and art direction docs, including one for Birdsmouth Beer.


Less rebrands & more brand refreshes

We’re seeing less wholesale rebrands amongst our Regional Brewery clients and more brand identity and package refreshes.

Read more about the differences between these approaches here.

There are a few reasons why this could be—rebranding is never without risk, and people are becoming more risk averse and budget conscious due to the economic environment we’re in. 

And unless your brand identity and positioning poses an immediate and existential threat, it can be easier, faster and less risky to look for opportunities to drive incremental growth.

What are some quick wins you can rack up this year, or next?

So, a brand refresh that addresses annoying inconsistencies, or a core package refresh that breathes new life into your on-shelf presence may be a better investment than burning everything to the ground and starting fresh 29 years in (even if that's what your heart really wants). 

Heavy rationalization & package refreshes

The last several years have seen breweries dramatically revise and decrease the size and range of their portfolios.

But we’re seeing this even more aggressively amongst our Regional clients. 

We’ve seen figures like 50+ brands removed from rotation last year with 50+ more slated to be retired this year.

And this makes sense in a tighter market.

Can you afford to make an amber ale that may be a fan favorite, but only accounts for 6% of your revenue?

You have to set emotion aside here and be craven when defining your priority brands moving forward. 


We’re seeing them re-entrench on current footprint

This point often goes hand in hand with heavy SKU rationalization.

We’re seeing Regional Breweries pull out of lower performing markets in favor of doubling down on their current footprint and/or home market.

2024 is not a time to be a mile wide and an inch deep.

Owning your backyard will be crucial moving forward.

(Above): Smart Brand Architecture moves from leading Regional breweries, including lots of Sub Brand development, Line Extensions, co-branding and variety packs. 


Growing via Brand Architecture

Most of our Regional Brewery work over the last year has included a heavy Brand Architecture component. A few examples:

Brand Architecture to guide future innovation: That could be Brand Architecture mapping to get a sense of all of a brewery’s brands, locations and as a tool to guide new product development.

Building new brands and Sub / Endorsed Brands: We’re helping a lot of our Regional clients launch entirely new brands (lager, hazy IPA, Hop Water, NA beer) and/or taking a best-selling brand and spinning it out as a Sub Brand (or, scaling the Sub Brand Ladder).

Beyond Beer: I still believe the future of beer is, well, beer. But a diversified portfolio, to include non-alcoholic products, RTDs and FMBs and spirits, will be crucial to recruiting new drinkers and staying relevant for your current fans moving forward.

Mergers & Acquisition (M&A) City: We’re seeing a lot of M&A activity this year, to include: Breweries buying other breweries, buying (or selling) brands, creating new concepts / brands to serve as a beachhead in a new market, selling off brands or forming joint ventures to find more scale.

(Above): This Brand Architecture Map charts out short and medium term category opportunities this brewery could explore based on our broader Brand Strategy recommendations.


A final note here for Regional & Legacy Breweries: On acting your age

We’ve had several philosophical conversations with Regional Brewery founders and CMOs recently on the idea that everyone is looking for the next moon shot.

In the words of one of our clients, “You’re seeing a lot of breweries flailing around and throwing stuff at the wall.

Maybe we should launch a hard tea? Or a hard juice? How can we find our own Voodoo Ranger? How can we attract younger drinkers?”

A quick note on this, if I may:

I agree with this sentiment. It’s a tough market right now, but rather than throwing a bunch of new products out into the world to see what sticks, I’d suggest taking a more clinical look at your brand and acting your age.

In this context, acting your age means bringing to bear all of your experience—all of your QA/QC and innovation capabilities, and your marketing and sales resources, and your distribution network—to fundamentally reimagine your portfolio. 

What have you historically stood for? What do you stand for today? And where do you want to take your business moving forward?

Is there an opportunity to dip into your back catalog and re-introduce an old favorite? Or treat a bygone brand as an LTO offering?

And on new product development, specifically, where can your brewery credibly play? What new products will track with your current fans, and what would just confuse people?

New beverage categories will rise and fall.

Acting your age means being thoughtful about how you innovate, where you take your brand and how you build your brewery’s business for the long haul.

(Below): Legacy Breweries who are only getting better with age.

Around the Shop

CODO is headed to Vegas for CBC

CODO Design will be in Las Vegas next week to host a seminar on Brand Architecture. 

Shoot me an email if you'll be there and want to grab a beer and talk shop.

Ready to learn more?

The Beyond Beer Handbook

Part book, part quiz, and part choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, The Beyond Beer Handbook is a purpose-built tool for helping you expand your brewery’s portfolio and build a more resilient business.

Craft Beer, Rebranded

Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.

Craft Beer Branding Guide

The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.

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