Sunday 18 August 2019

Is it worth plunging into craft brewing on my farm?

Send your small business questions to Stock image
Send your small business questions to Stock image

Feargal Quinn

Q: I own my own farm and was thinking of building a brewery on site and producing a craft beer. Do you have any knowledge of this sector?

A: The best advice you will get is to contact Bord Bia which will have lots of research on the category in both the domestic and international markets and will also have an alcoholic beverage specialist, who will be able to advise you.

Ireland has witnessed rapid growth in the number of craft breweries over the last number of years and, while there are various different figures quoted, there are certainly in excess of 100.

This means that you are entering a crowded category.

Experts will point to the fact that there is a new breed of customer out there who drinks craft beer and when they go out to the pub, or the local off licence, they tend to have an interest in trying several different new craft beers - unlike years ago, when a beer drinker would probably have stuck with just one brand.

That certainly means that you should put a lot of thought into the style of beer you are producing and look for ways that you can make this different.

You might have an opportunity to grow barley or even a small amount of hops. I recently even saw a craft brewery advertising on their social media, looking for volunteers to pick hops in return for a case of beer each. Good brand-building!

The other caution is that many of the current craft beers are in the same bottle with the same style of labels and when you go to the supermarket or off licence, it can be a challenge to pick out one from the other.

Look to see if it is possible to innovate with the bottle and the positioning of your brand.

The final advice is to conduct an extensive feasibility study to see if it will be worth your while to start this business and how much revenue you are likely to earn. Your local enterprise office might be able to allocate a mentor to give you some specific advice also.

Q: My business is more focused on supplying material to other businesses and I do not deal with the public. I have been criticised recently by my business adviser for not building my brand but I don't see why I need to.

A: Building a brand should not be confused with communicating with the consumer. It is about communicating why you are different and doing so to the people who purchase from you.

Your business adviser is absolutely correct and it would be unwise to ignore the advice. I met someone in the last few weeks, who was making some great bread in a regional location. By pure coincidence, I was talking to a café owner in the same region a few days later, who was showing me this great artisan bread they had been getting from a nearby city.

When I queried why they were not using the local bakery, much to the chef's embarrassment, he wasn't even aware that they existed.

The risk you run is that the key people in your industry don't all know that you exist and make ill-informed decisions without even including you in the decision-making process.

How you build the brand will really be up to the type of industry you are working in.

Sometimes some of the digital media platforms work on a business-to-business basis, and other times you have to be attending trade shows, advertising in trade magazines, and entering industry award schemes in order to get noticed.

Whatever way you promote your business is up to you, but I am clearly saying, failing to build your brand equates to failing to grow your business, and could have disastrous consequences.

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