Home delivery, online stores and mixed cases are far new when it comes to ways to sell beer. But, as COVID-19 has kept taprooms and bars closed, there's been a renewed focus for many breweries on getting their beer directly into drinkers' hands.
As many have moved further online so too have those offering services that help get beer to customers. Alongside the likes of big name brands like UberEats, Deliveroo and Door Dash, there are others – Bopple, Mr Yum and Hungry Hungry among them – that have given pubs and breweries new ways to sell beer for pickup and delivery. Often they charge lower commissions than the larger operators whose fees typically sit towards 30 percent of sales and have drawn the ire of businesses no longer able to offset the cost of delivery by serving people inside their venue.
Joining them are other online retailers with a focus on putting booze and breweries at the centre of what they do.
Only Craft Beer is an online marketplace that officially launched in April. It's run by Isaias Vinaroz, Carolina Diaz and Fabian Rebeiro. Fabian's background is in IT but it was Isaias' work in food manufacturing equipment that led to the launch of their new venture.
While talking to Dave Dumay from Dad & Dave’s Brewery in Brookvale they got onto the challenges small breweries can face getting their beer to market. Crowded bottleshop shelves, tap contracts and shipping beer across a country as wide and sparsely populated as Australia all create unique issues when trying to get beer to customers.
“There was no corridor for them to put their beers in the market,” Isaias says.“So we wanted to create a marketplace where the brewers could go and sell their beer directly to their consumers.”
Originally, they thought they’d have a little longer to launch Only Craft Beer but with brewery taprooms closing Isaias says the breweries they'd been working with pushed for an early launch.
“In January we started to build up the platform and it was meant to be launched at GABS in May,” he says.
As an online marketplace, Only Craft Beer connects beer buyers directly to breweries, so the brewery handles the beer themselves and posts directly to drinkers. The platform’s only available for Australian independent breweries, with Isaiah saying their focus is mainly on smaller breweries and regional breweries that can struggle with high shipping costs. He adds that by using a single postage account, they can obtain lower rates on shipping, while breweries also benefit from immediate payment terms that keeps cashflow moving.
“Even before the beer arrives to the customer, they already have their money,” Isaias says.
More than 30 breweries have signed up to sell their beer through Only Craft Beer, which is free to join; they make their money by taking a commission from each sale.
Brewer's Retail has also sprung to life as breweries and bars closed down. Founders Tom Bender, Craig McKell, Damian Evans and Jewels Nistico had worked together in various roles providing product and service development for small and medium businesses, and the lessening of their existing workloads in the past few weeks played a role in their decision to launch something new.
“We want to do something to help,” Tom says. “We felt we could build it, it wouldn’t cost us that much and perhaps we could give it to someone after the fact.”
Their initial aim was to make it easier for breweries to offer delivery and pickup services but they soon found small restaurants often faced the same challenges.
“It’s all focused on staying local,” Tom says. “You go to the checkout and determine what 30 minute pickup you want and then you go and pick it up. You’re searching more for your local than the product itself.”
Tom says they’re currently at the testing stage and keen to get more brewers involved; they've set Brewers Retail up as free to use then charge three percent to customers.
Given breweries rely on their relationship with bars and bottleshops to get their beer into people’s hands, direct retail can present a challenge if seen as putting breweries in competition with retailers. To manage this, Tom says brewers need to have open conversations with customers when moving into direct sales and ensure they’re not undercutting or in direct competition with those selling their beer.
It's a sentiment shared by the duo behind Find My Growler, Andrew Banasik and Sam Kilby. Initially their site was designed as a simple website to connect people with empty growlers with places offering to fill them on the back of the recent surge in growler popularity – something we wrote about last week.
Andrew works in digital services and, after talking to breweries and venues, he says they realised there was demand for a central service.
“We wanted to offer assistance and just build a simple website,” he says. “A lot of places were telling us that they were looking for places to further sell their products and to get their products to people that wanted them.”
The Find My Growler marketplace is due to launch this week with an accompanying app in the final stages of development that will let beer drinkers find venues and breweries where they can buy beer. Sam says their experience to date shows how areas that have become brewery hubs allow small breweries to work together to create an audience.
“You add another brewery to Marrickville and you just boost the whole area,” Sam says. “You don’t take away from any of the other breweries, they just start leveraging off each other.”
Andrew says the benefit for brewers or bars using Find My Growler and paying their 3.5 percent commission is that many small businesses don't have the time or online infrastructure to bring every aspect of their ordering in house.
“It can be quite cost prohibitive for an individual venue to get its own app but by consolidating everything it makes it cost efficient,” he says, adding that, even after Australia approaches a pre-coronavirus level of normal, many breweries or venues may want to employ their own staff to deliver beer locally.
What's more, he says: “One thing we’re going to see over the next few months is a lot of growlers will be in market. A lot of people didn’t even know that was a thing before so it will still have a place.”