As a retailer of beer, you are presented with a few categories of inventory to offer your customers. You have domestics and imports (beers such as Budweiser, Coors, Heineken and Corona) domestic and import premiums (beers such as Blue Moon, Modelo, Guinness and Stella Artois), domestic craft beer (beer from breweries such as Shmaltz and Dovetail) and imported craft (beer from breweries such as La Trappe, Bosteels, Veltins, Robinsons and St. Feuillien).
How you curate your inventory will drastically influence your sales, so it’s important to aim for a diverse yet targeted portfolio of beers that would leave any kind of drinker satisfied. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on when and how to go about building and expanding a robust portfolio of imported craft beers.
What are imported craft beers, and how do they differ from other beer categories?
Simply put, imported craft beers are those which have come to the point of sale from a different country and are either produced by smaller, independent breweries or boast unrivaled tradition and history, along with time-tested quality. Their differences are myriad and they retain an exotic appeal that piques the naturally inquisitive interest of the average craft beer consumer.
The two most important factors to consider when auditing your inventory are your consumer demographic and the distribution of inventory across the categories mentioned above.
If you don’t know your demographic, researching is an essential first step. How do you know what the customer wants if you don’t know the customer? Talk to and poll your customers. Start an e-mail list. Track your sales. Acquire demographic information about your zip code(s). Watch who comes through the door. Even rudimentary homework in this arena will pay dividends.
Assuming you’ve done this work and have a decent understanding of your average customer, the next step involves getting to know your inventory in a similar fashion. Do you offer the requisite domestics and imports and premiums, or have you drawn a hard line with craft-only brands and decided not to carry any? Again, decisions like these will be dictated by your demographic and the info you’ve gathered from demographic analysis.
The good news is that whether you mostly move domestics, or you have positioned yourself as a craft oasis, craft imports have a place in your inventory. The craft import category boasts diversity and an exotic edge that domestics can’t touch while still offering palatability and the quality assurance that local craft sometimes lacks. They are essentially a gateway between two drinking worlds and ideologies – as well as the bridge.
Craft imports also check most of the boxes that local craft does for the more discerning consumer. Imported brands boast a stunning array of stylistic options from all around the globe, often incorporating ingredients and traditional expertise that can’t be found in the U.S. These beers run the gamut of ABV range, flavor profiles and, in many cases, are the origin of styles emulated by local craft.
Sünner Kölsch for example, is the father of the highly emulated Kölsch style, with nearly 200 years of brewing tradition behind it. This is a brand and style with appeal for any drinker, regardless of demographic and drinking preference. Those who recognize the name will be impressed at the diversity of your portfolio, and those who are unaware are in a perfect position for an educated employee to expand their horizons. The retailer that does more than simply complete a transaction is one that will develop a devoted clientele.
If you don’t know where to begin within the craft import category’s wide range of options, refer back to what sells, as well as demographic or environmental indicators.
If you’re in a warmer climate (or it’s just summertime) and lighter styles sell more consistently than heavier, darker beers, look to Mexican import brands, which have been flying off shelves at a rapidly increasing rate for the past few years. If you’ve already got Corona and Modelo, know that there are more niche craft offerings coming from south of the border as well. Nicaragua Craft Beer Co., the country’s first craft brewery, is now importing its tropically influenced Panga Drops Keller Pils to the states. Venerable Belgian Wits will also fare well, as they are the inspiration for one of America’s favorites, Blue Moon. La Trappe’s Witte is an example or Brouwerij Martens‘ take on the style.
And of course, we can’t forget about Pilsners. Americans love pilsners, despite only generally having tried a few of the big names. Why not stock the original, authentic versions from Germany and Belgium? Try Pfungstädter Brewery or Veltins‘ time-tested Pils.
If you’re more of a craft-heavy store with adventurous drinkers, or are in a colder climate, than the range of Dunkels, Dubbels, Tripels, Quads, Krieks and Oud Bruins available from Belgian institutions like Omer Vander Ghinste, St-Feuillien and Bosteels will warm their palates up to new possibilities.
English stouts, ciders and pub ales? Look into Robinsons or Aspall. These brands and more have laid the groundwork for what American drinking tastes are based on. By stocking a full range of imported beer in your portfolio, you expand your chances to sell along with expanding the consumer’s drinking horizons, and you bridge the divide between various beer-drinking subcategories.
When Is Now
There is never a bad time to expand your craft imports portfolio so long as you take advantage of its greatest benefits. Imbibing is an experiential endeavor meant for learning, sharing and appreciation. Your new craft imports portfolio will fulfill these experiences in ways domestic beers are incapable so long as your staff is aware of the traditions behind the beers and passes them on to your clientele in an engaging manner.