Yesterday we shared our plans for our year-round beers going forward. Take a look at the below post to read about another major goal going forward called “access”.
Getting Our Beers to You
A major part of why we wanted to start a company in the first place was to have a positive impact and contribute to the craft beer scene in Japan. We, somewhat naively, pictured starting at craft beer bars and eventually seeing it at a wider range of restaurants and, who knows, eventually seeing it in supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere. Maybe even overseas?
When we launched, sales channels did not feature a huge amount in conversation. Craft beer bars, establishments who knew how to treat craft beer and had all the equipment, were the natural first step and for a long while we just struggled to be able to provide enough beer to those outlets.
When it came to expansion, however, the range of establishments that we offered beer to was a tricky decision to think through. We of course wanted craft beer fans in Kyoto and across Japan to be able to drink our beer but this was countered by the fear of what might happen to the beer when outside of our own hands. Brewpubs, in many ways, have an ideal situation when it comes to quality control, right from when the ingredients arrive on site to when the beer ends up in the customers glass. They know what the serving equipment is like, how it is maintained, the glassware, right down to the explanation given from the staff to the customer.
When our kegs are shipped off, however, that beer is no longer in our hands. For this reason, we put a lot of effort into ensuring that beer bars have the right serving equipment before agreeing to sell them kegs. Bottles were especially scary when we first started them because, while line cleaning is no longer a concern, they have the ability to go anywhere and there is no way we can check if they are being kept in refrigerators, or even if best before dates are being adhered to.
This represents a bit of a dilemma. After all, how could we achieve our purpose? How can you have an impact and help see the expansion of craft beer if no one outside the “converted” customer base of craft beer bars can actually access your product? While getting more widespread, not everyone has access to a craft beer bar in their locality, and we really wanted to reach people who enjoy craft beer but who cannot easily get access to it. At the same time, if the establishments don’t know how to handle unfiltered and unpasteurized craft beer, our contribution may be to convince consumers that craft beer is, in fact, the same as regional “ji-biiru” and of poor quality. We knew we needed to get out of our comfort zone but were apprehensive.
The safest way to ensure that bottled beer gets consumed in the right condition is to ship it directly to the beer drinker. One of our goals in 2020, therefore, was to get our B2C site launched and allow people to order from wherever they are in the country. Our timeline for this, for better or worse, was rapidly brought forward due to corona, as was the range of beers that we sold through our site, and this month we took it a step further and improved our website to allow people to order 6, 12, 18 and 24 packs of whatever combination of beers they desire.
Our B2C online store, however, is also preaching to the converted and so, while we are super happy that we can ship to people directly, it doesn’t help us to achieve the goal of expanding craft beer to the uninitiated. Thus we had to make a choice and, through our desire to help expand the Japanese craft beer market, we started looking at other channels that we wanted to focus on. One was restaurants. Many restaurants do not have the space for a refrigerated beer server but, since beer is hugely varied and great with many different kinds of food, we wanted to see our beer get out to more restaurants that want to see something other than a mass produced lager on their beer list. We also know that those looking to drink at home do not all shop, and so bottle shops and department stores also became a high priority.
As time has gone on, we have furthermore found ourselves in some high end supermarkets. This has been great from us, and not only financially. The result has been that some beer fans who often had to go far out of their way to pick up bottles found them in their neighbourhood and we have received comments from many about happy they have been to discover this. We have also been very impressed with how well these establishments have presented our beer, becoming very familiar with our company and the products themselves, doing a great job of helping customers through their purchasing decisions and, most importantly, doing a great job of stock management. They have also often been ensuring that the customers know they are to keep the beer in the fridge at home, not just while it is on the shelf. This really shows how craft beer is no longer the niche market that it was, which can only be good for us and the industry as a whole.
We are committed to doing what we can to make sure our beer is delivered to customers in the best condition possible, and are pleased to see so many establishments becoming more and more knowledgeable about craft beer, its needs, and how to maintain quality. We are equally committed to creating new partnerships with establishments that carry the same determination to ensure that our beer reaches customers in the right condition and are talking with more distribution partners within Kyoto as well as further afield within Japan.
Quality will always be the number one priority and so our expansion will continue to be step-by-step but we look forward to seeing our beer and craft beer in general on a wider range of shelves going forward.
In our next post, we will be sharing another major decision that we have taken to make our beer easier to access and enjoy!