Friday 2 March 2018

Is it good to do collaborations with Family brewers?

There are a lot of burning issues I could blog about at the moment, but there is one I need to get out of the way urgently.

In the wake of Fullers buying Darkstar does the reader think that our collaboration with Fullers has been good or bad for the image of Hardknott?

I would like frank and honest answers here. A good debate would be fantastic. I honestly want to know the answer because from my standpoint there are some huge positives and some huge negatives. I know which way the economics balance at the moment... but in business kudos often far outstrips short-term considerations and I simply cannot afford to be wrong on this one.

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Yvan Seth said...

Personally: neutral. I've nowt against Fuller's personally. I find their beers don't do it for me... but that is what it is. Their collab set I bought and mostly wasn't really impressed by. None of them were bad of course. (The cask Peat Soup from you, for example, made the bottle seem a sad shadow of what it could be. And that'd be my comment for the others for the most part. Bear in mind though they were all drinkable and waaaay better than over 50% of the utter shite I get sent by "craft" microbreweries.)

I think the question is: who's your market and do they give a fuck?

I can't say many of my customers would give a fuck either way. With a more likely chance it is mildly negative. But I service a "craft" niche... but it might carry more weight with Morrison's customers. (However having a collab with Fuller's in Waitrose might pass them by.)

CarsmileSteve said...

Hi Dave

As a long-term Hardknott fan, I really enjoyed the collab, both at LCBF and the bottled version as part of the full set from Waitrose. Obviously I don't know the financial ins and outs, but Fullers seem to be doing things correctly and with public enthusiasm in comparison to some (most?) of the family brewers when it comes to these things.

Unknown said...


You make some interesting points that I'm considering carefully. The main point is I want to look at is the market I'm not hitting, and consider if I'm failing that market or not. Of course Hardknott fans will not feel it is negative because they know what I do, where my interests lie and how much I respect Fullers for what they are trying to do.

However, I would probably prefer to hit the "proper" craft market, and I feel we have lost traction significantly in that market over the last few years. Is this because we're looking in the wrong direction.

I'm sure we could all name a number of very successful craft breweries who have risen since we started, and significantly overtaken us. It's not your customers that matter so much as their customers. Are we trendy enough for them? Does working with Fullers and getting a beer in Waitrose make us look less trendy to the people who really matter; the craft beer drinker?

There have been a range of views regarding Fullers buying Darkstar. I'm cool with it; at the end of the day there really needs to be significant rationalisation in the brewing industry. But I've also seen negative press both regarding Darkstar and our collabs, so it is important to me to understand.

Oh, and mostly "I'm OK with it, but really I don't care" is actually bad, because overall we're significantly out of pocket due to various costs associated and a lack of real uplift of sales. We'd have had to see some real and very definite positives to be sure it was worth fdoing, and more importantly maintaining a relationship.

So far the results have show significant polarisation. What is now bothering me is whether the survey is hitting the people whose opinions I really care about; potential new markets.

Stono said...

I think kudos is the wrong measure for a start, but I dont see why being involved with Fullers would negatively impact any other brewery involved with the collab set, regardless of the Dark Star takeover. so my impression would have to be neutral.

fwiw I didnt think that much of the collab set beers,
I goto Waitrose to buy Oakham beers mainly, not that collab set werent nice, but they werent outstanding or that memorable, and I would have struggled to name anyone other than Thornbridge who were involved with it, so Id completely forgotten there was a Hardknott beer.

even then if it had been the most outstanding beer of the pack,as Im sure Ive mentioned to you before, Hardknott beers dont tend to make it to my corner of East Anglia, so theres never any likely of increasing consumption following something like the Fullers & Friends or whatever kudos it may imbue. Whilst the likes of Thornbridge,albeit mainly just Jaipur, and Dark Star, mainly Hophead, are and have always been readily available

Yvan Seth said...

Stono - a key pub down your way will not buy Hardknott because of a bad experience they had before I even started business. That's how tough this industry is. It's a real bitch. There are so many breweries competing for space ... one misstep, one bad cask (even if it is not the brewery's fault, and it probably wasn't given how shite UK distro is) - and folk won't risk it again.

Dave - sorry, I forgot to check back here ... bit busy lately. ;)

I wish I had a useful answer for you Dave... to the key underlying question of "how do we sell more Hardkott beer" that is. From my position I increasingly see just churn and demand for new. Some more established "craft" breweries hold stable but they are so so very rare as a % of all breweries I would be willing to sell. We really struggle with most, including Hardknott - it's super-hard to find regular sales. The longer we work with a "brand" the harder it gets, and we've done Hardknott the longest pretty much... and not dropped it yet, on the plus side there's not many we have been able to sustain against the odds for 4 years.

How do you inject "excitement"... that converts to sales?

It's definitely no longer good enough to just brew good beer.

Your next post, which is what made me remember this one, illustrates a key problem I think.

Yvan Seth said...

Oh - and Fuller's buying Darkstar: meh... who cares? I've nowt against either of them, but I also have trouble feeling any emotion at all about that one. It feels kind of meaningless to me - both as a person and as a business.

I hope it goes well for all the folk involved of course. I don't wish anything bad upon either brewery.

Unknown said...

Hi Dave, long-time (occasional) reader, first time commenter. In short, no, working with Fullers and getting into Waitrose does nothing for your 'craft cool' credentials. I think if you're in a position to capitalise on the exposure (i.e. being in conversation with other large chains over them listing your packaged beer, and in a position to fulfil the quantities and pricepoints they're after) then it's something that momentum could perhaps be derived from, but that's not the question you asked, nor I think the type of consumer you're looking for.

Are you after the tastemakers, the folks who wax lyrical over the latest murky juicebomb or pastry stout, whose social media buzz the various outlets out there are after when they stock the cool beers by the cool breweries? If so, simply brewing good beer isn't enough - especially since some of the stuff out there that gets fussed over is, frankly, mediocre at best. I don't know the full answer either (and I work for someone who's also trying to answer these questions, to a certain extent), but my opinion is that for these folks you need to be be brewing the right styles, and presenting them in the right ways.

One important question is how valuable the opinions of these people at the "bleeding edge" are, and that's not entirely clear. Certainly there are plenty of beer drinkers who aren't looking for the extreme in their beer, and the 'hardcore craft' folks are in a fairly small minority. However it's my feeling, looking at how the scene has developed and spread over the last 5-10 years, that the trends followed by the 'vanguard' consumers, if you will, do tend to gradually diffuse out into the wider beer scene, to an extent at least.

I feel like this has rambled a bit, but essentially I'm saying if you really want to be super cool, start making DDH IPAs and chuck them into cans with bold and fresh design work on them; if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea then you need to find an alternative route to relevance. What's your unique selling point? If it's a beer style/feature then it needs to be interesting and well-executed; if it's more to do with people or place, then your beer either needs to be as good or better than anyone else that's competing for that segment, or aggressively priced in order to shift volume.

My (slightly more than) tuppence.

Unknown said...


Thanks for your excellent comment.

I agree with you a lot. It is my feeling too that to be trendy it is essential to be well regarded by "hardcore craft" types. Although much positive comment has been seen regarding collaborating with Fullers, there has definitely also been some negative. The negatives are in the domains I least need them.

I am now of the view that my collaboration with Fullers was far more beneficial to Fullers than it was to me.

It is often said in business that one bad report undermines 10 good reports. In this day and age of internet exposure the ratio could be even greater.

I like to say that one is only as good as one's last mess-up.