At Urbanaut, the founders were clear from the start on the business strategy. They thought hard about where they wanted to set up, how they were going to brand their product and what markets they were looking to target.
Producing beer for the general New Zealand market was important but the main goal was to sell to people in their inner-city Auckland neighbourhood.
“Engaging with our customers is really important so we talk to them about the philosophy behind our beer, how we make it and the merits of each style,” Turner says.
Urbanaut is a production facility with cellar door sales so people can come in and taste the beer and learn about how it is made. They also run regular brewery tours.
“Twenty or thirty years ago beer was just a single commodity, you didn’t really have to explain it,” Turner says. “It was just beer.”
“With craft beer there are so many different styles and flavours, and people are paying more, so we want their experience to be a positive one.”
At the crossroads
ANZ General Manager for Central Region John Bennett says it’s too soon to say whether the craft beer industry can take many more players but there was a sense the sector was approaching the crossroads where supply is meeting demand.
“I am confident we will continue to see growth but brewers need to be smart about how they sell their product; it is about more than just good beer,” he said. “With so much choice it is a great time to be a consumer, but brewers are finding intensifying competition for retail shelf space.”
“What can we learn from more mature markets and industries in terms of quality control, distribution, branding and tapping other markets?
“These are questions for a burgeoning industry, but they are great issues to have, especially with an increasingly passionate and discerning consumer.”
There’s always been an anti-establishment cache with craft brewing. There’s an implicit message of artisans.
Urbanaut’s Turner honed his beer brewing skills in the UK where he worked for award winning Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich before returning home to team up with old high school friends Rowe and Watson to take advantage of the growing New Zealand craft beer sector.
“In the UK I learnt the trade and how to make good beer,” Turner says. “The more I studied brewing the more passionate I got about the process.
“To get to the point where I could set up a brewery with two of my good mates and we could make great beer and be really proud of introducing it to our little corner of Auckland is amazing.”
Exporting remains a challenge for the New Zealand craft-beer industry with exports remaining static at around 10 per cent of beer production, with considerations such as cool chain continuity impacting the shelf life of the more volatile styles of craft beer.
It’s a challenge worth solving, Bennett says, the more mature New Zealand wine sector exports approximately 80 per cent of annual production for export earnings in excess of $NZ1.6 billion.
“Successful exporters, and successful brewers full-stop, can offer something unique to a cleverly-targeted audience,” he said.