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Únětický Pivovar
February 13, 2013

The advantage of smaller brands

Last week, Únětický Pivovar invited me, together with a few journalists, to the rather informal presentation of their Masopustní Speciál, a very nice 11º černé pivo. It was a great day (any day spent at a brewery is great) with good food, wonderful beer and the company of friends and really cool people. In order to make things easier for the guests, the brewery arranged a meeting point at Argument, a pretty nice restaurant in Bubeneč, where we were greeted by the brewery’s owners, beer and some pretty, pretty fine snacks prepared by the restaurant.

While we were waiting for the cars that would take us to Únětice, the restaurant’s owner came over and, after welcoming us, told us that he had started working with Únětický Pivovar last September, up until then, they were serving Pilsner Urquell. He said he was really happy with the change, they are selling more beer now than they used to. This is a story that I’ve heard many times, a restaurant/pub/café that, after dropping a macro brand in favour of a smaller one (or adding a smaller brand to their offer), saw beer sales increase, either because new people started to come or because their regulars started to drink more.

Before I continue, I want to make clear that this is not intended as a rant against Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Staropramen or Krušovice, or about personal tastes. There are many people who like those beers these three make and would not drink anything else. Urquell, in particular, can still be considered a safe bet, but it makes less and less business sense these days. Let me explain.

Besides, a having the potential of helping place draw more pints and getting more people through the door, regional brands tend to be cheaper than the big ones. The example I gave last week of Gambrinus vs Rohozec is the rule rather than an exception. On top of it, there’s nothing that can stop a café or pizzeria from selling that regional brand at basically the same price of a big one in the same category. Even if the taps didn’t pour more beer, they would still be earning more by the keg, you’d be a fool not to see the benefit.

If you want to open a high volume pub, or perhaps a restaurant chain, working with a big brewery has a range of advantages. They start with the money they will pay you in advance for signing a, say, 5 year contract that will establish a minimum volume per year, which you will have to buy from them. It continues with stuff like dispensing lines, glasses, signs, etc, all for free. It’s a bit of a win-win, the owner will have a few worries less and will get some important financial help on top, while the brewery has their sales guaranteed for a certain period of time.

The problem is that if the brewery judges that your pub/restaurant/bar/café will not sell enough beer, they will not be too interested in working with you, and who can blame them? For big companies, small clients can be more trouble than they are worth. So, if you still want to offer your patrons one of those brands, you will likely have to buy it through a wholesaler or third party distributor.

Smaller breweries are less selective and in many cases, they will be happy to work with your place, no matter how small. In fact, they can be quite eager at the opportunity, as the story of U Krkouna and Dalešice shows. Now, everybody knows that, whenever possible, it is always better to deal directly with producers, specially when it comes to beer. Buying directly from the brewery guarantees you freshness, and that’s not were the perks end. And on top of all that, guess what kind of place do the thousands of users of Pivni.info are more likely to talk about in their forum, one with Pilnser Urquell or one with Kout na Šumavě?

Fortunately, for those of us who value diversity, more and more people in the restaurant,etc. business are realising this, I’ve already got several tips for my series about cafés, some of which I didn’t know about and every time I walk around the neighbourhoods I seem to come across several others. Let’s hope this trend is here to stay.

Na Zdraví!

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