Let me start this post by disclosing that I don’t have direct craft beer bottle/can distribution. However, I have followed a lot of breweries and I’ve done a lot of sales in general; direct to consumer, direct to retail, and through distributors.
When a brewery has really maxed out their regional wholesale avenue the next growth opportunity comes out of market. One of the best ways to introduce your beer is through retail in either bottles or cans. This can be done simultaneously as you are selling kegs across regional or state lines or it can come as precursor to introduce markets to your line of beers. I would recommend starting with your flagship beer (as I discussed in earlier posts) and 3 to 4 additional SKU’s. Your flagship is likely your best foot forward and can open doors to shelf space for its sister styles.
The next question is do you hire a sales force to go direct to retail or use a distributor? In my experience the best answer is both. You likely won’t have the resources to hire a robust enough sales force to do it all on your own, but if you rely solely on distributors you risk getting lost in their menu. I think the best option is a small sales force that can do some direct sales to certain key accounts or chains and then use that sales force to support your distributor’s efforts. This, in my opinion, gives you the most bang for the buck. You get that direct contact and relationship building that only comes from using your own people dedicated to your brand and it also shows a distributor that they aren’t just a rainy day partner but someone who you are dedicated to help succeed on your behalf. This combination gives you the most leverage and the ability to grow more volume faster. The warning here is to be sure you have the capacity to supply these pipelines without developing demand then going dry on them. If done right, it is a great way to grow your business incrementally while also using it as a marketing tool for more wholesale business right now or down the line.
So bring on the bottles and cans and hit the retail road.