Blog Entries by Jeff Cioletti

Lowering the Bar

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, craft beer, bartending, customer service

So, a man walks into a bar. He wants to order a pint of fine craft beer so he motions to the bartender. The bartender walks past him, not making eye contact. A few minutes pass and he continues to motion the bartender. Again, no acknowledgment whatsoever. After a few more minutes pass, he finally gets the bartender’s attention. She shoots him a “What do you want?” look and he shouts his order above the noise in the crowded pub. She shouts back, “I can’t hear you,” and walks away. Waiting for the punchline? There isn’t one. This, sadly, is no joke. This sort of thing happens more often than it should. The man in the tale is yours truly. It happened last month.

Look, I get that it was crowded and crowds and noise can be overwhelming. But that’s no excuse for poor customer service. In less-crowded situations I’ve sat at the bar and managed to engage the barkeep a little more easily. This time I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to order so I asked for a little insight on one of the many artisanal brews on tap.

Me: What style is it?

Bartender: It’s like Bass.

Me: But it says it has an ABV of 9 percent. That’s a bit high for that style.

Bartender: Well, it’s the same color.

This pub prided itself on its vast selection of craft beers on draught. But it seems that management was more concerned with quantity over quality—the quantity of its taps versus the quality of a trained, informed serving staff.

We seem to hold wait staff in restaurants to much higher standards of human interaction than we do bar staff. What’s the reason for that? There isn’t one, at least there shouldn’t be one. Bartenders are salespeople, just as waiters and waitresses are. They’re there to get you to buy stuff and answer any questions you may have about that stuff so you can make a more informed purchasing decision. I’m not saying that these bars are the rule—but they’re not the exception either. They’re somewhere in the middle of the exception-rule continuum.

And that costs sales, regardless of how negligible that loss would be in the grand scheme of things. It’s certainly not something that the companies that own the brands and the wholesalers that distribute the brands the bar is supposed to be selling take lightly.  

The staff and the owners could argue, “Well, the place is packed, so we’re obviously doing something right. So back off!” But why would anyone ever want to take customer traffic for granted? Exactly how loyal are the customers that happen to be packing that bar on a given night? Maybe they just pushed their way into that particular place because all the other establishments in the neighborhood were even more crowded. And if the managers and staff are giving them no reason to come back, they won’t.

Here’s another thing to consider: social media. If someone has a bad experience in a pub, that place can expect an instantaneous, unflattering tweet or a rather damning review on Yelp.  

The joke may begin with the man (or woman) walking into a bar. But no one’s laughing when the woman (or man) walks out of the bar a few seconds later…and never comes back. 

Let the Games Begin: BevStar 2013 Call for Entries

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, craft beer, beverage, alcohol, brew, awards, soft drink, soda, tea, cider, sake, mead, wine, spirits, liquor, functional, sports drink, water, bottled water, enhanced water, coffee, innovation, energy

With the dawn of a new year comes a new chance for your brand to shine. Whether you're playing in the alcohol or non-alcohol space (or both even), you are cordially invited to submit your product to our third-annual BevStar Awards competition. It's our annual celebration of innovation across all of the major beverage categories. And the best part? It's absolutely free to enter, aside from whatever shipping costs you need to incur to get a sample of your product to our judging team.

Since this is about innovation, we ask that your product be new(ish). That means it should have been launched no earlier than Sept. 2011. If it hasn't been launched yet, that's fine. As long as you've got a product, a package and a plan to roll it out before summer 2013, it's eligible. (The product has to exist. Ideation is great, but execution is critical.)

Once again, we'll be awarding gold, silver and bronze awards in the following categories:

• Carbonated Soft Drinks

• Water/Enhanced Water

• Functional Beverages (including sports drinks, but not including energy drinks—those get their own category. We got a ton of energy entries last year.)

• Energy Drinks

• Beer

• Mead, Cider and Sake

• Wine

• Spirits

• Ready-to-Drink Tea & Coffee

We'll also present special achievement awards for marketing innovation, social media initiatives and environmental sustainability.

To enter, please e-mail the following to bevstar@beverageworld.com :

1. Product Name

2. Parent Company Name

3. Contact Info (address, phone & e-mail)

4. High-resolution product image

5. A brief description of the product and why you believe it should win a BevStar award.

6. The names of any packaging, label design, ingredient and branding companies or individuals that helped develop or market your product.

If your product passes the written test, we'll send you instructions on where to ship product samples for the practical test. We ask that you limit the samples to one bottle/can/carton/etc. per product entered.

Keep in mind, tasting is only one component of our selection process. Your product has to offer the whole package, which includes, well, the package and its overall market positioning.

The submission deadline is March 1. Winners will be notified by June 1 and we'll showcase winning products in the July 2013 issue of Beverage World.

If you've got any questions you can e-mail me directly.

We're looking forward to your entries!

 

 

 

 

Reverse Consolidation?

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, craft beer, brew

In the course of putting together our annual Forecast issue (the fun begins with the rather foreboding cover item on energy drinks on page 32), it’s often a tricky task to put a fresh spin on certain categories that, year after year, seem to have been performing more or less the same, give or take a volume percentage point here or there. And when the outlook for the coming year is for more of the same, it’s a mixed blessing: It’s a good thing because those doing the forecasting have a smaller chance of being wrong when performance has been so consistent and bad because those of us tasked with writing about such projections have to figure out a way to not keep repeating ourselves.

The category of which I speak, of course, is beer. To borrow a phrase from Led Zeppelin, the song remains the same: Beer’s going to keep losing alcohol share to wine and spirits, the overall market’s going to be flat or, at best, grow at a dying snail’s pace, but the craft segment’s going to continue to enjoy low double-digit growth in both volume and dollar sales.

However, a potential new twist on what’s happening in the market is that a strange dichotomy has emerged. At the top of the market, where the large multinational brewers roam (and on the distribution tier, for that matter— but that’s another story), consolidation is the driving dynamic. AB InBev is buying Modelo—a handful of years after InBev bought Anheuser-Busch to form the gargantuan entity we’ve come to know and love—Heineken’s expected to take control of Asia Pacific Breweries and there are always rumors and rumblings that AB InBev might even merge with SABMiller to give new meaning to the word ‘formidable.’

But on the small brewer side, domain of the crafts, you’ve got the reverse happening. There are already more than 2,100 small, independent brewers in the country, up several hundred from just a year ago. With more than 1,300 breweries in planning at last tally, that number could hit 2,500 in 2013. Sure there’s some consolidation happening with a couple of brewers here and there merging or giants scooping them up—à la AB InBev-Goose Island—but, relative to the number of newbies popping up, those instances are few and far between, the exceptions rather than the rule. It’s almost as if the market as a whole has gotten so consolidated that the pendulum has swung toward the exact opposite of consolidation, as far as craft brewing is concerned.

It’s a phenomenon that’s carrying over into spirits, as our November 2012 cover story could attest. It’s also happening in the non-alcohol realm among segments like artisanal sodas.

Will this reverse consolidation eventually slow down and become the reverse of reverse consolidation (aka ‘consolidation’)? Of course, that’s ultimately the market trajectory that history favors. However, 100 or so years from now, couldn’t the cycle start anew yet again? Even more recent history favors that scenario. It’s a pendulum effect and, pendula are, after all, controlled by gravity—a force not unlike consumer demand.

Sandy’s Big Miss

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: water, bottled water

Unless you’ve been hibernating under your favorite rock, you’ll know the New York/New Jersey area—where our entire edit and art team resides—was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Sandy. I count myself among the extremely lucky. While many in my immediate neighborhood experienced catastrophic flooding and lost power for nearly two weeks, my home suffered little more than a 36-hour blackout (I was stranded in Chicago, as all New York-area airports were closed, so I ended up missing the whole thing). I was struck by the image of relief volunteers all over town lending a helping hand to those who needed it most. But you want to know what was almost as striking? The pallet loads of bottled water being distributed to those without potable running water. My parents and grandmother, who live about an hour away from me near the Jersey Shore, informed me they were living on—not to mention bathing in—bottled water for a good 11 or 12 days after the media-dubbed “Superstorm.”  

Why do I bring this up? Think about it. If the anti-bottled-water movement got its ultimate wish, the relief effort would be much more challenging, if not virtually impossible. The Red Cross and local volunteers may not have been able to do much for the power and heat situation, but they had the tools to tackle the water issue pretty quickly, with millions of bottles at the ready from the industry’s top producers. Now imagine a world without bottled water and the impact it would have on the victims of the storm. I’d rather not think about.

Look, I know what some people are thinking. Here’s a shameless PR statement from just another shill for the industry. But guess what. I’m a passionate environmentalist. The fact that we had such a storm is directly related to climate change, which many, for the sake of blind ideological purity, continue to deny. In my mind climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, is an undisputable fact. When you try to challenge science with spin, science will always win.

But my argument for bottled water has been one of convenience and, as Sandy has proved, sometimes of necessity. I have a Brita filter at home. I love my Brita filter. But when I’m not home I really don’t want to carry a thermos—the contents of which would be depleted pretty quickly, leaving me to find an acceptable water source with which to refill it. Anyone who’s ever used an airport water fountain or public restroom sink knows that’s not an easy thing to do. That’s when I’m buying bottled water. A lot of it.

I strongly believe that we need to reduce the amount of petroleum-based material in our bottles. I long for the day—hopefully just a few years down the road—when plant-based packaging becomes a mainstream, commercially viable option. But in the interim, bottled water companies have been among the first to innovate with lightweighting. More can be done, but it should tide us all over until bio-alternatives are the norm.

So when a storm, earthquake, mudslide, tornado or any natural or man-made disaster strikes, those advocating against bottled water must ask themselves this: What good is your Brita, now?

The Teacher Has Become the Student

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, craft beer, hops, beverage, alcohol, brew

My wife and I just went on what was quite possibly the best brewery tour we'd ever been on (and believe me, we've been on a lot of them). It was at London's Meantime Brewing Company, a 13-year-old craft operation that takes its name from the fact that it's situated in the chronological capital of the world, Greenwich.

When tour leader Alex (a quite dynamic guide) learned we were from the States he couldn't stop gushing about the U.S. craft beer scene and how the U.K. is about 15 years behind the American movement. Wait a minute. BEHIND? A great deal of American craft brewers took a cue from classic styles from Britain (as well as, of course, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic) when developing their own products. Beer travelers from the U.S. trek across the pond to drink cask-conditioned Real Ale. And a lot of the U.S. craft brewers offer cask versions of their own products, again a nod to the classic British tradition.

But now there are breweries like Meantime whose offerings are heavily influenced by the styles popularized by American craft brewers—those same styles whose ancestors were European and tweaked and reinvented over time. American pale ale is of course a descendant of English pale ale. The same goes, of course for American IPAs, which evolved from British India Pale Ales, which were more aggressively hopped and had a higher ABV to preserve them for the 18,000-mile pre-canal-era voyage from England to thirsty colonial troops in India.

The walls of Meantime's tasting room were filled with bottles from around the world with a disproportionately large section devoted to U.S. craft brews. Others visiting the brewery were eager to tell us how much they loved beers from the likes Brooklyn Brewery or Stone.

And it's not just the U.K. The brewing boomerang has flown back to Belgium as well, with U.S.-influenced styles like Belgian IPA emerging.

It's hard to believe that not too long ago Europeans considered American beers a total joke. But who's laughing now?