In Food & Beverage Marketing, Is “Craft” Enough?
To be “craft” or not got thrust into the spotlight at the Superbowl when Budweiser unveiled their Macrobrew spot, hailing a culture of beer drinkers looking for a high quality, simple flavor profile, not a stuffy, overthought craft beer. The backlash from the craft beer crowd got me thinking about what makes craft such a coveted brand asset in food and beverage marketing, and why big brands either try to position themselves as craft (aka Coors and their Blue Moon products) or eschew it (Bud).
This debate over craft isn’t exclusive to the beer category by the way. Other food and beverage marketing teams are taking note of the rise in popularity of craft. Awhile back, PepsiCo quietly launched a new line of carbonated beverages. “Caleb’s Kola”—named in honor Caleb Bradham, the 19th-century inventor of Pepsi’s formula. The new line takes an interesting detour from the brand’s other familiar products. Caleb’s comes in a glass bottle featuring minimalist, two-toned labeling, with the Pepsi logo conspicuously … absent?
In fact, the label looks reminiscent of trends in craft beer. And the Caleb’s slogan, “Honor in Craft,” makes me think the nod is intentional.
At a time when small and independent brewers’ retail value is growing by the billions annually and soft drink consumption is at a 15-year low, this move from Pepsi seems inevitable and intelligent. After all, borrowing the successful craft beer product strategy could boost revenues, and perhaps, establish a stronger connection with Millennial consumers, who favor craft beer branding.
Will Caleb’s provide an interesting case study, showing whether an established brand like Pepsi can authentically channel the traits that work so well for craft beer companies? Will Budweiser’s positioning against craft resonate (especially in areas unlike Portland)? How will the word—craft— expand in and beyond the culture of beer, and perhaps picking up some new meanings along the way.
First, let’s dive into craft.
What Does Craft Really Mean? First, Let’s Have a Beer.
Here in the heart of the artisanal everything movement, Portland Oregon, the word “craft” connotes a lot of things — handmade, small batch, high quality, to name a few. But stepping outside our geography a moment, “craft” is a slippery concept, trickier to define than one might assume.
Take beer for example. The Brewers Association uses the term to refer to any American brewer that is “small, independent, and traditional:”
- “Small” means producing 6 million barrels or less per year.
- “Independent” designates breweries owned at least 75% in part by members of the industry.
- A “traditional” brewer is one that “has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation,” according to BA.
The Association goes on to call out “innovation” as one craft’s distinctive characteristics, and writes that “[c]raft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.”An informal poll on BeerAdvocate exposes a fourth attribute to “craft” that may be more significant than any of the BA’s official standards: quality. Here we have another knotty term, one that relies heavily on subjective measurement. How do you quantify quality? These guys believe it means “not f***ing it up.” But maybe for the rest of us beer drinkers, quality comes down to flavor, and is one reason why we buy beer. (BTW, read about some other beer-buying factors in a past GB blog post.)
To Be or Not to Be: Craft Means Being Honest and Relevant
So, is it safe to generalize that “craft” is just shorthand for what a product hopes to stand for (quality, innovation, tradition, independence and small size) and also what it hopes it isn’t (artificial, bland, irresponsibly produced)?
You could make a case that “craft” is the sum of these things. But I believe there’s one other attribute that makes something “craft.”
Craft means being relevant to and connected with your consumers. People want to feel connected to a product. The way that product is made, how much of it is manufactured, where it comes from, what it tastes like—each is an avenue to propel that connection. These are the components of what can be a deeply passionate story about a brand that help people connect the product to their life, their values.
In many consumers who care about “craft” food/beverage products for example, we’ve consistently seen five values in consumers who buy natural and organic products:
Notice the emphasis on values alignment between lifestyle and product. It’s imperative that craft brands find ways to align on values. Buoy Beer Co. is a great example of this to build its brand from scratch. Buoy had the experience, point of view, and the recipe; but they wanted a story and identity that reflected the passion of Buoy’s founders for their community and the vivid character of its hometown—Astoria, Oregon. We created a crafted brand for a craft beer that couldn’t have come from any other place.
That kind of genuine value proposition is something the best craft beer brands share. The same is true for soft drinks. And food. And basically anything.
But I’ll be watching Bud to see how the new positioning influences this craft trend. In the spirit of aligning values to a product, perhaps they will find their tribe flock to their side. But will we see a tidal shift toward macro-soda, macro-food, macro-beer? Stay tuned….