Being local keeping New Zealand brewers alive

Inside photo of Altitude Brewing in Queenstown

Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing is reaping the reward for investing in its local community

A huge push to buy local in post-lockdown New Zealand is paying dividends for small breweries, but only if they’ve done the hard yards with customers first.

The interest in local producers is exemplified by the growth of a New Zealand Made Products Facebook page, launched during lockdown.

A meteoric climb to more than 500,000 members has driven sales for a number of Kiwi brands. And Buy NZ Made, which licences the official Kiwi-branded trademark, saw a surge in applications during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paul Croucher of Rotorua’s Croucher Brewing says local support for his brewery and pub is critical in a town that relied heavily on tourism numbers.

When lockdown hit, Croucher was worried whether he’d taken his local audience for granted but was pleasantly surprised at the level of support. He attributed the support to the groundwork the brewery had done over the years with sponsorship of events and charities.

The brewery sponsors mountain bike races and ultramarathons but also supports the local hospice, a breast cancer trust, the Rotorua SPCA and the Rotorua-based national kiwi hatchery.

“What we did during lockdown was to repackage keg beer into flagons and target our local market, rekindling that relationship that we had feared had staled over the years,” Croucher said.

“But some of the events that we had supported almost altruistically over the years had their membership show us a good deal of reciprocal support.

“We now realise that our support, and thus our relationship with our community, is appreciated more than ever.”

That relationship will be critical to the brewery’s ongoing survival over the next two years, with New Zealand likely to keep tight border controls in place.

“We have a fair bit of uncertainty and trepidation looking into the next 18 months,” he said.

“Tourism has been critical for the Rotorua and losing that market is going to redefine us.

“It is going to be increasingly important to appreciate local and everything it brings to our culture and society like that cool bike shop, that great bakery not to mention that local brewery!”

Further south in another tourist town, Eddie Gapper of Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing noticed a massive spike in local custom when restrictions ended, a payback for the legwork the brewery did during the two months of lockdown.

“Our main activity during lockdown was delivering fresh tap beer to local customers,” Gapper said.

“It was labour intensive but delivered vital cash and provided a great opportunity to shout pleasantries at our customers from the end of their drives.

“Reopening the tap room showed us how well supported we are locally. Since Level 2 started we have been doing summer numbers which is extraordinary in May.”

Gapper said that other local Queenstown breweries, Cargo and Searchlight, were also reporting a similar surge in local support not being seen at the traditional tourist bars in town.

At least year’s BrewCon conference, Radio Brews News caught up with Colonial Brewing’s Marketing and Communications Manager Jenna Godley, who gave valuable advice and insights for smaller breweries striving to stand out from the crowd, through comunity engagement and innovative sponsorships. You can hear her advice below:

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