Industry experts say that unrealized opportunities in beer merch

Brewery items are a growing source of income for brewers turning their customers into walking billboards, but industry experts say there are missed opportunities.

Brewers rightly focus on the beer they brew before their merch and this has led brewers to take the path of least resistance with beer items, clothing and promotional items. But times are changing and brewers are paying more attention to what their branding wears, what it says about their business and therefore their beer.

Joe Cook, formerly General Manager at Kegstar, last year launched Beer Fans, a marketplace for brewery items and clothing.

“I see merchandise as an untapped opportunity for most breweries. People don’t get the meaning and value of their brand when you consider how much time they put into the design, ”explained Cook.

Cook said the merchandising opportunity goes beyond selling a few black logo t-shirts and should be viewed as part of a brewery’s marketing spend.

“They have high growth rates from year to year. Brewers, especially large brewers, spend between 8 and 14 percent on marketing – about 8 percent if you’re massively mainstream, 14 percent if you’re trying to develop a brand – but how much of that does merch contribute?

“Some breweries take it really seriously, they have hired fashion people to do their marketing. But for smaller breweries it is a matter of resources.

“I’ve been researching a bunch of breweries and the overarching issues were that they just don’t have enough time but feel obliged to have merch. That’s why most people just turn to a basic t-shirt with a logo on the back and left chest.

“You get into craft beer for the love of beer, and that’s where your time, resources and energy flow – beer-making – and retail is a delicate business with traditionally low profit margins,” said Cook.

But the smaller breweries are also recognizing the importance of trade goods, from the cool bags from Land & Sea to Kaijus beach towels, the furry stubby holders from Smiling Samoyed to the XXXX budgie smugglers that came onto the market this week.

In most cases, breweries already have the design capital to invest in good quality and even innovative goods, according to Emery Greer, founder of Thirsty traders, which supplies promotional items and printed clothing to the beer industry.

“Once you have a decent brand, you can work with it. Check out Black Hops when they hit the market with the Eggnog Stout, that was their first outing and they hadn’t sold a single beer but the entire team was still wearing a Black Hops t-shirt.

“They took pride in what they created, and it’s a return on investment for anyone who has a decent brand.”

A question of quality

Klimt Donohoe, founder of Spotty Dog Brewers in Tasmania, said they went through a process similar to many in the industry.

“Over the years we have followed the same path with our merch as other breweries, but this year we changed it. We used to focus on getting the logo on something as cheaply as possible and then getting it to customers.

“Now we’re putting a very serious focus on quality products, and for good reason. Our graphic designers have made a suggestion for us to concentrate entirely on high-quality clothing and finishes in our new, renamed Merch range.

“His suggestion was that when we offer our merchandise as quality options with a focus on the finish, people will appreciate you so much. A cheap hat is thrown in the back of the car or left behind at a table at a beer festival.

“A top notch crew in trendy colors that both men and women want to wear who are in season / fashion will get people to wear your brand and show it off … which is the whole point of the merch! “

Brewers also pay attention to what their goods say about their brand. While inexpensive t-shirts are still a staple at Spotty Dog to ensure no one is left out of higher price points, Donohoe explains that their merch company Brand Hustle also makes them to a high quality.

“[Our designer] talked about what cheap merchandise says to a customer about your brand. Pretty obvious link there! ”

Opportunities with merch

The brewing industry can also draw insights and comparisons from other sectors, such as the music industry, which is dominated by a company called Love Police.

“They have data on what sells at festivals, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Kanye or Taylor Swift or a local Triple J artist, like beer, black t-shirts sell best – it’s not rocket science . “Joe Cook said of fans.

“But they actually tried to open up the beer world and decided that it was too harsh and fragmented.”

While black t-shirts will undoubtedly always have a place in the beer merch, many breweries are branching out, as the example of Spotty Dog has shown.

Emery Greer of Thirsty Merchants said the point is to create a unique difference that matches a brewer’s brand, as long as it’s strong from the start.

“That’s the key to becoming a brand and graphic designer – for me, everything comes from the brand.

“It’s part of Thirsty’s success. We don’t just do logo slaps, we can take something and think about it and develop things a lot further. “

The key is to tie each merch to the brand – who the company is and how it wants to be perceived.

“Places like Mountain Culture that produce amazingly beautiful goods. Since they are in a highly touristy area in the Blue Mountains, they could go for really nice crew tops, embroidery and a bold color palette because their brand is about color. “

Greer also said breweries were changing the way they thought about goods.

“In the last three years it has been a breath of fresh air, with the new color palettes in the merch and the seasonal changes.

“We also noticed that we are also making more t-shirts with a feminine cut. Female beer drinkers and enthusiasts, nobody looked after them before and we started asking so many people at festivals. “


Buying locally produced goods was a hallmark of the independence movement, while breweries are also looking for ways to be more sustainable and reduce waste in the brewery through CO2 recovery systems, the use of spent grains, and more.

The fashion world is also concerned with issues of sustainability, in particular “fast fashion” and sourcing, but there is still a long way to go.

“My take on this is that you are doing all you can to be sustainable and making the things that you cannot sustainably make good quality and using them until they break,” said Cook.

“Not many breweries buy fast fashion, but few breweries can afford to make t-shirts for a specific beer or event.

In October 2021, Australians spent $ 2.2 billion on clothing, but only a tiny fraction of that revenue was on locally made products, let alone locally sourced raw materials. Like many developed countries, Australia is heavily dependent on imported clothing.

“Australia is by and large a small country, so there are fewer suppliers for everything, and anything that is bespoke or bespoke is easier to outsource abroad,” explains Cook.

It may not stay that way forever, but in the short and medium term, costs and profit margins remain a major factor.

“The nice thing about production centers is that they follow a global trend towards more responsibility. They give you the ability to create things that are sustainable or not and that is price based.

“We are not quite there as a world or community in which sustainability is cost-neutral, it is still very important [to buy sustainability].

“It’s getting closer and as long as we ask for it, it will move manufacturers, people shit these days.”

Thirsty Merchant’s Greer agreed that there was a move towards more sustainable and ethical sourcing.

“There’s a lot going on in this area, but there isn’t much on offer, a couple of core brands that offer organic, sustainable and well-made products, but that obviously has an impact on costs. For the base product it becomes a problem, add pressure, shipping costs, you have to sell it at a premium price to get a good return. “

There is a trend in the merchandise industry towards ethical and sustainable clothing, and a large segment of clothing companies are using AS Color, a New Zealand brand that is transparent about sourcing longer-term use.

“I still wear AS Color shirts from five years ago, but they kept their shape, the pressure held, so it ticks all the boxes. Cheaper shirts for free wear after 100 washes – so you get what you pay for. “

Merch models

Beer merchandising of all sizes presents challenges, especially when it comes to printing decisions and orders, but like can printing, there is more than one way to skin a cat when ordering beer merch.

Beer Fans, for example, is more of a marketplace.

“We have technology that taps into e-commerce platforms that mimic what breweries have on their websites, so we’re not undercutting the brewery, we’re just replicating it.

“We hope to reduce costs for all breweries by pooling all of their purchasing power. I can tie 10,000 t-shirts from one supplier, and then the total cost for breweries can go down – some run really short runs and therefore make less than $ 5 for a hoodie.

“That gives them more flexibility, the ability to create more styles and create a profitable margin.”

Thirsty Merchants now do a lot in-house, including printing, and have their own factories in China.

“We have produced a lot in-house over the past 12 months and have a DTG (direct-to-garment) printer,” explains Greer.

DTG printers are more efficient than traditional screen printing and reduce waste, but are more expensive because of the cost of ink, he explained.

“We weigh the best method of application by looking at the engineering work required. Screen printing lasts and gets better with time and DTG is at this level.

“There are also transfer films for hot-press vinyl, but we avoid them because we want them to last longer.”

According to Greer, DTG printing is the target of apparel printing.

“DTG is amazing, the inks last longer than material, it reduces overheads and costs, and minimizes waste, and it uses all water-based soluble inks, which is better for the environment, so it meets a lot of criteria for us.”

It is clear that making goods like beer takes some time and effort.

“I really think that 10 to 20 percent more effort [invested in merchandise] would have a tenfold effect on a brewery’s business, ”said Joe Cook of Beer Fans.

“Part of the beauty of craft beer is that people aren’t just fans because the beer is amazing, but because they hook into the whole ethos and lifestyle. And that’s why people are ready to wear a brewery’s merch, not just because they like their beer. “

“That makes breweries unique. They are diverse and so are the people, there is something for everyone and that should also be the case with merch. “

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