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Craft Brewers Unite! The BC Craft Brewers Guild Takes Shape & Starts Advocating On Behalf of The Province’s Craft Beer Industry

Carlos Mendes

After holding 65 direct stakeholder meetings and receiving 76,255 site visits and 3,587 e-mails over the course of a six-week consultation period, Parliamentary Secretary John Yap submitted his final report on the modernization of BC’s liquor laws to Attorney General Suzanne Anton yesterday.  While we anxiously await its public release, I thought that I’d discuss a related topic that’s been pretty big news inside the province’s craft beer industry, but that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.  Much to the delight of industry watchers and advocates, the BC Craft Brewers Guild recently came together in earnest, and on September 30th met with Parliamentary Secretary Yap to put forward a unified message on behalf of 39 BC craft brewers. Having worked with industry organizations in the past, I can attest to the value they bring to independent and small businesses. By creating a single voice that can be harnessed for everything from marketing to advocacy, industry organizations offer a great example of what can be achieved when businesses work together to realize their collective goals.  The benchmark set by BC’s wine industry is telling.  From Vintners Quality Alliance ("VQA”) sections in BC Liquor Distribution Branch (“BCLDB”) stores, to a well-established tourism industry, BC’s wine producers have long benefited from having strong industry organizations championing their needs. 

Headed by industry veterans like Matt Phillips of Victoria’s Phillips Brewing and Tod Melnyk of Kelowna’s Tree Brewing, the BC Craft Brewers Guild has now started doing this important work for the province’s craft brewers.  Their polished submission to Parliamentary Secretary Yap provides a good overview of the industry’s recent successes, and makes a few excellent suggestions to encourage continued growth.    Find it here. The first thing that struck me was the current data on sales, which shows a positive continuation of the robust market performance I discussed earlier this year in BC Business Magazine.  In the last four years, craft beer’s market share has more than doubled, going from 9% of all BCLDB beer sales in 2009, to an estimated 19% in 2013.  The BCLDB’s retail sales numbers are even more impressive, with craft beer sales showing 17% growth between 2012 and 2013, and estimated to come in at around $165,093,000.00 this year.  The economic benefits of this strong growth comes through in the industry’s job creation numbers, with 94 new jobs created between 2012 and 2013, and over 1,200 people directly employed by the province’s 58 craft brewers. 

The Guild’s submission to Parliamentary Secretary Yap contains several recommendations, the first of which concerns increased visibility in BCLDB stores.  Modeled after the highly successful VQA program, the Guild is calling for the creation of a “Made in BC” beer program in BCLDB stores that would bring attention to BC craft beer by shelving it apart from macro beer and use special signage to highlight its quality and local character. Indeed, a quick walk through any BCLDB store illustrates the clear discrepancy between how BC craft beer is marketed and how BC wine is marketed.  When I buy wine, I typically gravitate to the VQA section because, like the signage says, I like to buy local. Unfortunately, craft beer is often crammed into an overcrowded corner of BCLDB stores, and is mixed in with domestic and imported macro beer.  Having a distinct and central area of BCLDB stores that showcases craft beer would go a long way to broadening its market share and promoting its value as a local, high-quality product.  Another suggestion that would spur further growth is sustained government support for craft beer tourism. The rapid development of Vancouver’s craft beer scene since Parallel 49 opened its tasting room in 2012 has been impressive, and in that time I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a drink with visitors from the interior, Washington state and even Portland who have come to experience it.  With the kind of government support BC’s wine industry and Oregon’s craft brewers enjoy, the numbers of craft beer tourists visiting Vancouver and beyond will only increase, making the pie just a little bit bigger for everyone in the industry. 

Like many other industry advocates, I’m optimistic that the Guild’s submission to Parliamentary Secretary Yap is just the beginning of a long and successful body of advocacy for BC’s craft brewers.   Hopefully, the coming months and years will see more BC craft beer sampler packs, and further collaboration with the Provincial government and other industries.  As I’ve said before, with a world-class product and an increasingly sophisticated and passionate consumer base, BC’s craft beer industry is well positioned to continue the impressive growth it has enjoyed for the last number of years.  With the help of the BC Craft Brewers Guild and (hopefully) the Provincial government, things could soon get even better for BC’s craft beer producers and consumers.