You can shop for nearly any product online and have it delivered to your home within a few days. A huge rise of craft beer options has sent people searching for unique brews around the world, and while it’s fairly easy for a consumer to find a brewery and even browse their beer selection online, it’s not so simple for brewers to actually sell and ship their products.
Whether you’re a homebrewer with an entrepreneurial spirit or you’re part of a craft brewery that is ready to expand into larger markets, here are some key aspects to keep in mind when selling beer online.
There is a lot to unpack in deciding whether you can legally sell your beer. These regulations may change drastically between different countries, states, and localities. Because of this, it’s always important to research laws for your local region as well as any areas you plan to serve. It may be a good idea to seek legal counsel before beginning your venture or investing in a lot of equipment and ingredients.
That being said, it’s important to make the distinction between a homebrewer and a licensed brewery, using the United States as an example. Fortunately, in the U.S., it is now legal to brew beer at home in all 50 states. However, home brewers are limited to 100 gallons of beer per year, or 200 gallons if more than one adult shares the home.
Beyond that, it is illegal for any homebrewer to sell or serve their product to the public without a proper license. Sharing your brew at a friend’s house or with family members is okay, as long as you aren’t selling the beer.
Homebrewers could apply for a professional license to legally brew and sell their beer if the equipment and facility they use are detached from their dwelling space. A detached outbuilding might be approved as long as all windows and doors are secure. If you’re trying to set up your operation in an attached garage, however, you’d need to wall off any doors leading directly into your home from the garage. You’ll also need to check your lease or stipulations related to your property and the area you live in to ensure you can legally operate a business there.
For microbreweries and craft breweries looking to expand into online markets, you’ve likely already taken the steps to ensure your permits to operate your facility and sell your beer are up to date, at least in your local area. You’ve probably also established an online presence to show off your beer selection, operating hours, location, and any events you might hold.
On a technical level, adding an online shopping option wouldn’t be difficult, in itself. However, when you open your distribution up beyond your local area, you can run into trouble quickly. For example, shipping alcohol across state lines may require several permits for each state involved in the transaction. Because of this, you may need to clearly list limits on which areas you will ship your product.
Again, because of the extremely intricate laws and restrictions involved, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced legal professional. This can become exponentially more difficult if you intend to offer your products globally.
In many areas, you may also be required to sell your beer directly to a licensed distributor, rather than directly to consumers. This will likely drive up the price of your beer overall, which could negatively impact your sales, especially in many areas where you haven’t established a positive reputation worthy of the high price tag.
There are also potential restrictions surrounding the contents of your beer. It’s become part of the brewing tradition to experiment with a variety of exotic spices and ingredients in order to create new styles and flavors. Just be careful that any ingredients you use are legal in the places your beer will be shipped. For example, there is a rising trend of breweries producing cannabis-infused beers where cannabis products are legal for recreational use. Attempting to ship these across state lines could put your organization in serious trouble.
Some areas may also have alcohol by volume (ABV) limits for beer. While many breweries operate safely within these ranges for most states, it is worth double-checking before shipping your beer. Of course, this is especially true if you produce any especially high ABV brews.
Who Are You Selling To?
It’s possible that you’ll be able to sell beer directly to customers in your region, laws permitting. Some portion of this will likely include in-house sales where people visit your taproom, drinking beer on the premises as well as buying your beers in growlers, bottles, cans, or kegs. Local regulations might allow you to self-distribute within a certain region, which would allow you to arrange sales and deliver your products to retailers yourself. More often than not, however, these policies don’t expand in such a way to truly take advantage of online beer sales.
As mentioned above, you may be required to sell your beer to a wholesaler who will act as a middleman between you, retailers, and your customers. Larger distributors will have access to a lot of markets, but they are often associated with or even owned by major beer brands. This can be a hard market to break into for a brewery that is just beginning to expand.
Major distributors may also require you to produce specific styles and quantities, month after month. As you probably know, one of the major advantages to craft breweries is the ability to change their selection frequently. New styles of beer and limited releases are one of the biggest draws for consumers, and this freedom allows breweries to experiment with products that could potentially give them an advantage in the market. That being the case, major distributors may not be the best fit for smaller breweries.
Instead, look into smaller distribution companies with a reputation for supporting craft breweries. These distributors will be less likely to place restrictions on the specific beers they will accept. Rather, they may aim to take a more individualized approach in finding opportunities to place your beers in various markets, adjusting to your needs as your small business grows.
Whether your online sales are focused on business-to-business or business-to-consumer transactions, you’ll need to utilize an e-payment platform that is secure and appropriate for your needs. If you’re eventually planning to open sales internationally, you may want to invest time into researching platforms that will expand your customer base domestically as well as internationally.
Marketing Your Beer
Building trust in your brand will be the most important part of marketing your beer. This is true when you’re focused on selling to bars and distributors as well as when you’re selling directly to consumers.
Some of the most effective marketing strategies for smaller breweries still rely on in-person interactions. These include participating in beer festivals, where a large number of people can sample your selection. Tap takeovers at local bars and restaurants are also a great way to get exposure.
While these strategies are great ways to gain a larger local following, in-person events also attract retailers and additional distributors who can help you to expand your market. It’s a good idea to send a knowledgeable representative from the brewery or your distribution company to speak with potential retailers at these events.
Many of the marketing tactics we’ve explored so far don’t fall strictly into the realm of e-commerce. However, this points to one of the most important aspects of running a craft brewery: your business model will have the most success if you build your digital marketing efforts out from a strong local foundation.
That being said, a unique aesthetic will be a major aspect of your branding strategy. There are new breweries popping up every day, and a cohesive design between your website and your bottle and can labels will help you to stand out from the crowd. These elements can also lend a sense of authenticity, which is especially important in this market. Look into other label designs on the market, and consider working with a professional graphic designer to come up with an aesthetic that represents the spirit and personality of your brand, both in your product labels and your web design.
Great photography is also essential for creating a sense of authenticity. This includes your products, but it should also include images of your facility, taproom, employees, and customers. Consumers have plenty of choices when choosing a beer from major brands or smaller breweries. To build a loyal following, your brewery needs to be a living, breathing community. Because of this, it may be a good idea to hire a professional photographer to capture honest moments at your facility and at public events.
Aside from having an attractive aesthetic, the content on your website can do a lot to build your following and drive sales. This is a great place to share the story of your brewery. Craft breweries are known for their personality. How did the idea for the brewery become a reality? What is your ongoing mission? How do your brewmasters view their craft?
You can also make the website useful for consumers by creating relevant, regularly updated blog content and sharing it on social media. The content you create could cover things like industry news, stories from festivals and other events, insights into crafting beer, educational resources about various styles of beer, and in-depth previews of upcoming batches. This shows consumers and retailers that you are relevant within your industry and keeps your brewery on their minds.
While laws and regulations may make it difficult to sell your beer online, it is not impossible. The more you can convey your originality and relevance, the greater trust you’ll build within your community and the industry as a whole. This will help you to create opportunities to sell to new customers and show distributors and retailers that you’re an established entity within the market.