Craft Beer In The Supermarkt or The Change We All Saw Coming

Specialty / Craft beer in the supermarket. A topic that lately has led to a discussion between those are for and against it here in the Netherlands. Does it lead to the end of the liquor store? Will it lead to the end of small breweries or will it only give the revolution a new boost? An short overview of the most overheard (overread?) statements.

It’s the economy stupid!

That craft beer was going to make onto the shelves of the supermarket was only a matter of time. Anyone with just the slightest of knowledge of craft beer and some general economic principles could have seen this coming years ago. Whenever something sells, supermarkets step in to offer it, and often for a lower price.

supermarktWhat’s actually in the supermarket?

It is definitely not the case that the shelves in most specialty beer stores were just copied into the supermarket. Bottles I have seen so far were either from abroad (Brooklyn, BrewDog, Goose Island, Bass) are the Dutch breweries you’d expect to be in the supermarkets by now, the likes of Jopen, De Prael, Brouwerij ‘t IJ and Texels. Breweries that have been paving the way the last 15 years or more, are getting a bigger presence on the supermarket shelves. Something that again follows economic principles: If you do something right and people buy your product, you will be rewarded. The other 280 or so Dutch breweries? Still in the specialty shops. Only when they reach the same quality, and maybe even more important consistency, can they start thinking about being in the Albert Heyn from Zierikzee to Delfzijl.

New role for the Specialty Beer Store

Three years ago I wrote about the role of the Specialty Beer Store in the Dutch Craft Beer Revolution. They are what the local music club and record store are for the music scene. A place where smaller, starting breweries can find a way to reach new customers. The first presence on the market. Some of these customers will give them feedback, from which they can continue.

The people working in the store can already tell you more about that bottle of Jopen than anyone in the supermarket, not including reading what’s on the back of the bottle. In the store they can tell you more about the style, the brewer and increasingly what food pairings would be great with the beer. They can also suggest similar beers in case you want to try something new.

More room

What some stores are afraid of, and have already seen happening, is that it will get harder to get a hold of the same beers that the supermarkets now sell. This might lead to the loss of some buyers, but it also frees up space to highlight the smaller, more unknown breweries who now have more chance to at least enter the market or the more special, or one-off, editions of the bigger breweries.

Does the appearance of craft beer in the supermarket make it harder? Yes, but they were already on the frontlines as the ones who lead the change before anyone else. The new role of liquor store owners means that it is more worthwhile to keep coming back. The smarter ones are already changing the selection often and listen to what the consumer wants. The margin at the top might get a little thinner, but again, this is something they could have seen coming.

The consumer

The biggest winner of this new move is the consumer. They have easier access to craft beer now. Not everyone in the country has a good specialty beer store nearby and now being able to get your Jopen in the local supermarket is only a good thing for them. Some of the regular beer drinkers might get introduced to the wonderful world of Dutch Craft Beer, leaving them searching for more of what the country has to offer.

For the craft beer consumer the opening of space in the specialty stores is good as well. Where previously the Texels and Jopen stood new and unfamiliar bottles will come. And isn’t the average reader of these here pages a craft beer fan in general? And not a fan of a particular brewery?

Winners and losers

Any change in an industry leads to winners and losers. Some breweries might overproduce or build more capacity that might remain unused if the rise of craft beer should ever falter. But we have seen in other countries that the breaking point hasn’t been reached yet, and in a country where maybe only 20 to 25 breweries make grade A, consistent craft beer, there is still a lot more room for growth and it again falls to those on the forefront, the stores and the bars, to keep up their already excellent work. Sure, for some this change in the market may mean the end, but the fact remains: YOU KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!!

We will have to see in let’s say a year to see what the actual change has been. There’s more to be said about it, and more has been said too, I only posted the most often heard words.

And if you are traveling to Holland one of these days to get a taste of the beer scene, you could walk into the Albert Heyn. If you really want to see what’s going on at the forefront of this wonderful scene, go to any of the places on my beermap.

 

Thanks for answers, inspiration and insights: Harm Nap (Drank van Nap), Richard Spierdijk (Spierbier), Marjolein (De Koffer), Peter Jongejans (Bierwinkel Leiden), Sepp Janssen (Bax), Slijterij den Gouden Aar, Drinkery ’t Bierhuis, Edwin de Zwart (De Zwart Dranken), Fred Schiphorst, Fiona de Lange and anyone else I might have forgotten.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Andrew on 09/04/2015 at 1:25 pm

    Returning through Schipol after Easter it was good to see the temporary cafes selling Brouwerij ‘t IJ Natte and Zatte, let’s hope that it continues once all the work is complete

    Reply

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