The beer category is crowded, with giants like AB InBev and Heineken dominating the market and over 9,500 craft breweries currently operating across the U.S. Michigan’s Founders Brewing Co., the thirteenth largest U.S. brewer is honing in on data to create brews designed for its existing consumers, while aiming to remain relevant as tastes evolve.
Known for its wide array of IPAs, the Grand Rapids-based brewery regularly releases new brews, such as its Oktoberfest offering that was available for a limited time in September.
Sandy Anaokar, the chief marketing officer for Founders’ parent company Mahou USA, told Food Dive in an interview a lot has changed since he began working there seven years ago. At the time, it felt like “nothing could go wrong” for a craft brewery, he said, and that it was easier to reach consumers because they fell into a general archetype. Today, the company has shifted to look toward sales data to pivot its focus.
“You could almost release anything; because the shelf was not as fragmented and saturated as it is now,” Anaokar said. “We as craft brewers could dabble in almost any fun, wild, creative idea that we wanted.”
But the ubiquity of IPAs in the second half of the 2010s caused the brewer to change its strategy. Since then, he said, the process has morphed from being more product-led to more consumer-led. Founders has worked to target new beer formulations towards existing consumers in order to maintain the following it has amassed.
With its flagship All Day series of IPAs, the brewery has capitalized on consumers’ desire for flavors that maximize hops and deliver different tastes. All Day Haze provides “hazy” fruity flavors with a foggy appearance, while All Day Crimson Sky contains floral and grapefruit flavors. All Night, a darker variation, features a moderately bitter, chocolate taste.
“We have to be more focused on the type of consumers that we want to reach, whether that’s demographics, regional taste profiles or psychographics,” Anaokar said.
Data fueling formulations
In recent months, analysts have pointed to oversaturation in the beer space crowding out the market. Notably, the oldest craft brewery in the country, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company, shuttered its operations in July. Since then, a GoFundMe created by former Anchor employees has raised over $100,000 and organizers told local reporters last month they are in talks to reopen the brewery.
Anaokar attributes the current stagnant growth of the category to a shifting economic environment. During the pandemic lockdowns in 2020, he said, the brewery saw a huge increase in sales of 15-pack IPAs, as people were stocking up. But as inflationary pressures hit, consumers had less money to devote to beer and shifted to smaller beer purchases, either single-serve or six-packs. Imperial IPAs and higher-alcohol brews, Anaokar said, also grew in popularity as drinkers wanted to get more value from their purchases.
The brewery uses an array of sources to glean whats kinds of flavors and sizes its consumers seek from Founders beer.
“We look at sales data, we look at consumer data from IRI, we do consumer research and we take anecdotal feedback from our wholesaler and retailer partners,” Anaokar said.
Founders’ marketing executive said the brewery still wants to bring innovative beer to its consumers, but it is more focused on serving their desire for quality. As hazy IPAs — brews that are less bitter and contain more of a fruity flavor profile, popularized by brands like Hazy Little Thing — became trendy in recent years, the brewery aimed to craft a version that suited what their consumers indicated a desire for rather than following what other brewers were doing.
“One issue with many hazy beers is the stability of it,” Anaokar said. “We try and make things the highest quality, with the highest shelf life, that can also continue to have that punch of flavor without relying on gimmicks.”