Craft brewers make up over 12% of the total beer market in the United States — reaching upwards of 20% market share, estimated at $23.5 billion.
Locally marketed food through direct and intermediated channels grossed $4.8 billion in 2008. Albeit growing 4x since the last US census, local food still only represents 1.9% of total farm sales.
So, what can local independent food makers learn from craft brewers to reach the same level of success in their market?
Craft beer and local food products satisfy similar consumer cravings — to feel connected to the products and makers, to have a higher-quality artisanal experience, and to support independent businesses over large corporations. I would argue that utlimately, shoppers are choosing “craft” or “local” because it offers a greater sense of control in a confusing global market and invokes feeling — a tangible connection to the creation process and the people behind those businesses.
WHAT FOOD INNOVATORS CAN LEARN FROM CRAFT BREWERIES
1. DEFINE WHO YOU ARE BEYOND “LOCAL.”
Locality is not the whole picture and “local” is often vague, does not imply size, ownership type, or quality. Over the years, we’ve been working to best define what local means and food miles are just one facet to highlight.
I would attribute a portion of success that craft breweries have seen to a growing anarchy — consumers are sick of giving their money to large corporations and want to try new, diverse, unique products in the market.
The Spruce defines craft beer based on what it’s not: “Simply put, craft beer is a beer that is not brewed by one of the big “mega-brewery” corporations.”
Food innovators and entrepreneurs are so incredibly important to help diversify where and how food is made. It will be advantageous for food companies to emphasize that not only are they local, but they are a small, independent owned, and provide unique and quality products.
2. CREATIVE MARKETING AND BRAND DESIGN.
Craft breweries are witty and creative — designs and marketing campaigns are intelligently put together to be personal and allow people to feel connected to the brewmasters and the brew. Have a personality!
Food brands like Munk Pack, MadeGood, Snappy Grains, and EarthApples Seed Potatoes are getting it right. If you need some tips for good brand design companies, our community of over 800 food makers are sharing their favourites here.
3. SHARE THE WHOLE STORY — INCLUDING PEOPLE AND CULTURE.
Breweries like New Belgium from Colorado and Muskoka Brewery from Muskoka are bringing people into their world by sharing engaging stories about the people behind the business and offering insight into company values and culture.
Consumers are buying their beer not simply because it’s good quality, but because they feel aligned with the lifestyle and culture behind the brand. Consumers want to identify with the why behind your brand, not just the what or how. Check out Simon Sinek’s video about why the why matters.
4. TOURS AND EXPERIENCE — WELCOME PEOPLE IN!
Create a community with your consumers and open your facility doors or farm gates to the public! Brewery tours and wine tours are wildly popular and there is no reason that farm tours couldn’t attract the same attention.
In a world where we are so disconnected from how things are made, give away the inner workings of your production with an interactive experience. Connect and engage with your neighborhood — create culture.
5. CELEBRATE AND LOVE WHAT YOU DO.
Craft beer festivals seem to be ubiquitous now. Slowly, were starting to see more organization for local food celebrations like Local Food Fest in Guelph or events by awesome grocers like The Big Carrot in Toronto.There is room to grow on inventing new ways to gather and bring people into the world of local independent growers and food makers. Maker’s spaces like the Food Building in Minneapolis or The Source in Denver are models that I hope to see replicated.
Many restaurants are now sourcing seasonal ingredients from local farmers — a perfect opportunity to highlight and celebrate the growers and makers themselves.
Any brewmaster I’ve talked to exudes a passion for their craft that is infectious, constantly in a creative process to find new concoctions and share with their friends and customers. If you grow food or make a food product, how can you translate your passion to consumers? I can’t emphasize enough the importance of sharing your why, your passion, and your team culture.
Consumers and makers alike are pining for authenticity — share your story, have fun and be personable when expressing your brand, and create a unique and quality product.
So, I know what you might be thinking — that you don’t have the time or resources for execute these lofty sugggestions. Being a new food entrepreneur can be taxing and leave many extended. Check out if you are eligible for grants from Agri-food Canada — Localize Vendor Big Mountain Foods from British Columbia recently received over $40,000 from Growing Forward 2. For USA food manufacters, you’ll want to learn more about grants from the USDA. There is also likely provincial or state funding available if you look for it.
 Brewer’s Association (March 22, 2016). Small and Independent Brewers Continue to Grow Double Digits. Retreived April 28, 2017, from: https://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/small-independent-brewers-continue-grow-double-digits/
 Low, Sarah A. and Vogel, Stephen J., Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States (November 1, 2011). USDA-ERS Economic Research Report No. 128. Retreived on April 20, 2017, from: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2114361 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2114361
 The Spruce (April 4, 2017). A Working Definition of Craft Beer. Retreived April 28, 2017, from: https://www.thespruce.com/craft-beer-definition-353250