I often wonder how many breweries can a City, Province, Country and Continent support? As an entrepreneur and soon to be brewery owner, the concern is always in your head that the market reached a saturation point with businesses. Eventually, craft beer market share will stop coming from Molson, Labatt and other International giants. It will indeed come from other like minded craft breweries, which means I can taketh and I can giveth.
In the United States, the Brewers Association indicates that there 2,538 breweries operating in the country as of June 2013. It also states that there are an additional 1,600 in the planning stages. If you take a 90% survival rate, that would make about 4,000 total breweries operating in the USA. That is a lot of beer, and one would have to think, reaching the point of saturation. In fact, you can read this article posted in the USA Today, which looks at this very question.
In Canada, best estimates put the number of breweries at about 300, and within 5 years, that number is expected to reach 400. Where is the tipping point? Well no one knows for sure, but not unlike our counterparts south of the 49th parallel, with every new brewery, we take another step towards saturation.
All of this plays in your mind when you open a brewery. It fundamentally matters what you stand for, the type of beer you make, and how you put all these moving parts together to form your brand. It would be my opinion that as the market gets more and more crowded, new breweries need to carve out a more focused niche. It used to be that making a craft beer was enough of a differentiator, but with more breweries doing more unique beers, being uncommon becomes a good play.
It feels like this is the path that we are going down with our brewery. It just seems to make the most sense to me, and when something makes sense, I usually jump in with both feet. When I look at the breweries that have opened and experienced success, they all stand for something.
Parallel 49 – Always something different and unique, but merged with hitting the middle of the market
33 Acres – Clean, refined and connected to Vancouver
Red Racer – quality craft beer in a can that appeals to the middle of the market
Four Winds – New world innovation influenced by old world tradition
Do you think Vancouver could support a brewery that focused on beer from one area of the world? What about a brewery that focused on Low Alcohol beers or Gluten Free Beers? Or do you think a brewery that focused exclusively on Sour beers, or different types of Saison would do well? What about doing what Steam Whistle does, and only make one beer? What about a brewery that only sourced local ingredients?
These are some of the options that are coming into play with new breweries, and ones that we have kicked around. At the end of the day, I am going to brew beers that I believe in, and hopefully others like them as well. There really is no other way to go, and to be honest, doing otherwise would be somewhat disingenuous. As for the number of breweries, this is not something I can worry about. It would be counterproductive for me to focus on what others are doing, at the expense of conveying what we are doing.
Back to my Excel spreadsheet I go. It seems that I am spending far too much time making the numbers work. My topic for next time will be the tasting room and what are some of the decisions and qualities that are important in designing one. For now, I will leave this parting thought. I hope that we are a ways from saturation, for it will make the task before me that much more attainable.