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Will Craft Beverage Survive the Robot Invasion

  • 9 min read

Is anyone else nervous about at-home beverage tech replacing visits to tasting rooms?

Robots drinking wine illustration for robot invasion postRecent press about Cana Technology and their $30M capital raise to produce the world’s first Molecular Beverage Printer should at least cause tasting room owners and managers to pause. But why worry? The tech is a long way off and Robots could never truly replace the liquid or in-person experience…right? Don’t be so sure!

Threats like this are not new. Homebrewing hasn’t led to breweries closing their doors. Pernod Ricard’s OPN smart home dispenser for craft cocktails and AB InBev’s collaboration with Keurig Green Mountain – the Drinkworks in-home brewing appliance – each had about a two-year shelf life. And ever-changing COVID-19 guidance regarding capacity regulations and social distancing hasn’t turned everyone away from craving a drink at their local tasting room. Individually, not enough to topple craft beverage, but collectively these are examples of four growing trends influencing consumer buying behavior:

  • Need for Options
  • Need for Convenience
  • Need for Sustainability
  • Need for Engagement

Invading robot army illustration for robot invasion postThe time to act is now. But how can your craft beverage business fend off a full-blown invasion of craft? For many producers, it’s about understanding the immediate changes to social, digital, public relations and email strategy needed to humanize their brand. Others may have to take an objective look at their customers and what’s needed to create one-of-a-kind experiences while capturing new sales. In either case, complacency isn’t an option. Self-service drink robots mixing 120 cocktails an hour are out there delivering the perfect Manhattan, complete with bar jokes. In a world where convenience is competing with craft, it’s time to remind drinkers why there’s no better place for a beverage than your tasting room.

Consider this a wake-up call: a reminder that customers want more from you than just a drink. Read on for ways to answer each of the four trends, then make a plan to help attract more lifeforms to your business.

need for options

Woman browsing beer selection for inauguration day postWhile on-premise sales are slowly gaining steam and states are considering removing mask mandates, bottle shops, grocers and liquor stores will always offer more selection than your business. So, if you’re not competing on product quantity, you can always argue product quality is best when served from your tasting room…but even that argument is lost on most drinkers. Food and drinks is good; adding events is even better. Give customers a reason to leave their home with a one-stop entertainment option. But how will they know what you have to offer?

  • [Re]Design your homepage to highlight products, event calendars and social activity
  • Show customers having fun, especially video (with permission)
  • Use a press release to notify local publications of new spaces and seasonal schedules
  • Email invitations to product release celebrations and reserve-your-spot-type calendar events
  • Celebrate your people, showing the personality and energy of your team
  • Highlight your space, making it clear what the experience will be like for visitors, i.e. family- and dog-friendly, music, games/TV

Your tasting room experience is an asset in this crowded craft environment. Time to lean into promoting the experience beyond just the beverage.

need for convenience

Curbside pickup photo for coronavirus postBusinesses who have survived – and even thrived – during COVID-19 have found ways to offer safety, value and convenience, despite ever-changing operating conditions. Ordering ahead for contactless pickup, table reservations, ecommerce, shipping and local delivery are just a few of the conveniences that will continue after the pandemic subsides. A liquor store sells hundreds of bottles and Drizly delivers in about an hour…what makes your business the better option? Consider the following:

  • Make online ordering easy and allow for curbside pickup
  • Enable a product locator online if available at retail
  • Reduce customer wait times with call-ahead queuing or table reservation
  • Promote to-go packaging options
  • Bundle food and beverage (if available)
  • Explore shipping options where allowed by law
  • Hire a local driver or delivery service
  • Use Facebook or other instant messengers for real-time customer service
  • Repurpose your normal emails to emphasize timely calls-to-action, like order now for pickup or reserve your seat for trivia

Already doing these things? Great! Now is the time to double-down on promoting these value-added services to show customers just how convenient it is to grab a beverage from your tasting room.

need for sustainability

Solar and wind farm photo for what do you stand for postRemember the Robot that kicked off our email: the Molecular Beverage Printer from Cana Technology? The product is built on the premise we need to reverse our climate impact while providing customers nearly limitless choice. Impossible? They believe they can help reduce single-serve plastic and aluminum can waste globally with an at-home appliance that uses everyday tap water to create thousands of different non/alcoholic beverages. Some notable stats cited in the article:

  • On average any beverage consumed is 90% water
  • Only about 5% of a beverage are the unique ingredients that give a beverage its taste and aroma
  • To create the unique 5% of flavor and aroma ingredients we use 400 trillion liters of water
  • Cana can save the average American household 100 beverage containers a month
  • Water usage, plastic and packaging and CO2 emissions are all reduced

‍Most would agree that we could and absolutely should do more to combat climate change on the individual, corporate and global levels. And Cana’s mission to lead the change in food and beverage service industries helps raise awareness and prompt action. The not-so-subtle implication is that you don’t need to leave home to enjoy your favorite beverage AND feel good about your positive impact on the environment. In marketing terms, a great unique selling proposition indeed, but where does this leave craft beverage producers who have also taken steps towards more sustainable operations? All while providing a quality product and entertainment experience for their guests and customers?

Time to be transparent about what you are doing to help combat climate change, including:

  • Carbon neutral certification
  • Upcycling used water
  • Land stewardship
  • Reusing spent ingredients
  • Recovering carbon dioxide from fermentation
  • Developing local partnerships
  • High-efficiency equipment
  • Energy sourcing and use
  • Recycling tasting room waste

If you’re watching the Winter Olympics in Beijing, you’re keenly aware of the challenge providing athletes with both natural and man-made snow for competitions. Olympic organizers are speculating climate change will render a number of previous venues unusable for the Games in the coming decades. And organizations like Protect Our Winters (POW) are encouraging enthusiasts, business and political leaders protect our world today and for future generations. If your operation is already on a path towards promoting a more sustainable future, it’s okay and actually encouraged to talk about it with customers: many use corporate climate awareness as a criterion for doing business. And if you’re in the early stages of developing a strategy for sustainability, reach out to peers in the industry to help. Once you’ve established a track record of climate action you can use it as a talking point in your story.

need for engagement

Couple at a festival photo for robot invasion postBeyond the beverage, humans are [generally] more personable than Robots. And we’re far more entertaining to guests 😉 Challenge is, most craft producers don’t have the time or resources to communicate with customers in a meaningful way online, prior to a visit to the tasting room. So, they lose new customers to more-engaging competitors and grab-and-go off-premise options for at-home consumption. Every team member is in a position to show what makes the in-person experience different with your craft beverage business:

  • Move away from beautifully-staged product shots towards visuals of people enjoying your beverages and events
  • Build a dialogue by asking/answering questions, responding to changes in the industry, etc.
  • Consider online contests with awards redeemable in the tasting room
  • Listen to what other craft producers are saying online and decide whether to participate in the conversation
  • Show the personality of the brand through photos of your team’s interactions with guests (with permission)
  • Highlight why a visit to your tasting room is better than 1) drinking someplace else, 2) drinking at home or 3) not drinking at all

The goal is to create an engaging moment that causes the [new] customer to pause and consider a visit to your tasting room. You’re after a sign of commitment to the idea, so heavy-up on calls-to-action and timely/expiring entertainment options. Send reminders via email and social notifications and enable event calendar downloads. Your success capturing a new sale hinges on the time and energy invested upfront into storytelling digitally.

The point is not to defend against Robots and the Artificial Intelligence (AI) they represent, but to understand where and how they impact everyday tasting room operations. We know the pace of technology’s advancement across every industry will continue to accelerate exponentially. Addressing the growing trends around options, convenience, sustainability and engagement will ensure you have a fighting chance to survive any invasion of craft.

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