itM: Boston Beer has blazed the trail in the beer category with national account customer relationship management. What was and is your vision here?
JK: About eight years ago, we saw that the draft beer choices in national accounts were being driven by mass domestic brewers. By working with the national accounts, we have provided a craft beer trade-up opportunity for the consumer.
itM: Where do you see Boston Beer and the craft beer segment moving in the next five years?
JK: Craft beer is becoming more of an everyday choice and is entering the mainstream for beer drinkers. Right now, 40 percent of all U.S. beer drinkers will consume Samuel Adams either regularly or occasionally, over the course of the year.
itM: As the leader in the craft beer segment and with the expectation that you add value to the chain customers’ menus, what’s next for Boston Beer?
JK: As an expert in the craft beer category, we help our customers grow the entire category by focusing on higher quality, which in turn provides value to the consumer. At Boston Beer, good enough is never good enough. We have a restless dissatisfaction with the status quo and we are always striving to produce a better product at the same cost to our customers. It’s about so many little things. For instance, we have reinvented the beer supply chain in the U.S. and reduced wholesaler inventories by up to 75%, thereby giving our customers and drinkers the freshest beer in the market wherever they are in the U.S.
itM: For the past two client meetings held at Epcot, you have focused on social media and its importance to your company and chain operators. What specifically is Boston Beer doing to harness the power of social media?
JK: Not enough. Social media is fast-moving and there is constant innovation. We are not trying to be cutting-edge here. Our passion is for craft beer. We are showing our customers how social media can benefit their businesses and are learning alongside them. Everything changes quickly in the digital world so it’s hard to stay ahead of it all. What I can predict is it will be unpredictable.
itM: We saw incredible food and beverage pairings at last night’s reception. How do you think the chain accounts can use beer and food pairing to enhance their customers’ dining experience?
JK: Craft beer is an exceptionally good companion to food, possibly even better than wine. A brewer’s pantry includes many items that allow the beer to work well with the food. We can add cherries, lemon, grains of paradise–anything that will make a great tasting beer. This wide range of flavors pairs especially well with the kind of flavorful foods found in casual and upscale dining.
itM: to SH: How did the Epcot client event come to fruition? What was the idea behind it?
SH: The past couple of years have been challenging times for many. Likewise, on-premise chains have suffered as customer traffic has waned. During our sales team discussions about the common themes and questions coming from our national account customers, we realized they all had a strong desire, really a need, to learn how to use social media more effectively to drive loyalty among their best customers and increase restaurant traffic. The Epcot event brings leading executives from the online venues together with our clients, so they can meet, interact, and ultimately, jointly develop programs.
itM: Have any of your national account partners actually done something with Samuel Adams beers, utilizing companies like Foursquare, Facebook, and Google?
SH: Absolutely! As a matter of fact, nearly all of our top 10 national account customers have worked with us at some level to promote our partnerships. These efforts have ranged from something as simple as a Facebook post announcing that our latest seasonal is “Now on Tap,” to an online poll that Outback ran engaging customers by offering them the opportunity to vote on their favorite pairing with the Alice Springs Quesadilla. Whether directly or indirectly related to selling beer, at the end of the day, we want to continue to collaborate with our customers to identify initiatives that will help drive business and achieve their goals.