Is a ​Beer Calendar Right for Your Brand?

Creating a plan of beer releases and forecasting a whole year — or even 18 months out — can seem daunting, but it’s a necessary challenge for smaller breweries looking to create growth into production and sales.

“It has been great for those accounts and partners that like to plan six to eight months ahead,” explained Indeed Brewing’s Ryan Bandy, who is Sales Director of the Minneapolis-based brand. “It allows our sales staff to gain features, new placements, and cool events based around brands that are releasing in the future, but with a proper timeline.

“I think there is also an unspoken benefit to our sales staff that says, ‘We are a brewery with our shit together, so you can trust us to follow through on what we say, and our beers will taste/look like they are supposed to.’”

Bandy did note that simply having a brand calendar doesn’t guarantee all those things, but often the brand calendar is the result of those internal processes working.

Now, although a brand calendar is not as important if your model is to sell draft across your taproom bar, sitting down with your internal staff and having a guide for the next year can be important as well. It can help set an ingredient budget along with planning future events or promotions, even leaving room for collaboration opportunities. It can even help out in planning a work schedule for your brew team.

“Internally, it helps us get everything in line to bring these products to life,” explained Surly VP of Marketing & Brand, Bill Manley. “The supply chain disruptions we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic have made creating new releases trickier than ever. Can aluminum is scarce, and getting cans has become more challenging — and expensive — than ever. Chipboard cardboard has also become harder to get with longer lead times, and raw ingredients —specifically those coming from overseas, like European or Southern Hemisphere hops and malt — are at an all-time high in terms of delivery timing.

“Having a clear and concise schedule of what the products and schedules we expect for the following year, helps us plan our logistics and procurement to ensure we can meet our deadlines and commitments.”

Manley came to Surly in 2018 from Sierra Nevada, so the brand calendar model is something he cares deeply about and he understands that when a brewery is large enough to have a full distribution model and is packaging widely distributed beers, it’s time to put together and publish a full brand calendar.

“Surly had just sort of made the leap from a mostly local brewery to a regional player and having a fixed brand calendar that outlined most of the planned releases became more important,” he said. “We work to have the bulk of the brand calendar figured out and ready to launch by August of each year (with the calendar starting the next January).”

Why August? If your brewery is looking to rely on larger national accounts and chains, space in these stores can often be set that early in the previous year.

“For many stores, there won’t be another opportunity to get space in those shelf sets until the next fall — if you’re lucky — and oftentimes not again until the following year,” Manley said. “Having the year outlined and a plan in place, lets beer buyers know what’s coming and lets your internal brewery team plan programming and true execution goals ahead of time.”

As a production brewery, Three Creeks owner Wade Underwood said a beer release schedule is absolutely necessary to get your distributors on board and plan promotions for the year.

“For a pub only, this is less important,” he said. “A less rigid schedule allows more freedom for brewers to experiment and pivot to meet customer demand.”

Making that calendar public to consumers might not be as beneficial if you are using your beer calendar as a suggestion rather than a rule if your plan is to be more flexible in production, but the more your plan to work with distributors and beer buyers in the on- and off-premise market is when having a more rigid calendar is needed.

The Lift Bridge leadership and sales teams meet every fall to talk about the upcoming year.

“With the current challenges associated with packaging availability, it is critical that we are pre-ordering those materials minimally four months ahead of time due to supply chain issues,” said owner Brad Glynn. “We want to maximize timing for seasonal offerings and allow for some extra time before a season begins for full distribution.

“An example would be releasing our summer seasonal hard seltzer The Bomb in May. But we will never release an Oktoberfest in July.”

For a brewery like Great Lakes, which is both a regional brewery with lots of distribution partners, yet in its home base of Cleveland, it is also a brewpub format. That gives the brewery a chance to work both types of calendars.

“We have much more flexibility in announcing releases here,” said Brand Marketing Manager Marissa DeSantis. “There are a few recurring seasonal pub exclusive beers like our Pumpkin Ale which generally taps in November or our Wolfhound Stout which joins our St. Patrick’s Day selection. We may announce returning offerings like these a few weeks in advance to drive ticket sales for a particular event or give our loyal fans an advance heads-up, but generally, for one-off beers, test batches, or other beers with less brand recognition, we’ll make it a point to announce when they are tapped.”

Best Laid Plans

Over the past few years, pre-planning has been an ever-evolving process due to continual changes in the industry, added Summit Director of Sales, Brandon Bland.

“They pertain to not only trends but also the availability and costing of raw materials and other goods needed to get our product to market in the quantity and timeliness that our distributor and retail partners and customers alike have come to expect,” he said. “In an ideal world for us, we would like to have a minimum of 12-18 months before creating an annual calendar.”

Summit will start with a list of its mainstay offerings that Bland said they know will be around, whether those be year-round or seasonal offerings, and then we look at what’s currently going on with consumer drinking trends around its market to evaluate if there is a new category or style that the brand should be exploring.

“The key to this when things are hitting on all cylinders is to not only be able to evaluate current trends, but find ways to get out in front of those coming trends and do your best to look well into the future to place our big bets,” Bland said. “This is not an easy process by any means, especially in today’s world, but it is the goal.”

Indeed has a quarterly meeting where Bandy said they bring in all views from the company — including brewing, taprooms, sales, marketing, and finance — about its current brand calendar and what they should make in the future.

“When we balance that with financial and sales data of our current brands and industry data, our goal is to have the next year’s brand calendar finalized by August 1 of the prior year,” he said, saying that by this coming August, the 2023 calendar should be rounded out.

“But to get there, that means we’re actually starting that process in September of the year before that,” he pointed out.

Three Creeks starts planning product offerings in August and finalizes it by October for the next calendar year.

“Our core products are available year-round and are generally consistent from year to year, so seasonal packages require the most attention,” Underwood said, adding they aim for two to three month rotations of seasonal packages.

Great Lakes creates two formats for its annual release calendar, DeSantis said. An internal version includes set market dates, forecast, and pre-order dates which is an especially helpful tool for the Cleveland brewery’s sales team and distributor partners.

“Our public-facing calendar simply includes a rough range of time the beer is expected to be in the market,” she noted. “Along with releasing to the media, we post our calendar on our website and social media, and host both documents on our company intranet and our media library, which is a hub for marketing assets which we share with our distributor partners.”

Deciding what is launching and when can depend on the market you’re trying to serve, Manley said, along with what products you’re trying to launch as a brand. It can also depend on your geography.

“Here in Minnesota, January is a grim month,” he noted. “Generally, we don’t see a lot of sales as people are hunkering-down and cozying up against the cold. Restaurant and bar sales slow down to a trickle, and people recover from holiday overindulgence and post-Christmas malaise. Because of this, we don’t plan to launch a lot of new products in the early part of the year. Our selling season really starts in March and ramps up in April heading into summer. Unless we have major chain commitments, we prefer to offset the start of our calendar to coincide with February and early spring launches for our high-volume new products.

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