How to turn a great idea into a complete train smash in one easy lesson.

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Like many other people I got one of these in the bulging bag of presents Santa Clause left behind. I must have been a very good chap in the preceding year! A machine! That dispenses draught beer on demand! Sounds too good to be true.

I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for a great idea and a good sales person. I like to be sold to, I really enjoy watching someone do it well and yes, it gives me a great feeling even though I know, and can see the techniques well demonstrated.

We used to call this service “The Pub” before Covid struck and we all had to bunker in to survive. In the process we all came together as a nation. And, tried to give the supermarket delivery guys and girls a bad back humping the heavy weight bottle and can filled baskets and a tin of beans to our front door. Recyclers have never had it so good as door step collections of glass and aluminium went through the roof.

The SUB beer machine seems like a Krupps idea and product. Essentially a chiller unit with a beer tap, it stores beer under pressure so that you can pour yourself a cold glass of draught beer right after that particularly difficult zoom meeting. The beer, in a limited variety of flavours, comes in sealed bottles called TORPS – because they look like torpedoes? The TORP itself ships with a single use plastic tap and it all slots into the machine very easily and quickly. Once emptied can just give the empty bottle to your friendly neighbourhood recycler for disposal.

We haven’t researched it but we are guessing that the whole system is wrapped up tighter than a ducks ….. in patents and intellectual copyright.

So, SUB’s and other similar machines sound like a great idea don’t they. And, how quick off the mark to see the potential market explosion for home drinkers have these start-ups been? The thing is it’s not as simple as the romantic tradition of independent entrepreneur, has great idea and defies the naysayers by taking it to market. We think that there is, in part, skulduggery here behind the scenes.

When you want to buy a refill, all roads lead to Beerwulf. A Netherlands based start-up whose global ambition is to be the world’s biggest supplier of craft beer to your door. If, like us, you like continental style beers, La Chouffe is a particular favourite, as much as home grown craft, the beer list has some attractions. Kegs are all 2 litres in size and prices start at around £9 and up delivered to the door, sounds OK.

If you search for an alternative Sub keg supplier in the UK you can find one, we did. On further investigation though they are on re-direct to Beerwulf and their email is shut down (thesub.co.uk). So, it seems that Beerwulf is slowly sneaking up on a monopoly or at least being the major player in the TORP resupply market. Big brand beer deliveries are also available from www.beerhawk.co.uk but not TORPS.

Problem is, that in our experience Beerwulf customer service is woeful. Our order took a month to be partly fulfilled. They just couldn’t seem to get anything right. The details of the transaction read like an exam question in how not to value your customers. Everyone can have a bad day, so we tested the system by ordering from a different email. at the time of going to press that still hadn’t arrived either. One major frustration is the (now obviously) over optimistic delivery date displayed with your order. If you know that your systems are suspect, why would you make a promise that it’s unlikely you’ll deliver on?

Don’t just take our word for it. Read the latest couple of pages of reviews on Trustpilot. Be sure to have a read of the two five star reviews (AGD Ltd – 5 reviews one for poor service on a previous “keg” delivery and Nath Andrews – just the one review in the back catalogue) as well. Two glowing reviews from happy customers in a landscape of negativity with a very similar message don’t you think?

At this point it may be important to point out that the money behind Beerwulf is brewing giant Heineken. In a business article published on line in Digital Business News in early 2019 Beerwulf, then CMO Marc Scholten, played down contact with the brewing giant Heineken to allay any suspicion that they might be pulling the strings on this nascent market. On the business website LinkedIn, he now lists his current position as urm…..Marketing Manager at the Heineken Company.

So far, so what. Brewing giant sees a business opportunity to grab a large chunk of a potentially huge new market utilising its own core product (many of the Beerwulf offer beers are brewed by…Heineken). Then, seeks to recover R&D investment by licensing the innovation,

Big companies, have big numbers, big collaborations and big resources. They became big in the first place for a reason. Do we imagine that they have written off the competition of whatever size as irrelevant? To the bigger players, independent breweries are a sign. A sign that things are changing. That their own stronghold is under attack, there is a movement afoot that threatens their monopoly and they need to innovate and take back control.

As consumers and as craft drinks diversify, this is not the time to be giving an existing monopoly player the upper hand again.  TORPS are a great idea; we’d just recommend, swerving the current big company hook-up with Beerwulf and waiting until TORPS are available at all good supermarkets and beer outlets. Will that happen? C’mon, Heineken et al are volume companies. They are about size and how much volume they can shift. The most efficient way of achieving that is a licensing deal with the supermarkets – yes, it’s going to happen and probably sooner (when the sales target for Subs is looking good) rather than later.

This what we like to call the Budgerigar effect. Budgies can live for 10 years in captivity. If the pet shop sells you a budgie at cost or below, they may also sell you the cage and toys to keep the little chap happy. They can then look forward to ten long years of seed sales. If Heineken can sell enough Subs and they also control the TORP market (via a proxy) ….. it’s all happy days for the brewing giant. Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

The real point for beer lovers everywhere is that recent times have seen a resurgence of great beers from innovative small producers. Local brewers, making small batch great craft beers. For the first time in years new pub openings have been spawned from just this demand for great beers and often opened by independent beer lovers or small breweries. The most difficult part of the job for small producers isn’t the making, it’s how you get your product to market. Independent pubs, beer shops and off sales perform this vital role. During Covid local brewers have worked hard on click and collect and local delivery schemes – give them a chance, do your research and make the effort and don’t torpedo the small local business – support local, support independent.

Research and background.

https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/beerwulf.com

https://www.digital-business-news.com/e-commerce/retail/1240-beerwulf-takes-their-saga-further-into-europe

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