How to Handle the End of Summer Brewery Blues

beer glass in fall leavesSummer is a glorious time of year indeed. The weather is nice and people turn to beer to enjoy the season. Breweries are busy filling orders and everyone is on overtime. Then every year, a bell rings and the orders suddenly slow. This bell is the school bell and it signals that summer has come to an end.

The timing varies each year, but somewhere around the end of August to the end of September, orders suddenly are cut back or cancelled.  Distributor inventories grow fatter each day. The consumer just simply stops buying beer. And with the change to fall weather, often people won’t purchase the light summer beers and there will be excess inventory for a while.

This can be jarring, no matter that it happens predictably every year. It’s easy to get caught up in an endless summer feel and believe that it will continue.

But is it the change in the weather, or the return to school?  I’ve never seen a study on why this occurs [one caveat, if you are near a university, you may see an increase in sales when the students come back to town].

Is it Better to Run Out of Beer?

This is an age-old question that many of my clients ask. Is it better for a business to run out of beer and short orders, or is it better to have some extra beer available after the season has ended? Personally, I would rather have to scrap some small amount of beer (or sell it in the taproom at a discount) than to not to fill orders. Beer demand is so fickle, that I wouldn’t want customers to look elsewhere for their beer.

Anticipating the School Bell

Now that we are at the end of summer, it’s important that you watch not only your inventory, but the inventory of your customers. If you are a distributed brewery, this is relatively simple. You can obtain the information from your distributor or you can sign up for VIP or other end-user report tracking systems. VIP reports daily inventory for each of your distributors. You will want to add those balances to the inventory in your cooler to obtain a correct understanding of beer on hand.

Don’t Be Afraid to Discount Beer

The speed at which consumer tastes change continues to surprise me every year. If you have a lot of beer on hand, it’s ok to discount the beer now so that you won’t have to store it in the cooler for a long time. As they say, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Accelerate the Appearance of Fall Brews

One way for your beer to remain relevant for a longer period of time is to ship the fall brews early. It’s not uncommon for distributed breweries to ship Oktoberfest beer in August. If the harvest season is September, it’s important for distributors to have their allocation early enough to sell the beer. The fall season comes on quickly, so it helps to have the beer in place where it’s needed, before it’s needed. The one exception is pumpkin beer. It is pretty tough to pick up a pumpkin beer in August.

Just Wait Until Spring

We are heading toward the ‘lesser beer-drinking season’. Just as there’s a school bell that rings in the fall, it also rings in the spring–heralding a new season of beer drinking. Once the weather turns warmer and people head outside, they often look for a new beer to drink while drinking in the nice weather. As I remind my clients, “the sun will come out tomorrow; you just have to hang on until tomorrow”.

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