Premium brands gaining popularity
Over the last 3 years, beer sales by volume have been dropping in China. The change has been fuelled by falling demand for cheap brands that are being replaced by more expensive premium brands. However, among the big names vying for a piece of this market such as BrewDog and Mikkeller, smaller players are losing the chance to showcase their brews to China’s curious consumer base.
How does Drinking Buddies work
Drinking Buddies (啤友汇 Piyouhui), operates as a subscription based tasting club that partners with small breweries across the world, and seeks to introduce China to not only craft beers but more specifically, smaller and unusual brands. In return for a WeChat subscription, members will receive a box of six different bottles of craft beer shipped to their door every month, allowing them to taste unfamiliar and unique brands from all over the world, including Korea, Ireland, and the UK to name a few.
- The craft beer sent however are typically from less-known breweries that the average person will likely have never heard of, almost giving members a feeling of exclusivity and prestige.
- For example, a Drinking Buddies partner brew hails from The Tickety Brew Company, which was started by a husband and wife duo in the small town of Stalybridge, Manchester. Another example would be Brew Age in Austria, who refer to themselves as “gypsy brewers” because they are so small that they don’t have their own brewery, instead teaming up with local partners to produce their brews.
The only way these sellers would be able to come to China is through a small-scale distribution avenue like Drinking Buddies, who are able to manage everything from the marketing down to the customs papers.
An educational experience for China
Drinking Buddies doesn’t only provide a box of beer every month, but also takes it a step further and provides their club members with an educational experience into the world of craft beer.
- Raj points out that, although many of their customers would have started buying these unusual brands from simply being craft beer drinkers regularly, he states that many of their Chinese customers are new to drinking craft beer and have misconceptions about it.
- Because of this, the Drinking Buddies club also grants access to different events every month, such as tastings and workshops where members can enjoy themselves while learning more about beer.
“We keep it really educational because we’re trying to teach people how to drink beer,” she said. “Craft beer is a case of sipping and tasting it, and when I explain that it’s just like wine, that’s when they get it.”
Getting into the club
As mentioned earlier, due to the craft beer being so unique and tightly distributed, members gain a sense of exclusivity. Alongside being able to learn more about craft beer and tasting, members are without a doubt treated to an amazing experience. However, it comes at a price.
- Clients are able to sign up for a three-month trial membership for 650 RMB (about US$95), with many even opting to go all the way up to a “gold” level year-long membership for 2,000 RMB (US$290).
- Members also have the opportunity to purchase beers they like individually.
- Raj says there are “people buying boxes upon boxes. The amount I would normally sell to a retailer, they’re buying for themselves.”
Through the workshops and tastings to introductions to more obscure breweries monthly, Drinking Buddies have been making incredible progress and it will be interesting to see how they progress into 2017 from here!
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