My journey selling Beer to an ignored demographic
By Kofi Amua-Sekyi
When I entered the Beer Business in 2006, my first Market was the Upscale Rice Village Area. A drastic change of venue for me being a young Black College Grad from outside the Inner Loop of Houston. My job was to market new products to a Target Market that consisted of 21-29 year old young white professionals. Some analytical genius discovered in his lab that if you can attach a new brand to this Target Market, before they ultimately make their difficult Beer Loyalty decision, you would have them for life. Boy, that doesn't seem so smart these days. But at the time it made sense, grab the young drinkers, put product in their hands that's good and have a customer forever. For years, we were sort of right, and I say sort of because in a short time span new products were released: Peels Malt Beverage, Bud Select, and Miller Chill come to mind. But where do these products stand in line with that market today...crickets. You see we had a great strategy on marketing to the young drinkers but something magical was happening at the same time that through a wrench into our plans. Craft Beer happened! Craft Beer made it possible for the young drinker to make his Beer Loyalty Decision, without it having to be a Brand Loyalty Decision.
The 1st Craft Beer I ever sold was Sam Adams Boston Lager. Good beer, but I said to myself I wouldn't make it my go-to every day. Well I didn't have to because December came and I added Sam Adams Seasonal Winter Lager to my portfolio and loved it. The same thing happened with Texas original Craft Brewery Saint Arnold's, I tried their the Kolsch called Lawnmower, then their Brown Ale, then their Christmas Ale. That Saint Arnold's Christmas Ale was the final piece to my beer puzzle, I was beyond domestic beer, I was finished with drinking the same beer every day for the rest of my life! Since, those beginning days of my Craft Beer experience I have probably tried well over 10000 different brands, styles and flavors. I even worked for Oskar Blues Brewery, an exceptional Colorado Craft Brewery for a couple of years, exploding my pallet even further. So our Analytical Genius from earlier was Right and Wrong. I was a 20 something, young Black professional who hadn't dug my heels into my Dad's favorite brew, and I had no issue being marketed to something new. But I didn't become a lifelong Bud Select drinker because its slick black and red labeling and low carb taste. I became a lifelong SAMPLER of beers, brands and styles! For me as the consumer the game had changed, the search for the go-to beer was over. Beer polygamy was the new standard, and I was going in like King Solomon!
Back in 2006 my good friend and coworker Leonard covered the African American Market the same way I covered the Rice Village Area. And to be clear my market was the proverbial "Yuppie, High Income, White Kid" so the market's were about as different as anything. I can't lie I was kind of envious of Leonard, I mean here I am a black man trying to convince yuppie white kids that it makes sense to drink Peels Malt Beverage for the rest of their lives. I mean their lives and background doesn't necessarily mirror mine. My message to them is kind of convincing because I know beer but I don't truly know them as consumers. I didn't go to Rice, I didn't love baseball, or think that Seinfeld was the funniest show ever. And as it pertains to them and how I market to them, I didn't have a Dad that drank Coors or Budweiser every day. But even though my background was different, it wasn't an excuse. I had to get a check every other week, so I had to learn about these mysterious but carefree "general market" kids. But Leonard sold to "Our" people. He and I knew what "Our" folks would drink, we drank at the same places, so we see what bottles are in the hands of black folks. I know what makes "Us" spend money and what brands we will stay loyal to. Some people would say when it comes to knowing Black People I'm an Analytical Genius! Well...they would be Right and Wrong! I would have lunch with my counterpart Leonard, and he would tell me, "Kofi our company is missing out on tremendous opportunities with the African American Market". Let's face it we all stereotype our own, and in my mind the Holy Trinity of Black Alcohol Consumption is Dark Liquor, Sweet Liquor and Malt Liquor. Every Black person over 30 in my family either drink Crown(or Hennessy), Some Fruity Wine Cooler, or some Malt Liquor. Hell one time my Mama rinsed out her Sweet Liquor glass and put some Malt Liquor in it, and that was a big change for her! But Leonard wasn't buying it. He knew we were missing out on an opportunity. And like the changes in White Alcohol Consumption, changes were happening with consumers in the Black Community. The problem, though, was our company didn't move fast enough. Like me they felt like domestic and sub-premium beer sales in the Black Community were strong, and black folk like what they like so why try to market something new to them. If it ain't broke don't fix it, right! Wrong!
As I became more seasoned in the Beer Business and became a manager covering a predominantly African American area(yes the Hood, if you're asking). I used to teach my customers, "You can sell Old E and Busch, Bud Light and Miller Light, but you will make the same money you made last year. If you want to increase your revenue, you have to expand your box". And to expand your box properly it must be with new products! It's not easy and yes Black people are price conscious but not anymore than anyone else. For example my Dad, from a beer perspective and without thinking about it, I looked at him as a budget beer drinker but when I started to think about him and his drinking in totality was more of a cyclical thing. My Dad used to drink Red Dog, for those of you too young to know about Red Dog it once was a popular beer but it's price point is right there with High Life and Busch. Easy drinking, cheap man's beer. My Dad also drank High Life when my Mom's Dad was alive because that was his Father in Laws beer, again a beer that paints itself as a Premium but priced with the Sub-Premium beers. With all this said my Dad was not at all loyal to those beers. When he drank Red Dog, I remember he went through a layoff at work, High Life was because of Grandpa, so these beers weren't necessarily his end-all/be-all. My Dad also drank Bud Light or Budweiser and to some extent those became his go-tos but when my old man had a nice check, he would get a Heineken. He liked Heineken, I came to find out he was a big fan of imports, but due to the price point for Heineken he bothered with it only for special occasions.
To Be Continued...