What the hell happened to Boundary Road?

 

FullSizeRender (2)

Who remembers Brian “Spike” Buckowski? You know, the guy whose serious approach in this YouTube video was well at odds with the ‘take the piss’ voiceover. It seems so long ago, those days when his mug was emblazoned across the beginning of any video you tried to watch online. He was there because he was working with New Zealand brewing company Boundary Road Brewing on a series of beers, released under the moniker The Resident.

Boundary Road was in the news relatively recently, but not for a good reason. In an announcement to the NZX, Moa Brewing Company proudly touted it has knocked Boundary Road – the brewing arm of booze giant Independent Liquor – off its perch as the third-biggest “craft beer brand” in New Zealand.

Never minding the bollocks about what makes a brand “big” – a safe punt would be supermarket sales data – the question needs to be answered: how did such a big brand get its market share gobbled up? Because, by some accounts, Boundary Road were doing everything a craft beer brand should be doing.

Boundary Road properly hit the market in 2011 when it decided to undertake “an aggressive market entry” into the “retail tap market” – in English, supplying bars with money/equipment/stuff in exchange for exclusive pouring rights. While that was the target for the products it brews under licence, like Kingfisher and Carlsberg, it also launched a dizzyingly large range of beers targeting the same people who would buy Mac’s and Monteith’s.  RateBeer shows at least 20 beers were released under the Boundary Road brand, ranging from a spiced rum ale to a IIPA. That does not seem too weird, as RateBeer has 8 Wired have releasing 63 beers and Yeastie Boys having 74 to their name.

Another similarity Boundary Road had to those two darlings of the New Zealand brewing scene was collaboration. I was hoping The Resident series would become a regular thing after Spike’s work. Sure, the beers were not amazing. But I remember the red rye IPA being better than anything Boundary Road had already released. If they could get other brewers to join in, it could have been a good experience for Boundary Road, the brewer and drinkers in New Zealand.

Now Boundary Road grew fast. Backed by the big bucks of Japanese brewing giant Asahi, its beer started turning up everywhere. Bars stocked it. Cafes stocked it. Supermarket shelves were packed to the proverbial rafters with cans of Mumbo Jumbo, 500mL bottles of Stolen Base and 12-packs of The Chosen One. It was no surprise they quickly shuffled into third place in the Who Sells The Most race.

So, why did it all not catch on for Boundary Road? Why could they get into third so quickly, yet have now dropped off the podium? Surely a big range, clever branding and a programme of collaborations would see them rise above Mac’s and Monteith’s?

The problem, in my opinion, is very simple. It all comes down to that classic economics indicator – the benefit-cost ratio. Now I know the good Doctor of Journalism once said ‘don’t judge a taco by its price’. However, Cheap will usually be Shit. There are outliers – I have a weakness for 500mL cans of DAB at $2.50 a pop – but Boundary Road’s 500mL bottles are not in that category. I would rather eat a soggy taco than have another bottle of Stolen Base (my opinion on the beer is a smidge more negative than Greig’s). Benefit-cost is the reason I will happily buy a six-pack of Mac’s great Green Beret IPA at $11 a pop over the $22 boxes of Panhead Supercharger if I am heading to a party – #partylikeajournalist – and why I will pay $9.50 for a pint of Emerson’s 1812 at my local instead of getting a Guinness for $8.50.

And no doubt it is at least part of the reason why people will buy a 12-pack of Moa Lager for $24 instead of a 12-pack of Boundary Road The Chosen One for $22.

Postscript

In case you have not heard, Beer Without Borders are bringing their tasting programme to Palmerston North – and they have asked me to help. The first tasting is on Tuesday, and will feature some 2013 Green Flash barleywine (as rare as a Jehovah’s Witness without a Sign of the Times magazine) and me talking smack. Pick up a ticket here.

Further reading

*Phil Cook’s look at that time Boundary Road/Independent Liquor got into the beer importing game is good. And yes, do read the comments. It is interesting to now see that BrewDog is being imported by Beertique, and Samuel Adams is nowhere to be seen.

*Michael Donaldson has a good look at Moa’s recent business dealings here, including the quiet decision to shuffle away from the For The Boys marketing scheme to an outdoors-aligned image. I am all for them moving away from sexist schlock to something less aggravating. It is just a pity it appears they may have breached a trademark when naming its latest offering.

Soundtrack

*I have been a fan of Louis Knuxx’s flow since seeing him play at Great Job! to support @peace. His latest album Tiny Warm Hearts is perfect for those cool rainy May Saturdays. His great korero with RNZ’s Music 101 is also worthwhile listening.