Yukon Brewing Co.: Talking about beer

Written by Jack Kohane

After nearly 70 years without a local beer-maker north of the 60th parallel, Whitehorse is now home to Yukon Brewing Co. Founded in 1997, Yukon Brewing’s market share in the thirsty Yukon has slowly grown to 8% — high for a craft brewer.

Brewmasters Bob Baxter and Alan Hansen say one secret to their success is the market research they conducted early on, which helped them determine exactly where their sales might come from. Exactly what kind of market research did they use? The only kind they could afford: “We talked to people, and listened,” says Hansen. “The market will tell you what is working and what isn’t, both before you start, when describing what you’re planning, and later when getting feedback on your products.” Being in a market of only about 30,000 people made it easier to get those initial reactions.

Baxter and Hansen also went to those who know beer-drinkers best: “We talked to plenty of bar owners and managers, because they know the alcohol market,” says Baxter. “We asked them who they believed would drink our beer and where they felt a gap existed, both in the market generally and in our line specifically.” The information they were seeking was basic enough: “Our goal was to find out who’s not drinking our product, why not, and how to inspire them into the fold.”

Using this information, Baxter and Hansen began to determine where their easiest sales might come from. “We constructed our A list,” explains Hansen. “Then we needed to identify, realistically, just how large a group the A list comprised, to ensure those numbers translated into viability for a new brewer.”

Then, they drew up B, C and D lists of potential customers. “That’s not to say that B and C and even D clients aren’t important,” explains Baxter. “Just expect that the next level of sales will be harder than the first one, and if you can’t survive on your A list sales, there likely won’t be the resources left to service your B or C lists.”

The market research led Yukon Brewing to re-focus “And fast,” declares Hansen. First up: adjusting the business plan to respond to market fluidity (to attract beer drinkers not solely driven by brand loyalty), and to give the company enhanced name identity. The result was a re-branding of the line from “Chilkoot”, a name which generated little interest, to Yukon Brewing Company, for more home-grown appeal. Expansion of the product mix was the next key stride to corralling customers.

Product quality hasn’t hurt sales, either. Over the past few years, the firm has snagged many awards: its Arctic Red won top honors at the 2002 Whistler Beer Cup; Yukon Gold won a silver medal at Toronto’s Interbeer Festival in 2001; and its lager took bronze at the international West Yellowstone Brewfest.

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© 2003 Jack Kohane

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