Tapping Into New Beer Concepts

Growlers and crowlers help create neighborhood hot spots
beer growler

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Sure, your store isn’t likely to be the next Cheers. But you can still create a neighborhood destination using the same tools. You don’t even need Sam or Diane to pour.

Both growler and crowler concepts have expanded beyond brewpubs and permeated the c-store market, allowing consumers to sample from a wide selection of craft and macrobrews and pinpoint their taste preferences.

While the growler has entered the mainstream lexicon, crowlers are newer to the scene. These fill-to-order aluminum cans (often 32 ounces) are filled at a standard draft tap before a pop-top lid is crimped on to seal it.

According to the Brewers Association, retailers from Whole Foods to Sunoco are getting into the game with growler filling stations. The more than 2,800 U.S. brewpubs and brewery tap rooms are fueling the trend, according to the association.

The number of taps at each of Sunoco APlus’ Craft Beer Exchanges growler filling stations

But it’s not a cheap, nor easy, investment. Sam Odeh, CEO of Power Mart Inc., Elmhurst, Ill., leases a store to a retailer in Woodstock, Ga., that has experimented with a growler program for the past three years. He quotes the cost of a growler unit at about $25,000, based on the Georgia retailer’s investment.

“Operationally, it’s not simple,” he says. “You also have consumer acceptance and awareness issues, marketing and promotional support, and compliance and risk liabilities.”

Odeh believes growlers make more sense in a c-store setting vs. crowlers. “With crowlers, operators might as well call themselves bottlers,” he says. “And with this comes liability.

“While I am passionate about differentiation to create destination stops, don’t sell your house on this concept.”

In the Georgia store, customers can fill growlers to take home, or for on-premise consumption as part of its foodservice program, further expanding the occasion opportunities.