Do you have to be small to be beautiful?

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The craft industries in the UK have been pushing the attitude towards food and drink for the last couple of years. The wave of craft breweries has changed the nation’s psyche towards beer and has demanded a more discerning palate from the general public. UK craft beer value sales grew 23% last year, according to CGA Strategy figures for the 12 months to April 2017 while the lager sale growth remained stagnant, so it is no wonder that mainstream companies want a piece of the craft pie. However what makes craft special? Is it a question of size, quality or creative freedom? I spoke to those who are at the head of their craft industries about the freedoms of a smaller company and why they are safe from the industry giants.

While some places like British Columbia in Canada have laws to protect small craft businesses, they also help to keep them as a smaller retailer by restricting them to producing no more than 50,000 litres of spirit per year. Are these restrictions worth the craft tagline and can bigger suppliers offer a similar product to craft?

Creativity

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A smaller business may be more constrained in lots of ways but one of them is not creativity. The more singular creative vision allows a greater experimentation with ingredients and flavours. Of course, this is not just constrained to the drinks industry, with many aspects of the food and hospitality industry opting to go craft.

Creighton’s Chocolaterie is a small British company that is all about keeping things local and in-house. This means that the mother/daughter partnership between Andrea Huntington and Lucy Elliot has bred a completely unique line of products, with incredible seasonal flavours like Ginger Beer and Custard Cream but also wrapped in beautiful packaging that is also designed by their all-female team.

Though there is still creativity among larger businesses, many have a portfolio of brands which may mean that the original, unique creation becomes diluted as the focus is diffused.  Companies such as Diageo and Coca-Cola have different ways to ensure that they are able to keep the consumer happy with the original ‘craft’ when they acquire a stake.  Seedlip are still very much in control of their brand and destiny while benefiting from the support of an international company with its established distribution networks.  Innocent’s brand has remained true to its origins, yet now has the potential to be a global player.

Quality

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Does craft guarantee quality? Though the mainstream and larger businesses have quality controls built into their process, does manufacturing less product give you more control over the quality of the final merchandise?

Craft is all about quality, it is a point of pride in the industry and it is of the utmost importance for the credibility of the brand. This means that the craft industry has to concentrate so much on the quality control of each and every batch. Though this will take longer, it is part of their reputation. Small Batch Coffee Roasters is based in Hove near Brighton and are wedded to their quality controls. Committed to not only finding ethical producers of their beans, they also keep every roasting batch small in order to taste each batch and ensure it is perfect for a customer.  

Ingredients and equipment

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Craft industries often make the most of their smaller status by focussing their efforts on sourcing local ingredients. Andy Woodfield founded Lilliput Dorset Gin in early 2017 with a set of ideals that concentrated on its local status, so much so that it put it in the name. All the ingredients that go into their gin are sourced with absolute reverence and include their own home-grown organic rosemary.

Local ingredients are important to consumers who want to support their local community but also for those who are interested in their green credentials. This is one area that it is almost impossible to recreate for larger manufacturers, purely due to the global reach of a mainstream brand. Larger brands are able to focus on quality ingredients that are ethically sourced, however, they are unable to bring the essence of the area that is so important to the craft industry.

The locality of ingredients may not be a central consideration for all customers however as many people are not put off by a company being owned by a larger brand. But quality ingredients are important for almost everyone who is looking for craft produce, with over 40% of people associating quality ingredients with the craft industry according to recent research by Mintel.

Customer Interaction

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The larger businesses in any industry have their dedicated marketing teams that are committed to brand voice and these often produce incredible campaigns. Coca-Cola’s ‘share a coke’ campaign sparked a wave of interaction across the globe and especially on social media, mainly due to the positive message of togetherness it conveyed.

Though craft industries have a less streamlined approach, it is often more honest. The smaller businesses are able to be more flexible with their approach to their marketing and media, especially on the social platforms. This allows them to engage with their customer base on a different level to the bigger brands and often feels more honest to the customer.

Though smaller businesses may have more flexibility when it comes to flavour and marketing strategy, the industry giants have the budget, man power and market research to make high impact and well informed decisions when it comes to brand direction. Often we feel more kinship to craft because it is fallible and relatable, but we shouldn’t demonise the big brands which do offer reliability and consistency.  In terms of craft, small is definitely beautiful but it does not have to be its defining feature