Great Western creating a taste for home-brewed

It is a classic tale of pride and prejudice.Chapter One: On Dec. 31, 1989, a newly merged Molson and Carling O'Keefe breweries close down its Saskatoon-based plant putting 16 employees out of work.Chapter Two: The workers decide to set up their...

It is a classic tale of pride and prejudice.

Chapter One: On Dec. 31, 1989, a newly merged Molson and Carling O’Keefe breweries close down its Saskatoon-based plant putting 16 employees out of work.

Chapter Two: The workers decide to set up their own shop, calling it Great Western Brewing, and give beer drinkers a taste of Saskatchewan entrepreneurship.

Great demand

Chapter Three: Residents are proud of their local boys. They develop a certain prejudice for Saskatchewan’s own and within two months, Great Western cannot keep up with the demand.

At least that is the condensed version of this successful launch of Saskatchewan suds.

But it is the sub-plot that contains the real marketing tale, according to Shelley Arvay, account executive for Great Western at The Marketing Den in Saskatoon.

‘Great guys’

Launched in 1990, the initial campaign for the microbrewery’s first two beers, Great Western Lager and Great Western Light, ran with the tagline, ‘Great Guys behind the Great Beer.’

Arvay says the campaign was intended to show that Saskatchewan residents ‘had something to be proud of. That these guys were risking everything they had to start the business.

‘We had to differentiate ourselves from the competition, so we have always played up the Saskatchewan component of what the company was doing,’ she says.

The initial media campaign, running in community newspapers as well as The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon and The Leader-Post in Regina, met with overwhelming success.

Saskatchewan beer drinkers polished off 420,000 bottles in the first weekend. And the independent brewer quickly captured 20% of the provincial beer market.

The campaign also garnered The Marketing Den the Gold Award from the Canadian Association of Professional Advertising Agencies.

Older residents

Arvay says the ‘local’ message proved particularly successful with older Saskatchewan residents – the 30-plus segment of the typical 18-49 beer market – who liked the fact that Great Western supported the local economy and created jobs.

Although Great Western has now expanded to employ 55 workers, Jack Whyte, company vice-president of sales and marketing, says the brewery is still smaller and more innovative than its competitors.

More products

Those innovations include an ever-expanding selection of products such as trendy ‘dry’ and ‘ice’ beers – which Arvay says appeal more to younger beer drinkers – the Christmas Goose, sold during the holiday season, and Great Western Gold, the first beer in Canada using Saskatchewan red wheat.

The company has sponsored local soccer, hockey and baseball teams as a way of building brand awareness throughout the province.

‘We hope it means they’ll be sitting down after the game drinking our beer,’ Whyte says.

Great Western also tapped a wellspring of local pride when it kicked off Rider Pride beer.

Packaged using the green and white colors of the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team, the beer is sold in the stands at the games as well as in local stores and pubs.

The company helps to sponsor the province’s only professional home team by contributing 50 cents to it from the sale of each case of 12 bottles.

And while the advertising campaign has evolved since its launch nearly four years ago, it has continued to trumpet the company’s regional roots, Whyte says.

Locals used

For example, local residents have been featured sipping Great Western products in subsequent ads.

‘By getting local people involved, it does increase our awareness throughout the province,’ Whyte says. ‘Everybody’s bound to know somebody in the ads, whether it’s a brother, distant cousin, or neighbor.’

Now, Great Western is poised to take the local theme one step further.

The company is producing three beer tv commercials due for release this summer.

The commercials will be produced from the winning submissions of the Great Canadian Beer Commercial Contest, which ran last summer, asking local residents to videotape their own idea of a winning beer advertisement.

The creators of the commercials, chosen from more than 300 submissions, have not only had a hand in developing the spots, but will act as talent in them, too.

The next challenge

Whyte says the next challenge will be to maintain market share in a province whose overall level of beer consumption has dropped off by more than 10% over the past four years and is the lowest rate of per capita consumption in the country.

‘We soon realized that we can’t survive on the Saskatchewan market alone,’ he says.

The company is also winning market share in Manitoba, Alberta and b.c., by applying a similar marketing strategy.

The product builds on its western roots with the tagline, ‘A Taste for the West.’