Steam Whistle brews up big changes

The once-niche beer brand is exploring a further push into experiential and expanding its product portfolio.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Strategy.

Ontario craft brewer Steam Whistle Brewing has built its legacy on a “Do One Thing Really, Really Well” mantra. But heading into 2019, the brand – now the largest craft brewer in Canada, with national distribution – is ramping up production and launching into new segments to capitalize on emerging growth opportunities.

“Unlike what I think you see a lot of craft breweries doing, which is brewery-led or brew-master led, this is going to be more of a consumer-led initiative,” says Tim McLaughlin, the brand’s VP of marketing.

While other brands have stumbled as they’ve tried to go from a niche to national brand, the brewer wants to avoid missteps. So to ensure the strategy is based on a robust consumer segmentation model, Steam Whistle has partnered with Level5 Strategy Group, he notes.

The brand is leaving nothing off the table as it aims to grow by connecting with more consumer segments, including having a portfolio of four to six beers, a non-alcoholic offering, as well as looking for a partner in the burgeoning cannabis space.

The goal is to develop a portfolio that is complementary to its flagship beer, Steam Whistle Pilsner (which has the largest market share in Ontario), while enhancing selection in new fast-growing categories, such as dark and heavier beer varieties. The brewer also revamped its packaging earlier this year.

The push will inevitably require ramping up production – a challenge the brand is well-positioned to take on, thanks to its new facility in Etobicoke, Ont., which is expected to triple production and distribution. The new plant facilitated Steam Whistle’s entrance into the Quebec market last year – it also serves as the facility for its newly spun-off premium dark lager brand, Von Bugle.

Soon, the brewer will turn its “Roundhouse Park” in Toronto from being primarily a production space into more of an experiential one that includes a beer garden concept and second, larger event venue. 2019 is clearly the year Steam Whistle aims to do many things really, really well.