Recipe Unlimited explores AR to promote its first craft beer

North of 41 was going to be a draught-only exclusive for its restaurants, but has expanded it into retail across Ontario.
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Recipe Unlimited – parent company of restaurants like Swiss Chalet, Kelseys, Montana’s and East Side Mario’s – is getting into the craft beer game, promoting its first brew with an AR app designed to reveal the brand’s story in an interactive way.

The beer, brewed in partnership with Brampton’s Hop City Brewing, is a blonde ale named North of 41° – inspired by the southernmost piece of land in Canada: Middle Island, which sits at 41 degrees of latitute.

“I was really drawn to the history of it, being linked to Prohibition with all of these gangsters running rum through the island from the United States into Canada,” Nathan Cameron, Recipe Unlimited’s beverage director, explains. “At its peak, it was a cool sort of hangout. It had a casino and hotel where people would hold up, an airstrip and for a while it had a winery. So it had a lot of beverage and alcohol relevance, but also a lot of Canadian relevance.”

While the story of Middle Island is an exciting one, Cameron says it’s also relatively obscure. Combined with its national relevance as Canada’s southernmost point, it is an ideal place to build a brand around that Recipe Unlimited intends to offer not only in Ontario, but across its national chain of restaurants.

Equipped with that strong story, Cameron sought out a brewery to partner on the endeavour because Recipe Unlimited “are not credible as a brewer.”

“That’s why we sought out Hop City. We didn’t want this to be a private label, we wanted this to be a craft brand standing on its own two feet,” he says. “We wanted to make a premium brand that’s exclusive to our restaurants.”

North of 41° was initially intended to be offered only on draught across Recipe Unlimited’s various chains, Cameron says. But as adoption of the brand spread from Kelsey’s – the first chain in the family to take on the beer – to “five or six banners” within the company, “we thought, ‘We’ve got something here. Would we ever think about putting it in a can?’”

The answer to that question was yes, and now the brand is going to be sold in LCBO and Beer Store locations across Ontario. But Recipe still wanted the opportunity to tell the brand’s story as a means of connecting with consumers in lieu of the experience they might get by asking a server about the beer on-premise, which is where the AR app came in.

“We saw living wine labels on that side and that was such a cool experience, but we hadn’t seen anyone doing it in the craft beer space,” says Cameron. Wine brand 19 Crimes has built a following with its own AR app, using it to let the infamous convicts on its labels to tell “their side of the story.”

By scanning a QR code on North of 41° cans, people can virtually explore Middle Island – something they can’t do in reality, since the island is now uninhabited crown conservation land. The app allows people to see the island first from a topographical point of view before descending to its beach, where they can then take what amounts to a virtual tour with geopins – represented by the logo of the beer itself – that offer pop-up facts and history.

The app finishes by offering users a chance to take a photo of themselves holding a pint of North of 41° that they can then share to their favourite social media platforms, Cameron says – in effect, acting as a form of grassroots marketing for the product.

That AR push will combine with end-aisle displays in the LCBO as the brand’s primary marketing, while Recipe Unlimited also hopes to market the beer from its restaurants, he adds. In the future, the company plans to expand the beer into grocery and golf courses.