Trust issues

Jessica Mason looks at the importance of trust and shared values within beer and its buying community.


We all know that the trust relationship between both the brewer and buyer continues to evolve. But, amidst a pandemic that challenges us all, it is crucial to look at how we are adapting our consumption choices. Or rather, when life moves very quickly, how this amplifies within so many, a need for something tangible and meaningful. We might identify that, when we are searching for something that matters. We seek honesty, reliability and, above all else, sentiments of good intent. We look towards the authentic, honest and real.

“It is my experience that when people buy our beer they aren’t just looking for delicious flavours, or just beers made with care and attention, but that they are looking to consume something meaningful,” says Cloudwater Brew Co co-founder Paul Jones. Indeed, identifying what makes the trust relationship with beer companies so important is bound up in our principles, beliefs and values.

However, marketing expert Neil Gannon states that there are three different kinds of beer consumer and each has a different perspective on where the trust relationship is aligned - with the brewer or with the pub that serves them depending upon what they drink and how connected they are to the product.

“A big brand drinker gets the same in pack and on draught and never thinks about the brewer, just the pub,” says Neil, identifying that they only look for a “clean glass” and that the “beer tastes ok.” Whereas those who drink “real ale will look to the pub” because they expect “fresh beer pulled properly” and so they have a relationship where they “trust the brewery and the pub.”

But Neil states that predominantly craft drinkers are different again because they align their drinking choices on what they know about the beer and its creation and so “craft drinkers look to the brewery” and look for “consistency, flavour” and “challenging tastes and textures” and “they expect a craft/independent pub serving a great range of brewer’s beers to deliver them in the right way so the consumer looks to the brewer,” he adds.

The upshot is however, whatever your perspective on who is aligned most with the end product - venue, brewer or even owning company, there is an element of trust in each buying decision. Someone is always accountable and people are becoming increasingly interested in having a sense of security that someone is invested in their choices.

“Trust and integrity is more important than ever and it’s also much more visible,” says Circle Master Craft Beer Blogger Chris Norman. “I don’t tolerate a poor standard on this from breweries and for every one that lets the side down, there’s plenty of others that set a great example,” he adds, reminding that most people vote with their feet in any case. If a certain company shows it doesn’t care, there are plenty of others that will show they do.

A lot of this comes down to shared lifestyle values. Is this a business that you respect and admire? If their ethos is simply to make money? Or do they believe in a little more than that? A good way to consider this is to think about the kinds of things you call to mind when hearing the company name. In the case of the future of drinks companies, it could be argued that ‘identity’ is everything and that the route to organic growth in a saturated marketplace is having a clear voice for being the kind of company that cares.

“If we don’t stand for something then we stand for nothing,” reminds Yeastie Boys co-founder Stu McInlay. Yeastie Boys Marketing & Comms Manager Kamilla Hannibal Kristensen agrees and points out that “customers are increasingly coming with an expectation that the businesses they support should have values that they can identify with.” Showing that their needs are not as simplistic as refreshment or even stylishness, but run deeper into ways they identify as human. As having soul, a conscientious heart, passion and purpose. 

“Our drinkers take in what they feel they need, and when they feel they need to unwind with a beer, they’ll choose a beer that is as rich with values, and that was made in an ethically considerate way, over beer that’s just a product made to improve a balance sheet and the personal fortune of a small few,” notes Paul Jones. 

Could it be that people are already beginning to reject faceless corporations?

Could it be that people are already beginning to reject faceless corporations in favour of those they can relate to and understand? Just looking at our nation’s collective dismay right now, it is easy to understand why companies that have an ethos that can be believed in and trusted is so captivating to the consumer. There are, indeed, many merits for showing a beating heart behind the metropolis. After all, the world is changing and, as Paul warns: “In today’s modern beer world, brands that aren’t built by businesses that are human-centred in their culture, that see work as a collective expression of values and ambition, are set to appeal to an ever dwindling audience.”

However, any company’s reputation can come under scrutiny, especially when it has largely been viewed with fondness and has shone with virtue. Naturally, it is entirely possible that, somewhere down the line, it will let people down. Added to this, when things go wrong things can look bleak from all sides, but there is some solace in remembering that nobody is right all the time and that there are always lessons to be learned, even by the oft-admired.

“It is essential to be honest at all times,” says Miles Jenner, Head Brewer at Harvey’s Brewery, which came under scrutiny recently when supporting SBR. The brewer had previously held an enviable reputation in the past with one and all, but was on the receiving end of much public criticism for its stance with many suggesting they would boycott the brewer’s beers. Rightly or wrongly, the reactions have stayed with them, but have reminded Harvey’s to always listen and learn from others in disagreement. Without listening, we never gain further insight for the future. According to Jenner, it is better to “speak your truth quietly and never allow yourself to become dogmatic,” and remember to “listen to all: there are always lessons to be learnt.”

Hannibal Kristensen reminds that there is always room for human error, but it is often acts of humanity like acknowledgment and having the courtesy to listen and learn from mistakes that can be the difference behind something that damages your reputation or upholds it. 

“I do feel that honesty and transparency is the way to go no matter what. If something has hurt your reputation, it can be important to look inwards to identify how it happened and to figure out how to prevent it from happening again. Listen to your customer’s feedback, do the work and do better,” she explains, adding: “I think it’s important to listen to customers and take feedback and critique, but also stand your ground on the stuff you believe in as a company,” reminding that although everyone is accountable, there still needs to be inspiring owners or founders who lead and steer the company and its values down good paths. “The owner of a company sets the standards for the company culture, which can have a positive effect on the product itself,” she adds.

Never take your customers for granted. They are part of your extended family. 

Jenner agrees, highlighting how he hopes he will never grow complacent. “Never take your customers for granted. They are part of your extended family. Listen and learn” he adds, noting: “You’re only as good as your last pint.”

Shared values are, naturally, important to everyone’s happiness. That includes the workforce as well as the end consumers. For a company to build a culture that shows it cares, it needs to practise such actions towards its team. 

“There is no point in belonging to any organisation if its ethos is not one that you hold dear,” says Jenner, while Hannibal Kristensen reminds: “This should be the goal for any larger company as well. If there’s a good company culture with clear values, then every employee will become a great ambassador.” 

After all, as people, we care about things because we feel distanced from other very big lifestyle decisions. But this is the power of people. We take all of this collective energy and we use it to adapt our life choices in other ways - to make good out of something we perhaps can’t. To show that our thoughts and decisions matter and that success is bred not just from savvy business sense, but from the part of us that is empathetic, credible and honest.

As Paul Jones so eloquently states: “In a world that expresses a lack of heart from members of the political classes, a lust for power amongst many of the business elites, and that celebrates financial success over the betterment of those most vulnerable to societies biases, prejudices and continued colonial mindsets, breweries that engage in more than just beer, and the business of beer, are powerful forces.”

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