Bruce Turner, founder of Auckland craft beer brewer Urbanaut, talks growing up in Rangitikei with the business' founders, and a sales product that has the industry envious.
What does your business do?
We're a craft beer brewery based in Kingsland. We've been set up for two years, and supply interesting-flavoured beers to the Auckland market. We have a cellar door where we do tasting trays and run brewery tours, which is becoming a bit of a hub for the community, which is what we always set out to do. We produce 300,000 litres of beer each year.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I've been interested in all things craft and making something from ingredients that you can present to people and enjoy a product with friends, and beer has always been a social lubricant. That led to me home brewing and working in other breweries, mostly in the UK, I learnt the craft and wanted to feel prepared before I started Urbanaut.
I managed to convince two of my high school friends, Simon and Thomas, that they should come on this journey with me. We chose Auckland as the home for it as it is a thriving metropolis.
How big is your team?
We've got 10 full-time staff and four part-timers, which include the staff that run our retail experience which is the cellar door and brewery tours.
Auckland is home to more than 20 breweries now, and New Zealand more than 200, how much opportunity is there in this space?
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It is a really exciting time to be involved in the craft beer industry, never before has there been so much variety available for the drinker and it's the result of brewers feeding off each other and learning from what other brewers are doing and collaboratively challenging what beer can be, pushing boundaries, and we all compete against each other in a really positive competitive way.
In the industry we are all friends and talk, and share information and the result is that it is lifting the quality of beer in New Zealand, we are becoming a world leader. Previously it was just a cold, fizzy drink, but now everyone is exploring different styles and flavours.
What are your long term plans for the business?
We want to grow organically, we're not out to take over the beer market, we want to satisfy our local market and create a company that people enjoy working for. We just want to be a company that Aucklanders can relate to and feel like it is their local brand. We don't have big aspirations to takeover or be bought out, we just want to create a long term business that we can feel proud of and engage as many people in craft beer as possible. We've started exporting a bit to Australia, New Zealand beer goes really well over there, but we don't want to ship it any further than that. Beer should be consumed in its local market where it is fresh and brewers have control over the quality and also the brand. It is a fresh commodity so you don't want to be letting it age or exposing it to high temperatures.
Would you open up Urbanaut breweries in other international markets?
We've been proposed a couple of ideas. If we were to open another brewery it would be getting our recipes brewed in other countries rather than exporting it. At this stage there is so much opportunity for us in our local market, we'd rather focus on that. Craft beer still only makes up about 10 per cent of the beer market so there is still a wide audience that we can gain support from.
What did you do before starting the brewery?
I've got an engineering degree in manufacturing so that led me into production which led me into my passion which is making beer. I worked for eight years in the UK in two different breweries, worked mostly in management roles but a big part of my job was planning the growth for a brewery that was growing very quickly called Meantime Brewery based in Greenwich, in London. I was basically installing more equipment so that the sales forecast could be realised, it was a really good learning experience for me in terms of working out how big we wanted to start our business and what our aspirations were going to be. At the same time I was doing fairly big projects with other people's money so I learned about all facets of brewery life before actually taking the plunge into my own business.
What are you focused on for the rest of the year?
We've been growing solidly. Interestingly, the quietest month for us, which is July, August for us, were bigger for us than last summer. We're assuming that this coming summer is going to be huge, and we've just released called a beer blender. Essentially we have taken two small cans, 250mls each, that both have different beers in them that are sold as one retail pack, and you go home and separate the cans and each beer tastes good individually but if you blend them together you've got a completely unique beer that. If we've done our job correctly as brewers you get a really unique flavour experience. We've got a lot of attention since launching that one month ago so we're going make that a focus for summer and release some new package beer flavours each month.
Brewers often have the same experience at beer festivals and some craft beer bars but they are always from keg beer from taps where you would pour half a beer, and often it was more of a visual experience, layering beers, but this concept has never been seen. We have Beervana festival a month ago and the feedback on the concept was amazing, there we got to present it to people in the industry and the public to the concept of beer blending.
Liquorland is a major sponsor of Beervana where we launched the product so they have put us in 120 store nationwide, which we've never had that level of exposure before. New World also want to put it in 100 stores, and they want to be first to sell all the new flavours.
How did you come up with the idea to sell a DIY beer blender retail product?
For me, a lot of my inspiration comes from when I'm relaxing in the hot tub because then I've got no devices and it is a place I can think of stuff. I was in the hot tub with this tiny can of beer and I thought 'Oh wouldn't it be cool to join two of these together' and then I thought what if we could join two different beers and pouring the beers together. From there I started researching and couldn't find anyone who had done it, through my extensive Google researching, and then I thought this is something that could be amazing'. We started work on it six months ago and have gone through a lot of work to find flavours that would go together. We worked with a food matching specialist, started from the food end of the spectrum.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Be very clear as you get started about what your values are, and what you want to achieve. Get as much experience as you can before taking the plunge but when you do get started think big and act fast.