“Buy local” is a broad trend in retail, taking “Made in America” down to the city and neighborhood level. But what does that actually mean to shoppers? Peter Marino is president of Tenth and Blake, the craft and import division for MillerCoors where he also serves as chief communications and government affairs officer. He oversees a portfolio of small brews like Terrapin, Revolver, Saint Archer, Hop Valley and AC Golden. The company’s import brands include Peroni and Pilsner Urquell. While beer drinking has declined in recent years, craft beers have grown from about 50 U.S. breweries in the late 1970s to upwards of 7,000 today. He wants to know what “local” means and how significant is it for this diverse category of locally-produced beer.
GenPop: Your question was “does local matter?” Why did you ask that question?
Peter Marino: When you go into a bar today in almost any town in America and say, “What do you have on tap?” they’ll rattle off Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, etc. Then almost always the next question—if it’s not the first—is, “What do you have that’s local?” The beer business has been going through a tremendous amount of change over the last 15 years and it’s being driven by small, local breweries that have a desire to break out and go from local to regional, and regional to national. Where most of the growth is happening is in that hyper-local space.
GenPop: What is it about the concept of local that has so much appeal?
Marino: People want to support the areas that they are either from or that they’re currently living in. There’s a kind of community tribalism that takes place. It’s why American Express several years ago started this Small Business Saturday to support these smaller, more local establishments and make sure that that that the mom-and-pops have the support that they need to stay in business.
GenPop: Does “local” create a bond that you wouldn’t otherwise have?
Marino: The thing that I’ve been wrestling with as the world becomes less connected with social media is the countertrend of local as an opportunity for people to have a more meaningful human-to-human connection. That is part of the reason craft breweries and the local aspect of that have resonated so deeply over the last 15 years. I’m not sure that’s true but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about.
GenPop: Can local be scaled?
Marino: I think local companies can be scaled. It’s very difficult to be local in too many places. There’s a hotel company called Graduate Hotels that is becoming a national chain, but they’re going in and completely localizing it around universities. In Ann Arbor, they have a location that looks like it is outfitted with the University of Michigan paraphernalia. Wisconsin looks like it’s been custom built for the University of Wisconsin. From a hotel like that you can become a bit more local. But from a fast-moving consumer product, a food or restaurant or brewery, it’s difficult to scale local. But that doesn’t mean you can’t scale successfully.
GenPop: Are there categories where local matters more?
Marino: When you’re making something tangible that people can either consume or touch or use I think local matters more. If you think about the kind of products sold at a farmer’s market, you’ve got a range of meat and produce and vegetables. Then you’ve got things like candles and other arts and crafts. I think local matters for those kinds of products when you can talk to the producer or the artisan who has made it.
GenPop: What stands out to you as what’s worked and what hasn’t worked with “local?”
Marino: One of the tenets of marketing that always has mattered is authenticity and provenance. Being able to walk in and talk to Joe or Catherine who are the owners of this establishment is always going to be the most authentic way to engage and to tell a persuasive story about why you should support a local product because you’ve seen Joe and Catherine at the store. They’re part of the community. They’re good folks. But local doesn’t work if the quality isn’t there or if people are seen as carpetbaggers just flying into town to take advantage of something. Local is a very powerful trend when there is authenticity and when people are deeply ingrained in their community.
GenPop: Having said that, what’s your reaction to our survey results (see chart)?
Marino: The fact that “locally made” is that important to craft beer drinkers underscores what we are seeing in the marketplace. It is proving the point that local does matter to craft beer drinkers. “Locally made” is as important as price in terms of what’s most important, not just of importance.
GenPop: What do these results mean for you as a marketer?
Marino: This gives us a license to play up our localness in the communities where we are local. We need to test the boundaries of what local means by pushing out beyond the direct home market. How can we become more local and more relevant in the communities that have already adopted us and already think us as part of their community?
Then for our big national brands, Miller Lite is a brand that was very much born in the state of Wisconsin, but it’s very locally relevant here [in Chicago] with the Bears, a longtime partnership. Is there a way to lean into those with alliances or other parts of the marketing mix where we’ve got a lot of legacy and equity to make sure that we hammer that local connection in a more relevant and resonant way beyond our home towns?
GenPop: Do you think the concept of local will still be relevant in the future?
Marino: If local artisans and producers can continue to make high-quality products, I think local will be a tiebreaker for consideration for many people. There will be a segment of people that will pick local offerings far into the future. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to pick nationally scaled opportunities, either. But I do think local will be a part of their repertoire.