Given Moa's well-established reputation for marketing cheekiness and the involvement of Pead PR, Darryl Parsons and the lads behind 42 Below in the small but growing beer business, the StopPress cynics initially thought the announcement about the craft brewery signing on as a sponsor for the New Zealand Olympic Team had to be some kind of brazen stunt; another brave/foolish/possibly illegal attempt to gain attention at whatever cost. But, somewhat surprisingly, it's all true, and Moa is now officially the 'Beer for Olympians', the first time a craft brewery has held this level of sponsorship in New Zealand or, as far as the Moans know, the world.
Moa was started in 2003, and has basically gone on to become the 42 Below of beer, adopting a similar controversial, humorous, brutally honest and particularly un-PC marketing approach, so its association with the staid, rule-loving bureaucracy that is the New Zealand Olympic Committee might seem fairly incongruous. Booze and high-performance sport are also unlikely bedfellows, especially as more heat is directed at the alcohol companies for the role they play in creating our unhealthy drinking culture, but one solid link is that Josh Scott, the founder and head brewer of Moa and son of wine baron Allan Scott, is a top notch cyclist and is vying for a position in the team.
Sunil Unka, Moa's marketing manager, believes it's actually a very good fit, with Kiwi athletes usually punching well above their weight at the Olympics and Moa doing the same when it wins medals at international beer competitions. It's about Kiwis supporting Kiwis, it shows that Moa has got to the point where it is now a legitimate challenger to the big brewers and, by sponsoring New Zealand's athletes at the biggest sporting event in the world, "it puts us in a premium category" in the eyes of consumers.
Unka admits the company runs the risk of having the NZOC's red pen scrawled across its marketing efforts, because the NZOC will get to see the Olympic-related marketing material before it goes live, but he says its commercial director Terry Daly was fully aware of the way the brand operated (it has recently been chastised by the wowsers for releasing a breakfast beer and promoted wanton destruction by offering a booze bounty to anyone that brought down the Wellywood sign should it go up) and was keen to have a slightly edgier brand join the stable to raise the profile of the New Zealand team heading to London next year.
"We're not just going to sit on the sidelines and clap and hand over a few beers at the end," Unka says. "We're going to make some noise and make sure everyone hears about it," he says.
Unka says Steinlager—or as Scott calls it, the "Japanese-owned German-named beer brand"—was involved with the NZOC beforehand (Lion split hairs and claimed it wasn't an official sponsor, only a 'supporter'), but "they're pretty preoccupied with another big sporting event this year", he says, so Moa swooped in.
Away from this high-profile sponsorship, the future looks pretty bright. Unka says Moa has upped its game to tap into the growing demand for craft beer in New Zealand and in ten years he says it wants to be a major, local, independent player that will still be able to act as a cheeky challenger brand, not just another Kiwi company that's sold out to international interests when it gets successful enough.
"The craft beer market was about five percent this time last year, not counting Mac's and Monteiths, which aren't craft beers, and it's just going to keep growing. In some US states it's as much as 25 percent of the market."
Slightly surprisingly, he says the US is leading the charge in the world of craft beer and Moa has already made some inroads there, having just run two very successful trials in Whole Foods supermarkets with the very real possibility of selling its wares in more than 400 stores across the country.
It's already tripled its production and sales compared to the same time last year and Unka says there's plenty of scope for more growth, something many other Kiwi craft brewers who "reach their capacity and then stagnate" can't do because they don't have the required capital to invest in the business or the expertise to grow it (the brewery is still based in Blenheim, while its sales and marketing efforts are now controlled from the HQ in Auckland, with The Business Bakery's Geoff Ross, Grant Baker and Stephen Sinclair now majority shareholders).
Full details of the Olympic sponsorship will be announced over the coming months but initial activity will see the release of limited edition Moa Olympic packaging—black labels to match the athletes’ black singlets—and Moa beer being served at NZ Olympic Committee, VIP and partner events both at home and abroad.
- As you'd expect, Moa's 'about us' spiel differs from most in that it's actually quite entertaining.
Josh Scott brewed his first beer in an old shed out the back of his father’s Marlborough vineyard in 1987. It wasn’t very good. Technically, because he was only 13 at the time it also wasn’t very legal. But that single event set the course for the next 20 years of Josh’s life.
The very next day (officially, five years later when Josh was of legal drinking age which in New Zealand is 18) Josh and some mates from school (who were officially also all 18 years of age even though they were still in Third Form) set about finding out everything they could about the biology and chemistry of brewing. No small feat in 1987 as the Internet hadn’t been invented, school libraries didn’t really cater to their needs and none of them could drive to a library that possibly could.
What followed was 15 years of trial and error, where Josh learnt the trade of Master Brewing at the feet of some of the world’s most well regarded traditional brewers. Until finally in 2003 he felt comfortable enough to produce a beer that people wouldn’t actually mind paying for and he established the Moa Brewery.
Since then Moa have become staples at festivals worldwide, won the respect and loyalty of connoisseurs from Europe to the Americas and are currently one of the largest New Zealand beer exporters to the United States.