Beer and reptiles might not have much in common, but Carl Vasta, founder and owner of Tuatara, one of the country’s most successful craft beer brands, has combined these two things to great effect.
What’s in the name?
The tuatara relates more to the company than beer. The tuatara is a small reptile that has remained unchanged for millions of years. It goes about its business in its own time, sticking to tried and true practices. We relate to this philosophy and stick to classic brewing practices and ingredients for our products.
When did you brew your first beer?
When I returned from an overseas trip, I found New Zealand was lacking quality classic-style beers, so I decided to produce my own. I brewed my first beer in 1981, with mixed results. But I’ve got better since then and the first Tuatara beer was brewed in December 2000.
How has brewing changed?
There is now a greater acceptance of different beer styles. Hefe and Belgian beers, for instance. 20 years ago you couldn’t give them away, but now sales of these styles are steadily increasing. Beers are also hoppier, and the hoppy beer styles are growing rapidly.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Keeping up with growth. Sales have been increasing by 50 percent per year for the past eight years. And this has put stress on cash flow and the plant.
What makes your approach so successful?
We are marketing a good, honest product with a good company history.
What’s the story behind your innovative bottle designs?
We go to great lengths to put quality beer inside the bottle, so we thought we should put the beer in a great package to stand out from the crowd.
How do you stay ahead?
Consistency and quality service are key as you grow. There is an ever-increasing range of quality beers available to consumers these days, so the last thing you want to do is give people a reason to change to a different brand. We work hard to ensure we do the little things well, from the brewhouse to the production line to the customer.
How has social media helped you grow?
Twitter is like word-of-mouth advertising. Provided we maintain the quality of our beer and service, tweets will remain positive.
Any advice for garage brewers?
Moving from the garage to commercial brewing is a big step. The market is becoming very saturated, so a clear point of difference becomes critical. Style and brand story are key, but it needs to be real to resonate with consumers.
- This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb edition of NZ Marketing.