|Farmland and Boulevard Brewing Co. collaborated on a beer sausage. Both companies share a similar geographic market, retail accounts and demographic markts.|
There are certain food and beverage pairings that many consider to be ‘no brainers’, and at the top of that list is sausage and beer. With Germany being both the epicenter of both sausage eating and beer drinking, this pairing has become a classic.
Here in the USA, where a sizable group has ethnic roots in Germany, many have come to embrace the bratwurst as the go-to meal for slapping on the grill. One of the popular ways to prepare bratwurst and other sausages is to braise them first in beer before finishing them over a hot fire. So, it isn’t much of a leap to not only serve sausage with beer but to also incorporate beer as an ingredient in the sausage.
This idea is not lost on the sausage-making community and several sausage companies, including Johnsonville, Saags, Hillshire Farm and Farmland, have come up with one or more sausages using beer. So, what are the manufacturing challenges of incorporating beer in a sausage recipe and what are the marketing and branding opportunities?
The first challenge when trying to incorporate a liquid ingredient into a sausage formula is getting enough of that liquid to contribute to the flavor while staying within the legal limits of allowable liquid, as well as not compromising texture. No one wants to make a wet and mushy sausage. This challenge is even more difficult when the liquid ingredient, i.e. beer, is fairly subtle in flavor to begin with. In addition, some beers, such as IPA or Pilsner, have a strong, hoppy flavor, which can overcome the sausage with bitterness.
|The branding potential and marketing success of combining a branded beer with a branded sausage is greatly expanded for both companies.|
There is also the issue of increased costs since beer costs much more than water and specialty beers will cost even more than mass-market beers, such as Miller. According to Mike Brewster, Hillshire Farm’s man in charge of producing their co-branded bratwurst using Miller High Life beer, the flavors the beer contributed to the sausage are quite volatile and dissipate over time.
One solution to enhance the beer flavor of the sausage is to add flavors that are associated with the taste of beer, such as yeast, cooked onions, malt and spices such as caraway and mustard. Since beer, sausage and sauerkraut are a much-enjoyed combination, why not cook sauerkraut and onions in beer until the beer is adsorbed and then use this mixture as part of the sausage formulation? But even with these challenges, many sausage companies are successfully selling bratwurst and other sausages made with beer. A good reason for this success is the co-branding and marketing opportunities that are provided by associating the beer made sausage with a specific brewery.
Marketing, branding opportunities
No marketing genius-level IQ is needed to see the huge potential of combining a branded beer with a branded sausage. Sometimes this arrangement is instigated by the brewery and sometimes by the sausage company. No matter how it originates, the branding potential and marketing success is greatly expanded for both parties by co-branding.
At Hillshire Farm, they came together to make a co-branded beer bratwurst with Miller High Life beer. Needless to say Miller, a large mainstream national brand, has considerable marketing dollars for promotions and advertising. In addition, Miller sponsors numerous festivals, concerts and special events, as well as having a large presence in the world of sports. Hillshire Farm has a presence at events as well, but does not have near the exposure that the bigger company Miller may have. In addition, Miller and Hillshire Farm, no doubt, share a similar demographic. Therefore, associating a beer bratwurst with Miller makes a lot of marketing sense for Hillshire Farm, not to mention the opportunity to sample and sell the co-branded sausage at Miller sponsored festivals, events and sporting venues. Sounds like a win-win all the way around.
|Beer sausage is a good way to show consumers ways to enjoy beer with good food.|
Kelly Francis, brand manager at Farmland, says Farmland recently began selling co-branded sausages made with Boulevard Brewing Co. beer. Boulevard beer, a growing Kansas City specialty brewery with considerable following in the middle of the country and selected states, approached Farmland to produce a co-branded bratwurst with their most popular beer, Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat. The quick success of this led to a bratwurst made with Pale Ale. In addition, a Pilsner-flavored bratwurst is in the pipeline. Boulevard’s logo is prominent on the co-branded label, but Farmland brings a lot of marketing exposure to the table with its association with NASCAR.
Both strong, regional companies share a similar geographic market, similar retail accounts and a similar customer demographic. With this type of synergism, co-branded marketing dollars can be leveraged and spent more efficiently as a winning partnership for both brands. In addition this June, Boulevard Brewing Co. sponsored a huge music, beer and food festival – Boulevardia – which not only created exposure for the co-branded beer sausage, but was both a sampling and sales opportunity to an appreciative audience of targeted customers.
|Many consumers in the United States have embraced bratwurst as the sausage of choice for summer grilling.|
Other opportunities for a co-branded beer sausage are in the foodservice area, especially restaurants and pubs that focus on beer and may already serve the beer used in their sausage. An example is Gordon Biersch, a specialty brewery with several brew pubs around the country, as well as concessions at AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark and other sporting venues. These outlets provide a great opportunity to serve the co-branded beer bratwurst, which Saags makes with Gordon Biersch beer.
There is also the possibility at these venues and restaurants to promote special events, such as Oktoberfest dinners featuring the beer sausage and recipes using the sausage. Using the sausage as an ingredient provides an opportunity to work with the kitchens to develop recipes using the beer flavored sausages in various dishes from warm salads, bean soups and main courses, such as ragu braised with sausage and beer.
While the marketing advantage of co-branding with a brewery may look skewed in favor of the sausage company, don’t forget there is great opportunity for the brewery, as well, because the association with the sausage company provides a relationship of beer and food. Showing customers ways to enjoy beer with good food can lead to increased sales across the board. It’s a winning combination all the way around.
Bruce Aidells founded Aidells Sausage Co. in 1983. He left the company in 2002 and is a food writer for consumer publications and the author of 12 cookbooks.