The most useful quality assurance tools go beyond detection and identification of beer spoilers. They also leverage other genetic indicators for assessing the risk profile of the organisms detected. Today, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is found in large craft and microbreweries as well as small microbreweries of every size. The launch of BREWPAL in 2015, which uses DNA detection, has made PCR possible for any science-minded brewer embarking on innovative projects while still maintaining the craft of this time-honored tradition.
1. A Competitive Marketplace
In a crowded marketplace, consumers have more choices than ever before. If a consumer tries a new product or their “go-to” brand is inconsistent with expectations, they have plenty of options to explore. However, a slowing economy means breweries should shift focus to include consumer trends (e.g. fruit beers, sours, hazy IPAs, etc.) and diverse products (hard seltzer, soda, coffee, etc.) Creating and maintaining a high-quality product each and every time becomes more important than ever before to maintain brand loyalty and remain competitive.
2. Can It!
As customer demand for canned beer surges, the little guys are winning over the bottled beer market. Open-top cans allow for a much larger surface area for cross contamination compared to an open-top bottle, which means there is a greater risk of exposure. Beer also ages differently in cans, especially when the can is lined. As the canning trend continues, brewers are forced to integrate new and used packing lines quickly, which takes up resources that could be allocated for quality assurance and control. Since packaged products typically go on the truck the same day, rapid quality control tools are a smart investment.
3. The Rise of Contract Brewing
As more and more breweries brew other brands’ or companies’ beer, it leaves even less room for error, especially from a quality perspective. These contract brewers are growing fast as they help breweries keep up with demand by freeing up onsite tank space for product development, acting as overflow space for production, and assisting with distribution reach. These contract brewers help test products in new markets, but they also need to maintain current customers. Brewery partners need quality certifications from both a traditional microbiological perspective and a molecular perspective to ensure a manufacturer is secure.
4. Acquisition/Merger Fever
Large conglomerates (AB-InBev, MillerCoors, Heineken, etc.) and smaller private groups are taking advantage of the market saturation and shifting consumer trends. Acquisitions allow breweries looking for an exit a way to maintain their brand and introduce much-needed capital to improve their operation and brand reach. Along with these partnerships usually comes a healthy QA/QC budget because the larger brewery groups understand that quality separates the winners from the losers, and most importantly can help avoid costly headaches with innovative tools. By leveraging an entire network and history of best practices and expertise, breweries acquired by larger brewing groups or merging with other large craft partners have a distinct competitive advantage to weather the evolution of the beer market. They also have the advantage of and budget for recipe development, flexibility, and batching for producing new styles and non-beer brands to diversify their offerings.
5. Innovative Quality Tools Are Easier Than Ever to Implement.
PCR and other technology is easier and more affordable than ever before to implement. With PCR, brewers can get information about potential spoilers in beer prior to packaging and/or leaving the brewery. Knowing the quality of the beer earlier can help avoid significant costs from a potential recall and maintain brand reputation. Just five years ago, PCR was only used for research and troubleshooting, but with advancements in technology and testing, it is now a frontline defense for many of the best breweries that complements (and can even replace) traditional microbiology testing.