Although most of the companies frequently cited as examples of ethical and socially responsible firms are large corporations, it is the social responsibility initiatives of small businesses that often have the greatest impact on local communities. These businesses create jobs and provide goods and services for customers in smaller markets that larger corporations are often not interested in serving. Moreover, they also contribute money, resources, and volunteer time to local causes. Their owners often serve as community leaders, and many choose to apply their skills and resources to tackling local problems and issues to benefit the whole community. Managers and employees become role models for ethical and socially responsible actions. One such small business is New Belgium Brewing Company, Inc., based in Fort Collins, Colorado. HISTORY OF THE NEW BELGIUM BREWING COMPANY The idea for the New Belgium Brewing Company (NBB) began with a bicycling trip through Belgium. Belgium is arguably the home of some of the world’s finest ales, some of which have been brewed for centuries in that country’s monasteries. As Jeff Lebesch, an American electrical engineer, cruised around that country on his mountain bike, he wondered whether he could produce such high-quality beers back home in Colorado. After acquiring the special strain of yeast used to brew Belgian-style ales, Lebesch returned home and began to experiment in his Colorado basement. When his beers earned thumbs up from friends, Lebesch decided to market them. NBB opened for business in 1991 as a tiny basement operation in Lebesch’s home in Fort Collins. Lebesch’s wife at the time, Kim Jordan, became the firm’s marketing director. They named their first brew Fat Tire Amber Ale in honor of Lebesch’s bike ride through Belgium. Initially, getting New Belgium beer onto store shelves was not easy. Jordan often delivered the beer to stores in the back of her Toyota station wagon. However, New Belgium beers quickly developed a small but devoted customer base, first in Fort Collins and then throughout Colorado. The brewery soon outgrew the couple’s basement and moved into an old railroad depot before settling into its present custom-built *This case was prepared by Jennifer Sawayda and Jennifer Jackson for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell and Linda Ferrell © 2015. We appreciate the input and assistance of Greg Owsley, New Belgium Brewing, in developing this case. It was prepared for classroom discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative, ethical, or legal decision by management. All sources used for this case were obtained through publicly available material and the New Belgium Brewing website. Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic facility in 1995.
The brewery includes two brew houses, four quality assurance labs, a wastewater treatment facility, a canning and bottling line, and numerous technological innovations for which New Belgium has become nationally recognized as a “paradigm of environmental efficiencies.” Under the leadership of Kim Jordan, who has since become CEO, NBB currently offers a variety of permanent and seasonal ales and pilsners. The company’s standard line includes Sunshine Wheat, Blue Paddle, 1554, Ranger IPA, Abby, Shift, Trippel, Rampant, Slow Ride IPA, Snapshot, and the original Fat Tire Amber Ale, still the firm’s bestseller. Some customers even refer to the company as the Fat Tire Brewery. The brewery’s seasonal ales include Skinny Dip, Portage Porter, and Accumulation. The firm also started a Lips of Faith program, where small batch brews like La Folie, Gruit, and Salted Belgian Chocolate Stout are created for internal celebrations or landmark events. Additionally, New Belgium is working in collaboration with other craft brewers to come up with new products. Through this, they hope to create improved efficiency and experimentation, along with taking collaborative strides toward the future of American craft beer making. One product resulting from these collaborations is a beer brewed with Anaheim and Marash Chilies in collaboration with Cigar City Brewing. NBB’s most effective form of advertising has always been its customers’ word of mouth, especially in the early days. Indeed, before New Belgium beers were widely distributed throughout Colorado, one liquor-store owner in Telluride is purported to have offered people gas money if they would stop by and pick up New Belgium beer on their way through Fort Collins. Although New Belgium has expanded distribution to a good portion of the U.S. market, the brewery receives numerous emails and phone calls every day inquiring when its beers will be available in other parts of the country. Although still a small brewery when compared to many beer companies, like fellow Coloradan Coors, NBB has consistently experienced strong growth with estimated sales of more than $180 million (with NBB being a private firm, detailed sales and revenue numbers are not available). It now has its own blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages. The organization sells more than 800,000 barrels of beer per year and has many opportunities for continued growth. For instance, while total beer consumption has remained flat, the market share of the craft beer industry is now at 11 percent. Growth for craft beer is likely to continue as new generations of beer drinkers appear to favor beers that are locally brewed. Currently, New Belgium’s products are distributed in 38 states plus the District of Columbia, British Columbia, and Alberta. It plans to begin distribution in Hawaii in 2016. Beer connoisseurs that appreciate the high quality of NBB’s products, as well as the company’s environmental and ethical business practices, have driven this growth. For example, when the company began distribution in Minnesota, the beers were so popular that a liquor store had to open early and make other accommodations for the large amount of customers. The store sold 400 cases of Fat Tire in the first hour it was open. With expanding distribution, however, the brewery recognized a need to increase its opportunities for reaching its far-flung customers. It consulted with Dr. Douglas Holt, an Oxford professor and cultural branding expert. After studying the company, Holt, together with former Marketing Director Greg Owsley, drafted a 70-page “manifesto” describing the brand’s attributes, character, cultural relevancy, and promise. In particular, Holt identified in New Belgium an ethos of pursuing creative activities simply for the joy of doing them well and in harmony with the natural environment. With the brand thus defined, NBB worked with New York advertising agency Amalgamated to create a $10 million advertising campaign. The campaign would target highend beer drinkers, men aged 25 to 44, and highlight the brewery’s down-to-earth image.
The grainy ads focused on a man, Charles the Tinkerer, rebuilding a cruiser bike out of used parts and then riding it along pastoral country roads.
The product appeared in just five seconds of each ad between the tag lines, “Follow Your Folly … Ours Is Beer.” With nostalgic music playing in the background, the ads helped position the growing brand as whimsical, thoughtful, and reflective. NBB later re-released its Tinkerer commercial during the U.S. Pro Challenge.
The re-released commercial had an additional scene with the Tinkerer riding part way next to a professional cyclist contestant, with music from songwriter and Tour de Fat enthusiast Sean Hayes. The commercial was featured on NBC. It would be eight more years before NBB would develop its next television advertising campaign. In 2013 NBB developed a campaign called “Pairs Well with People” that included a 30-second television advertisement. The television ad described the unique qualities of NBB as an organization, including its environmental consciousness and 100 percent employee ownership. The advertisement was launched on four major networks in large cities across the United States. Because the primary purpose of the campaign was to create awareness in areas not as familiar with the brand (such as Raleigh-Durham and Minneapolis), NBB did not air the commercial in Colorado and states where the brand is wellknown. The campaign also featured four 15-second online videos of how its beer “pairs well with people.” Bar patrons featured in the 15-second digital ads were NBB employees. In addition to the ad campaigns, the company maintains its strategy of promotion through event sponsorships and digital media. To launch its Ranger IPA beer, New Belgium created a microsite and an online video of its NBB sales force dressed as rangers performing a hip-hop number to promote the beer. The only difference was that instead of horses, the NBB rangers rode bicycles. The purpose of the video was to create a hip, fun brand image for its new beer, with the campaign theme “To Protect. To Pour. To Partake.” The company’s Beer Mode mobile app gives users who download it access to exclusive content, preselects messages to post on the users’ social media sites when they are spending time enjoying their beers, and provides users with the locations of retailers that sell NBB products. The company offers rewards to users for downloading the Beer Mode app, visiting the NBB website, sharing the website on social media networks, and attending NBB events. NEW BELGIUM ETHICAL CULTURE According to New Belgium, the company places great importance on the ethical culture of the brand. The company is aware that if it embraces citizenship in the communities it serves, it can forge enduring bonds with customers. More than ever before, what a brand says and what a company does must be synchronized. NBB believes that as the mandate for corporate social responsibility gains momentum, business managers must realize that business ethics is not so much about the installation of compliance codes and standards as it is about the spirit in which such codes and standards are integrated. The modern-day brand steward—usually the most externally focused of the business management team—must prepare to be the internal champion of the bottom-line necessity for ethical, values-driven company behavior. At New Belgium, a synergy of brand and values occurred naturally because the firm’s ethical culture (in the form of core values and beliefs) was in place long before NBB had a marketing department. Back in early 1991, when New Belgium was just a fledgling home-brewed business, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan took a hike into Rocky Mountain National Park armed with a pen and a notebook. There they took their first stab at what
the company’s core purpose would be. If they were going forward with this venture, what were their aspirations beyond profitability? What was at the heart of their dream? What they wrote down that spring day, give or take a little editing, are the core values and beliefs you can read on the NBB website today. Since its inception, NBB adopted a triple bottom-line (TBL) approach to business. Whereas the traditional bottom-line approach for measuring business success is economic, TBL incorporates economic, social, and environmental factors. In other words, rather than just looking at financial data to evaluate company success, NBB looks at its impact upon profits, people, and the planet. One way that it is advancing the TBL approach is through the creation of a high-involvement corporate culture. All employees at NBB are expected to contribute to the company vision, and accountability is spread throughout the organization. Just about any New Belgium worker can list many, if not all, of these shared values. For NBB, branding strategies are rooted in its company values.
New Belgium’s Purpose and Core Beliefs
New Belgium’s dedication to quality, the environment, its employees, and its customers is expressed in its mission statement: “To operate a profitable brewery which makes our love and talent manifest.” The company’s stated core values and beliefs about its role as an environmentally concerned and socially responsible brewer include the following:
Remembering that we are incredibly lucky to create something fine that enhances people’s lives while surpassing our consumers’ expectations.
Producing world-class beers.
Promoting beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer.
Kindling social, environmental, and cultural change as a business role model.
Environmental stewardship: minimizing resource consumption, maximizing energy efficiency, and recycling.
Cultivating potential through learning, participative management, and the pursuit of opportunities.
Balancing the myriad needs of the company, staff, and their families.
Trusting each other and committing ourselves to authentic relationships, communications, and promises.
Continuous, innovative quality and efficiency improvements.
Having Fun. Employees believe that these statements help communicate to customers and other stakeholders what New Belgium, as a company, is about. These simple values—developed roughly 25 years ago—are just as meaningful to the company and its customers today, even though there has been much growth.