Craft breweries need shot at promoting beer for Edmonton occasion venues, festivals

Craft brewers angling to sell their products at sports and entertainment venues in Edmonton are on the cusp of making in-roads on contracts once exclusive to commercial beer companies.

Several local producers are vying for part of a contract to sell craft beer at city-owned venues the Expo Center and the Edmonton Convention Center as well as K-Days, Farm Fair and Pro Rodeo festivals this year.

Sea Change Brewing Co., located at 98th Street and 62nd Avenue, is among the applicants.

Operations manager Bryan Schmidt says offering locally made beverages at festivals and events will help promote the city.

“To me, it makes sense to showcase Edmonton’s world class events with Edmonton and Alberta’s world class beer options,” Schmidt said in an interview last week.

He said craft beer has been catching on with local residents over the past few years.

“People just get so proud of it too,” he said. “They’re just like, ‘Yes, this is our beer from here at our awesome event.’ This is what it’s supposed to be.”

New contract model

Explore Edmonton, the city’s tourism wing that also operates the venues and festivals, has changed its contract model.

Dan St. Pierre, director of strategic communications with Explore Edmonton, said the exclusive sponsorship contracts are ending and they’ve put out a new request for proposals.

“It’s open to companies big and small,” he said. “They can bid on all of it — so the Convention Centre, the Expo Centre, K-Days, Farmfair — all of it, parts of it, so there’s flexibility there.”

Molson Coors and Labatt previously had multi-year contracts to sell alcoholic beverages at the venues, St. Pierre said.

Explore Edmonton’s new “preferred vendor” model includes an option to award up to 25 percent of its beverage sales to a variety of producers (the other 75 percent would go to one company). It’s a divergence from the previous practice of awarding 100 per cent to one company, which is usually a multinational.

It’s part of their mandate to “elevate and highlight local,” St. Pierre said.

“Our hope is that approach is going to give us a little more flexibility in how we can bring different products, local products into the mix of our buying.”

The request for proposals to sell at the Explore Edmonton venues and events closed Friday afternoon. St. Pierre said they hope to choose and award the contracts by the end of February.

High minimums a hindrance

Craft brewers have encountered roadblocks for years, as most venues have had high minimum requirements that only multinational companies could manage to supply.

Blair Berdusco, executive director of the Alberta Small Brewers Association, said the minimum created barriers for small brewers.

“It’s not often that a brewery, especially smaller ones with Edmonton or Alberta, can manufacture enough of the product within a call that goes out,” he said Thursday.

The craft brewing industry in Alberta has grown steadily since a spike in 2017 that saw the number of breweries double in the province.

A small brewer, as defined under the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, produces under 400,000 hectolitres a year.

Berdusco said there’s plenty of growing room with that cap.

“Our largest brewery based in Alberta here still has a ways to go before they reach that,” Berdusco said.

Sea Change makes about 10,000 hectolitres a year or about 20,000 kegs, Schmidt said.

Outsiders want in

Breweries outside Edmonton have succeeded at selling products at local venues and at least one is now eyeing the potential Edmonton market.

Red Deer-based Troubled Monk has been selling beer and hard iced tea at the city’s Westerner Park facility for about four years.

Co-owner Charlie Bredo said it took work to figure out what the venue and customers wanted.

“It hasn’t always been smooth or easy, but we’ve worked through the bumps along the way.”

He said Troubled Monk has submitted a bid for the Explore Edmonton contracts.

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