Unless you live in California, Arizona, or Nevada, chances are you haven’t tried Firestone Walker’s 805 blonde ale, a brand described by the brewery as light, refreshing, and “created for the laidback California lifestyle.” Sold successfully in the aforementioned trio of states, and less successfully in a select few of Firestone Walker’s other markets, 805 is one of the country’s best-selling craft beers.
According to recent data from IRI, as reported by Brewbound, 805 ranked No. 9 in the top 10 best-selling craft beer brands in off-premise retail locations in 2019. Dollar sales for the blonde ale grew 12.7 percent last year, to $60.4 million, a sum that’s helped boost Firestone Walker to the 20th best-selling brewery within those metrics.
Firestone Walker also recently rated among the 10 best breweries in the world per RateBeer’s annual survey, and earned a spot on VinePair’s own 35 Most Important Breweries of the Decade (2010s). This is largely due to the popularity of its Union Jack IPA, Double Jack IPA, Easy Jack IPA, and recently launched Mind Haze IPA.
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Sensing a trend? Why, then, is its sales-boosting brand a blonde ale a majority of the country can’t get?
It’s all about positioning. In the last two years, Firestone Walker expanded 805’s packaging offerings to include 24-ounce cans destined for convenience stores. In 2020, it will launch in 18-packs for chain retailers.
Putting things in the right package — one that will attract the right customer on both the retail and consumer levels — is a Firestone Walker specialty.
805 is successful because it’s simple. The black-and-white, large-numeral, minimal label looks more like a dive bar or gas station staple than a beer you’d find at a can release. It’s not necessarily vying for draft real estate in boutique beer bars — it’s fighting for everyday, budget-friendly shelf space. It wants to be your single-serve sipper or trunk-filling case after a trip to Walmart, not Main Street Beer Shop.
More to the point: 805 doesn’t look like Firestone Walker’s other beers, and I believe that is very intentional. I’ll refer you also to Rosalie, a skinny, pretty-in-pink “beer rosé” released by Firestone Walker last year. It, like 805, is designed in a completely different formant than Firestone Walker’s other beers. (Who do you think that one is designed for?)
Strategic? Yes. Shrewd? I’d say so. This may be the secret to Firestone Walker’s success — well-deserved, I might add — and a balanced sip of marketing expertise that more craft breweries could learn from in this increasingly competitive landscape.