Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cans, new brew & marketing for Hometown

Hometown Beverages, the company behind New Jersey Lager, will look to retool its marketing approach in the Garden State in 2011, as it begins its third year in the region's beer industry.

The Manasquan-based contract brewer entered the beer scene in late 2008 with a trio of state-named lighter lagers – New Jersey Lager, New York Lager and Pennsylvania Lager. The latter two have outpaced the brew named for the state that founders Bob Selsky and Chris Curylo call home.

But nurturing growth for New Jersey Lager is only part of the picture for Hometown, Selsky says. Plans call for packaging the company's flagship lagers in cans this year and introducing another brew to their lineup.

Possibly launching at the Atlantic City beer festival April 1-2, the new Hometown Lager will become the fifth label brewed by the Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based Lion Brewery for Hometown Beverage, which added Hometown Light to its flight of beers in 2009 and began canning that brew last fall for sale in 24-packs.

Hometown Lager will initially be available as a draft product and will keep to the company's business model of easy-drinking lagers that Selsky says are more defined by the shorthand session beer than any other modifier.

"We're not craft beer. We're not overbearing, with all the hops like some of those can be. There's a lot of flavor and you can drink a lot of ours," he says. "We're session beers."

Selsky expects the lagers that launched Hometown in '08 to go into cans this spring and sold in 24-packs like Hometown Light. The brews will still be available in bottle and draft. The attraction of cans, Selsky says, is they have a go-anywhere quality to them. They're lighter in weight, more portable by the case than bottles and easier to dispose of the empties.

With New Jersey Lager's distribution, the company ended its ties with its Garden State wholesalers over the last three months. Moving forward, Selsky says, Hometown wants to find a distributor more attuned to the company's marketing strategy of establishing a presence in package stores with smaller commitment of beer for the retailer, then Hometown following that up with sampling at those stores.

Selsky says he's sympathetic to wholesalers' inclination to throw more support behind core and top-selling brands. "That's what pays their salaries, their bonuses," he says. But that situation can come at the expense of smaller brands, he says.

Despite plans to retool New Jersey Lager's marketing, Hometown has had success getting its other labels out before the beer-drinking public, with company's brews, for example, being poured at the major sports venues in Philadelphia (Citizens Bank Park), Pittsburgh (Heinz Field, PNC Park) and New York (Citifield).

Getting into those places has come with a steady flow of consumer outreach, Selsky says. He and partner Curylo do a dozen or so events weekly and hit about 45 beer festivals in the tri-state region last year.

And there's plenty more to come this year, Selsky says.

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