Craft beer has been experiencing a period of incredibly rapid growth over the last few years, and while some have predicted a drop-off in the number of craft breweries and beer brands, the industry continues to defy expectations.

With all these new breweries entering the sector, you would imagine it would be simpler to set yourself up as an industry player, but unfortunately the contracting process can be exceptionally convoluted for both supplier and buyer, leaving many craft beer professionals pulling their hair out trying to find someone to brew, bottle or package their drinks.

BrewBroker is a peer-to-peer marketplace for the brewing industry that hopes to revolutionise the whole process, standardising and simplifying ordering between suppliers and buyers. BrewBroker co-founder Ben Morgan-Smith provides some insight into how the system works.

Elliot Gardner: Tell me a little bit more about BrewBroker.

Ben Morgan-Smith: The simplest way to describe BrewBroker is a one-stop shop where you can go to get your beer brewed, packaged and ultimately into market.

A lot of breweries out there find that there is such a demand for their beer, that they can’t produce enough of it, and have to consider how they can scale up production. That generally means they need to move premises and get bigger equipment, and that comes at a significant cost. So what you tend to find is that lots of breweries will contract out production of beer while building up distribution and sales to justify the investment.

You also have various types of buyers in the on-and-off trade spaces; pubs, restaurants and retailers that want to get their own products made so that they have higher margins and something unique to sell their customers.

And then there are those who brew the beer themselves, who produce a beer brand because they have recognised that there’s something niche that others aren’t doing. There are more and more of these start-up beer brands trying to get into the marketplace, and they also inevitably contract out the production of beer, so it means facilitating those trading relationships as well.

EG: Where did the concept for BrewBroker come from?

BMS: It came from our own experiences really. Our two backers – Dan [Rowntree] and Chris [Bayliss] – started their own beer brand and began contracting it out. They were initially exploring starting their own brewery but realised it was going to cost an absolute fortune.

It was taking a very long time and they couldn’t really get an idea of what the actual cost of producing your own beer is through contracting. There were a number of headaches with contracts, suppliers and scheduling.

My co-founder Toby shared an office with them and overheard them pulling their hair out. He asked ‘surely there’s a better way of doing this – why can’t it be facilitated online?’ And that’s where I came on-board, since I knew all three of them and have a digital background.

Building the brand came off the back of Chris and Dan starting one of the UK’s largest craft beer festivals, called Craft Beer Rising, so we had great exposure to the industry.

EG: You had your soft launch at CBR 18 – what was the feedback like?

BMS: We spent two days demoing the platform for eight hours each day. We had interest from lots of different types of user, from existing brewers running out of capacity and looking to find a contract partner, through to guys who run restaurants and pubs.

We showed them what we’d built so far and relayed the feedback we received to our designer, who worked on the platform overnight, so the next day we were able to show the next version of the platform, and get more feedback.

All of that intelligence that we’d built up formed the next set of designs, which we’re now showing to users in one-on-one user experience sessions.

EG: Any examples of feedback you’ve received?

BMS: Generally, it’s been really positive. For example, if I was a brewery and looking for help with the production of my beer, I would have to look through my black book of contacts and colleagues, and pick up the phone and ring them all.

The supplier would have to establish whether or not they have the capacity for your order, then the cost would have to be established. You might have to make that call six or seven times to different people, and it can take days, sometimes weeks, to get all that information back.

Likewise, as a supplier they get inundated with requests for contract brewing or contract packaging that are nine times out of ten not the right size and fit for the type of brewery they are.

Our system very quickly, in a matter of seconds, reduces all of that administrative time. It’s also important for suppliers that they’re matched with the right type of contract to bid on.

The feedback we received was, ‘My god you’ve saved me a huge amount of time’, but that was just the admin phase. Now it’s going to go through the tendering process, providing the supplier with all the information they need to provide an accurate quote, and likewise provide the buyer with easy comparison tools for quotes.

EG: What are the major challenges you’ve faced in creating BrewBroker?

BMS: I suppose the biggest challenge for us is changing perception. Currently, everyone has their own specific way of doing things.

We’re trying to build a system to standardise how you put a contract together at both ends of the supply scale. I think from a user interface perspective it has been pretty challenging, but I think we’ve cracked it in how easy and quick we’ve made BrewBroker.

There are also many small things, like where one brewer will quote using brewers barrels, and another will quote in hectolitres. The first might not include duty, and another will, and so on. It’s tricky trying to build a flexible system, while also standardising the process.

EG: Have you faced any scepticism from the industry?

BMS: At Craft Beer Rising I talked to two separate old school brewers on different days who identified as ‘traditional old-school brewers’. They said that when they heard about BrewBroker they thought they wouldn’t be interested, and had only come over to confirm their suspicions.

After showing them the platform they said that it was amazing and they’ve since signed up. Now I think that if we can convince those two guys who’ve been brewing for decades and are real technophobes that the platform is worth considering, then we’re on to something.