Berlin - What's better than a nice, cold beer? Having someone deliver it to you, argue southern German brewers.
Home delivery of beer is not only a nice perk for beer lovers, but a centuries-old tradition being maintained by a variety of smaller, southern German breweries. A business plan that seems to please makers and consumers, it looks set to stick around for the foreseeable future.
“The beer takes on more personality when someone brings it to you,” says Walter Koenig, manager of the Bavarian Brewer's Federation.
Franz Egerer, owner of the Egerer Brewery in Grosskoelnbach, says his company delivers to about 30,000 households across the southern state of Bavaria. Bottled water and juices, milk and eggs are also available. The average customer orders about six cases of beverage a month, at a cost of about 75 euros (98 dollars).
“This brewery has existed for 100 years and for 100 years there has been home delivery,” said Egerer.
The concept is simple. The brewery sends out its fleet of trucks on weekly runs. After each delivery, customers pay in cash and then place their order for the coming week.
But for many, this is more than a delivery. This is, after all, Germany, a country where beer is steeped in tradition. The deliverymen also act as the company's official representative, putting a very human face on the product.
“They invite you to eat. It's a very, very friendly relationship,” says Wolfgang Hofer, who delivers for Egerer. “If I time it right, then I might stay for a quarter of an hour and have a quick sandwich.”
He says his weekly delivery route takes him between 150-190 kilometres, servicing between 90 and 120 households.
Other customers just look forward to the chance to swap stories with their weekly visitors. Yet others have come to trust their deliverymen to the degree that they've handed him their house keys so beer can just be brought in - delivery, after all, means hauling the crates of beer up or down stairs and taking away the empties.
“We don't have time to get drinks on weekdays and we don't want to spend our weekends getting drinks,” says Egerer customer Franz Bauer, of Buchelberg, who says he buys about 30 euros worth of beer a week. “It works perfectly.”
Hofer notes that his job also involves some consultation.
“Sometimes the customers are undecided and we try to steer them in the right direction,” he noted. He also alerts customers to specials and deals.
Egerer notes that most of his home delivery clients are families who are a little better off and can afford the one-euro markup for the delivery. Older customers also enjoy having the beer not only delivered to their home, but to the exact room they choose, whether it be the kitchen, garage or basement.
According to the German Brewer's Association, there is no exact count of breweries with home delivery services. Those that do are almost exclusively based in southern Germany, mainly in Bavaria.
Koenig says the practice's popularity in southern Germany - primarily Bavaria - is a direct result of the large number of breweries operating in the state: 637.
He notes that all breweries with delivery services are smaller ones. Usually located in smaller towns, these started out providing beer to locals. Before bottling became widespread, that meant people would usually come to the brewery with a mug in hand and carry their purchase home that way.
Once bottling was invented, brewers found that they could operate their businesses with a lot less commotion if they got the customers to stay outside. Thus, brewers began delivering their products with horse-drawn carts. Unsurprisingly, that proved popular and the practice remains to this day, albeit with motorised vehicles. “Eventually, it just became a service,” said Koenig.
Indeed, the service has become so popular that, in the rest of Germany, special drinks delivery services not tied to breweries have popped up. Meanwhile, in Bavaria, delivery has returned to its roots, with some breweries offering special deals for those who come directly to the brewery to pick up their beer.
In modern times, Koenig notes, larger breweries don't need to bother with delivery services as the brand names of the larger ones - think Erdinger, Franziskaner or Becks - are all that is needed to make sales.
But smaller breweries like Egerer cannot compete on that front, meaning deliveries remain a key way to maintain customer contact. “It's a form of building ties with the customer that is very important,” says Koenig. “It's a little bit of sales psychology.” - Sapa-dpa