James Grugeon, founder, The Good Beer Co.
We're building momentum through something that is really easy for people to do – which is just buying and enjoying a really good beer ...
Do you love kicking back with a beer? So does James Grugeon. Though, he has taken his passion for the amber goodness one step further, by using it as a vessel to create social and environmental change. James is the founder of The Good Beer Co., a start-up social enterprise that brews and sells beer to raise funds and awareness for good causes. He’s currently in the midst of raising awareness for its core brew, Great Barrier Beer, which has been crafted to generate funds and create conversation about our national icon The Great Barrier Reef. For general punters (like us), we understand the issues that face our natural environment and society in general – but we’re often stumped as to how we can ‘do our bit’ and be part of the change. Well, thanks to James, we can actually create change and be involved in the conversation by doing something that we all love – having a beer. There’s much more to come from this beer-swilling UK-born lad, so we caught up for a chat about changing the world, one tinine at a time.
Tell us – how did The Good Beer Co. concept first come to life?
I’m from the UK originally. Myself and my wife Jo have been in Australia for about seven years now. We moved to Brisbane about four-and-a-half years ago from Melbourne, where I was working for a start-up energy retailer where I was putting together partnerships with big environmental charities. Though, I’ve always working in this sustainability and environment space. When Jo got the job in Brissy, I thought, well – what am I going to do? I thought, if I can get people to switch their energy provider to those working with and raising money for charities – with something as boring as electricity, then I thought you could surely do something with beer. After a fair bit of research, I decided to launch The Good Beer Co. We launched with a crowdfunding campaign back in 2015, we had a beer in the market the next year, and now that we’ve properly got the concept out there, we’ve rolled out with Great Barrier Beer 2.0. We’re ready now to (hopefully) sell a lot of good beer for good causes and in the process, support some good independent Aussie brewers.
There are whispers of a new beer in the works. Can you tell us about that?
We’re just about to launch a new beer for the RSPCA in Queensland called Pale Tail. These are good beers, first and foremost, that give back to good causes that people care about – like the protection, rehoming and rehabilitation of animals in need. They do really important work, which I care about too. I’ve got a dog and I am an absolute sook – every time I got to the RSPCA, I am welling up. What they do is really amazing, and I am really proud to be supporting them. We’re going to be launching it before Christmas, which is our second core beer.
What was it that first spurred you to get into the business of creating change?
I had trained to be a journalist when I was young, then I ended up working in government affairs and in politics for a bit. Then, I moved to work in the corporate sector. I have a really strong belief that businesses in general, and businesses that are concerned about purpose as well as profit, are in a really strong place to do things that are important for our planet. I really wanted to be part of making that happen. I know how hard it is for charities, even ones like the RSPCA and the Australian Marine Conservation Society, to raise money. They spend 90 per cent of their time figuring out how to raise funds. It’s difficult to do that in politics, and governments get caught in short-term electoral cycles, whereas businesses can move quickly, and at scale, to do things that are really important.
So, why beer?
I just think beer is a really great way of starting a conversation. Maybe it’s because I am a beer drinker, and when I am having a beer I am usually with my mates and my family and having a really good time.
Do you feel like public awareness around the concept of ‘social enterprises’ or ‘purpose-led businesses’ is growing?
I do, but I don’t think people quite understand the term social enterprise or ‘purpose before profit’ as such. All of those terms are important to people that are in that sector, like me, but fundamentally it’s got to be more about what it means to someone who, in our case, is picking up a case of beer at Dan Murphy’s. We’re starting a conversation and I think that’s the important thing – it’s saying that this business isn’t just trying to make a profit, it’s trying to do some good as well. I think increasingly this is the case with craft-beer brewers in general – people want to know the story behind the product and they want to know who is behind it. They do care about whether it’s being produced in a way that looks after the environment and local producers, rather than some faceless multi-national corporation. In general, people want to know what businesses are doing beyond making a profit.
What prompted you to focus on the Great Barrier Reef for the first beer in the range?
I am personally really motivated by climate change and the environment. I love the reef, and it was one of the first places I visited when I came to Australia. If I ask my mates back in the UK to name three things about Australia, the reef will be in the top three. It’s just a really big issue for Australians, people see it as part of their national identity and they see that there is not enough being done to protect it, and they are worried about it.
What are your thoughts the current state of the local the craft-beer industry?
I think that Queensland is close to becoming the craft-beer capital of Australia. Some of the best breweries in the country are here, and they are really punching above their weight, like Black Hops, Balter, Burleigh Brewing, Ballistic, Slipstream, Green Beacon – I could go on. These brewers are really, really good at understanding how to build a connection with their community, not just locally, but the entire community. I’ve worked in banking and the energy sector, and you get sick of the fact that most businesses out there are very non-collaborative – but the craft-beer sector in Queensland is the opposite. It’s because the owners of these breweries are so passionate – they want to try each other’s beer, hang out with one another and support each other. It’s quite unusual, but it’s definitely been part of how we’ve been successful and why our business model works. We’re working in a sector that sees the rising tide as lifting all boats.
How do you overcome the challenges of standing out in the craft-beer market and educating potential purchasers on the Good Beer Co. concept?
It’s about talking about it, you know. There are lots of really great businesses out there that are doing really good things, and they don’t talk about it enough. Businesses need to be talking about what they are doing and why – and they need to do it in a way that’s authentic and real. For us to stand out, we have to make sure that we produce a really good beer – that’s the first priority, if we don’t have that, we’re stuffed. But the fact that we give back is where we stand out – we’re able to work with our charity partners, but also when we’re talking to beer buyers at companies like BWS, and they see the additional benefits that we bring as a social enterprise to them and their brand, which is really important as a start up. We have the same challenges as the other brewers, but because we are a different concept and a first-mover in this space, we’ve been maybe able to move a little quicker than some other craft brewers, but in saying that what we’ve also done is bring a lot of them with us. The brewers that we’ve worked with have benefitted from being part of the concept, but we’ve also benefitted from being part of their story as well.
What has been your biggest learning curve?
Well, I drink a lot of beer, but I have never run a beer company before nor worked in the industry before this. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, that I hope I have learnt from. I have far less hair than I used to! I am a sole founder and I work mostly on my own. I’m kind of doing everything, so I have really learnt a lot about how to build and grow a successful beer company in the Australian market.
With regards to Great Barrier Beer – can you see that what you’re doing is working up there?
Yes. The Australian Marine Conservation Society has been around for 50 years, and it’s not massive. It got the Great Barrier Reef its marine-park status and world heritage listing, and it’s a compact team with lots of volunteers covering the length and breadth of the reef. For them, it’s not about the funding so much, it’s about the fact that they’ve got the opportunity to talk to a much larger group of people. We’ve had a beer out there that has provided opportunities for conversations that didn’t exist before. You know, if all that happens is that somebody buys it and ten percent goes to the charity, and they see the logo or read the can, then that’s fine. But maybe some of those people will get involved in a bigger way, too. Hopefully.
What’s next for The Good Beer Co.?
Our next challenge is to get Great Barrier Beer out there in a way that mobilises people in a positive way to be thinking that we need to be doing more to tackle climate change and pollution, because that is the main risk to the reef. We’re building momentum through something that is really easy for people to do – which is just buying and enjoying a really good beer.
For more info and to purchase Great Barrier Beer, head to The Good Beer Co. website.