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Craft beer meets high-performance sport as Moa becomes NZ’s official Olympic brew

Moa is now officially the ‘Beer for Olympians’, the first time a craft brewery has held this level of sponsorship in New Zealand or, as far as the Moans know, the world.

Given Moa’s well-established reputation for marketing cheekiness and the involvement of Pead PR, Consortium’s Darryl Parsons and the lads behind 42 Below in the small but growing beer business, we initially thought the announcement about the craft brewery signing on as a sponsor for the New Zealand Olympic Team had to be some kind of brazen stunt; another brave/foolish attempt to gain attention at whatever cost.

But, somewhat surprisingly, it’s all true, and Moa is now officially the ‘Beer for Olympians’, the first time a craft brewery has held this level of sponsorship in New Zealand or, as far as the Moans know, the world.

Moa was started in 2003, and has basically gone on to become the 42 Below of beer, adopting a similar controversial, humorous, brutally honest and particularly un-PC marketing approach, so its association with the staid, rule-loving bureaucracy that is the New Zealand Olympic Committee might seem fairly incongruous.

Booze and high-performance sport are also unlikely bedfellows, especially as more heat is directed at the alcohol companies for the role they play in creating our unhealthy drinking culture (one solid link is that Josh Scott, the founder and head brewer of Moa and son of wine baron Allan Scott, is a top notch cyclist and is vying for a position in the team).

But Sunil Unka, Moa’s marketing manager, believes it’s actually a very good fit, with Kiwi athletes usually punching well above their weight at the Olympics and Moa doing the same by winning medals at international beer competitions. It’s about Kiwis supporting Kiwis, it shows that Moa has got to the point where it is now a legitimate challenger to the big brewers and, by sponsoring New Zealand’s athletes at the biggest sporting event in the world, ”it puts us in a premium category” with consumers.

Unka admits the company runs the risk of having the NZOC’s red pen scrawled across its marketing efforts, because the NZOC will get to see the Olympic-related marketing material before it goes live. But he says its commercial director Terry Daly was fully aware of the way the brand operated (it has recently been chastised by the wowsers for releasing a breakfast beer and promoted wanton destruction by offering a booze bounty to anyone that brought down the Wellywood sign should it go up) and was keen to have a slightly edgier brand join the stable to raise the profile of the New Zealand team heading to London next year.

“We’re not just going to sit on the sidelines and clap and hand over a few beers at the end,” Unka says. “We’re going to make some noise and make sure everyone hears about it,” he says.

Unka says Steinlager—or as Scott calls it, the “Japanese-owned German-named beer brand”—was involved with the NZOC beforehand (Lion split hairs and claimed it wasn’t an official sponsor, only a ‘supporter’), but “they’re pretty preoccupied with another big sporting event this year”, he says, so Moa swooped in.

Away from this high-profile sponsorship, the future looks pretty bright. Unka says Moa has upped its game to tap into the growing demand for craft beer in New Zealand and in 10 years he says it wants to be a major, local, independent player that will still be able to act as a cheeky challenger brand, not just another Kiwi company that’s sold out to international interests when it gets successful enough.

“The craft beer market is about five percent, not counting Mac’s and Monteiths, which aren’t craft beers, and it’s just going to keep growing. In some US states it’s as much as 25 percent of the market.”

Slightly surprisingly, he says the US is leading the charge in the world of craft beer and Moa has already made some inroads there, having just run two very successful trials in Whole Foods supermarkets with the very real possibility of selling its wares in more than 400 stores across the country.

It’s already tripled its production compared to the same time last year and Unka says there’s plenty of scope for more growth, something many other Kiwi craft brewers who “reach their capacity and then stagnate” can’t do because they don’t have the required capital to invest in the business or the expertise to grow it (the brewery is still based in Blenheim, while its sales and marketing efforts are now controlled from the HQ in Auckland, with The Business Bakery’s Geoff Ross, Grant Baker and Stephen Sinclair now majority shareholders).

Full details of the Olympic sponsorship will be announced over the coming months but initial activity will see the release of limited edition Moa Olympic packaging—black labels to match the athletes’ black singlets—and Moa beer being served at NZ Olympic Committee, VIP and partner events both at home and abroad.