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Customer story

Urbanaut Brewing Co: Going where no other brewery dares

This article was published on Dec 19, 2019, 11:33 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

Urbanaut Brewing Company has used the support of Callaghan Innovation to automate things behind the scenes so they can focus on producing the bold craft beers they’re now renowned for.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Auckland-based craft beer brewery Urbanuts Brewing Co is approaching things differently - different styles and flavours, different marketing tactics, and a fresh perspective on exports and expansion.
    • With Callaghan Innovation support, Urbanuts has been able to continuously innovate, including introducing automation and IoT to make the brewery more efficient and effective.
    • With bold beer pairings, strong collaborations, and a simple but solid business approach, Urbanaut has experienced good sales and healthy cashflow. So much so, the founders haven’t had to bring on any extra shareholders since they started. 

    The backing from Callaghan Innovation has also meant that we can keep innovating and stay ahead in a crowded market. It’s allowed us to back ourselves and explore new packaging and flavour innovations.

    - Bruce Turner, Co-founder, Urbanauts Brewing Co

    Bold beer brewing

    Three mates walk into a former props and costume warehouse and turn it into a craft beer brewery. It could be the start of the joke, but in fact that’s how Urbanaut Brewery Co started.

    Based in Kingsland, Auckland the craft beer company opened its doors in 2017 and from the outset has focused on brewing fresh, tasty beers and introducing beer lovers - and the unconverted - to different styles and flavours.

    “We see ourselves as being ‘beer experience providers’ rather than a brewery,” says Co-founder Bruce Turner. “One of our goals is to introduce people to what beer can be.” 

    Forgoing big marketing budgets, Urbanaut’s ability to get noticed and grow the brand has instead been through collaboration as well as thinking up original products and projects.

    Smarter brews thanks to Callaghan Innovation

    Callaghan Innovation’s support, says Turner, has helped enable Urbanaut to invest in making their brewery more efficient and effective with automation and IoT.

    “The backing from Callaghan Innovation has also meant that we can keep innovating and stay ahead in a crowded market. It’s allowed us to back ourselves and explore new packaging and flavour innovations,” says Turner.

    These innovations include the introduction of new software to enable them to more closely monitor their inputs - specifically water, electricity and ingredient usage - and compare that to the beer outputs.

    “You can lose beer at certain stages of the process and we want to understand if and when that’s happening and see if we can reduce and recover more,” says Turner.

    As well, the brewery is looking to improve their processes by using automation to do away with some heavy lifting. The first step will be a new conveyor belt to transport 25kg grain bags which are currently hauled up a ladder and tipped into the vats.

    Receiving an R&D Experience Grant has also helped, in 2019 for example the grant meant Urbanaut could explore using food science to create innovative new products using their brews and by-products.

    Food Frontiers - Urbanaut

    [Bruce Turner]

    So Urbannaut is a craft beer brewery, started with my two friends, Simon Watson and Thomas Rowes.

    We’re all from the same small town in the Rangetīkei, we went to highschool together.

    Urbanaut is all about being a sort of global citizen of the world, exploring the world through

    cities, and we create all of our beers around suburbs of cities that we’ve travelled to or

    lived in.

    We have a cellar door with a tasting room, best part of it is the interaction that we can have

    with either new or existing beer drinkers.

    Our staff love talking about beer, it’s really rewarding when you see someone come in a

    discover a beer or be excited about the new thing we’re doing, and that’s one of our goals

    is to introduce people to what beer can be.

    Innovation for me is the funnest part of the business.

    So we’re brewing a new beer every six weeks now,

    sometimes it’ll be a repeat like an annual release at a certain time of the year,

    for example for April, we release an espresso scotch ale, so you get to do different recipes

    and mix it up and do some weird stuff.

    In terms of sales performance, we’re really stoked of how we’re going.

    We set targets from day one and then we review them every six months, and we seem to be

    exceeding them.

    And we found a lot of that is from converting people that haven’t drank craft beer before.

    When we were setting up Urbanaut, like any business, there were challenges at the start

    and a few surprises, obviously cashflow in any business is super important.

    We also contract brew, we brew all of the Yeasty boys beers here in New Zealand for

    the New Zealand sales, and we’ve got a couple of other contract partners.

    Our facility is quite big for a startup brewery, we have the capability of kick, can and

    bottle our beer.

    We took on a bigger project than we probably first planned we would.

    There were a lot of talks around the market being a bit too saturated and no room for breweries.

    And so between the three of us, we pretty much did everything ourselves, and it was a lot

    of fun and a lot of learning as we went.

    But it meant that we could od it on sort of a tighther budget.

    A lot of discipline involved, a lot of hard work, and a lot of making sure that every decision

    we make goes towards the goal that we’re trying to achieve for that six months or the

    next year or three year plan.

    The fact that the three of us have been friends for years, we’ve all travelled together.

    Nothing has ever come up that’s been too difficult for us to deal with.

    If two people argee then the third person is just like, ok sweet, let’s do this.

    Fresh and flourishing

    With good sales and healthy cashflow, Urbanaut’s simple business approach is working well for them, says Turner. So much so, the three founders haven’t had to bring on extra shareholders since they started.

    As well, Urbanaut is getting approaches from bigger breweries and suggestions for overseas expansion, but Turner says the company’s focus on fresh means they’re not looking beyond Australia for exports right now. 

    Urbanaut’s focus on strong collaborations and original brews has been paying off too. Alongside partnerships with Metro magazine and Karma Cola, one of the brewery’s biggest innovations, Urbanut Beer Blenders, has been paying dividends. 

    Using clever packaging, which sees two cans stacked together in a single wrapped label, the brewery pairs two cans of different beer flavours together (think Szechuan Kolsch and Yuzu Super Sour, or Milkshake Beer and Imperial Stout). This allows customers to drink them as they are or mix them together to create a unique blend. 

    The product was launched at Beervana and went into 120 Liquorland stores nationwide and kicked off a special partnership with New World too.

    “The beer blenders are going really well. As far as we can tell, what we’ve done is a world first. People had been blending beers in pubs and breweries but they’d never been able to take home a pack like this and do it themselves,” says Turner.

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