A strategy is not a solution until it is implemented.
Benchmarking Manufacturing Performance
We were asked by a global “top ten” brewer to identify opportunities to improve operational effectiveness, ensure better utilization of assets and reduce manufacturing costs at their 16 plants. We benchmarked their internal key performance indicators (KPIs) against our own index of global best practices.
Brewery Technical Support For Major Brewer
First Key worked with a major brewing company operating breweries with capacities in the range of 1 to 5 million hl/yr, to enhance the quality and stability of their beers and improve process yields. Improvement goals were reached for beer foam and flavour stability, beer taste, yeast management practices, new yeast strain selections, brewhouse and centrifuge yields and new product formulations. First Key and the client worked closely together to successfully tackle these challenges.
Lead Design For a 2 Million hL/yr. Brewery
First Key was engaged to act as the Owner’s Representative to design and coordinate all aspects of the process facility. This included conceptual layouts, the development of flowsheets and specifications, basic and detailed engineering, tender lists, review and selection recommendations and managing design interfaces, through to installation supervision and commissioning of all the process equipment for the new brewery. Throughout the project First Key provided technical support and liaison activities with regard to integrating brewing equipment with the building construction and utilities and on-site technical assistance during key start-up initiatives.
Building Sustainable Operations for the Future
A US Top 10 craft brewery decided to take a comprehensive look at their operations and supply chain to analyze how they could “raise the bar” on their performance. They considered partnering with one of the big management consulting firms but chose First Key because focusing on breweries has given First Key a proven track record of providing practical, creative and industry-specific solutions. The brewery started acting on First Key’s recommendations early in the project and the engagement paid for itself within months. First Key continued to support the brewery as they started implementing the recommendations.
Facility Master Plans for Top 10 Brewer
First Key developed 10-year Facility Master Plans with a focus on enhancing the client’s brewing, packaging, utilities, manufacturing systems and warehouse capabilities to best-in-class through an incremental capital investment program. We reviewed existing facilities and the client’s 10-year volume and sales forecasts, as well as current operational procedures and unit operations to identify current and potential bottlenecks. The final report included commentary on current operations vs. best-in-class, requirements to achieve best-in-class over a 10-year period, site layouts for each stage of modernization / expansion, and cost estimates for recommended actions.
Build and Lead an Alcohol Academy Training Program for a Multinational Beverage Corporation
A multinational beverage corporation, in business for over 120 years, asked First Key to design and lead a 12-session alcohol training programme focused on the global alcohol beverage industry and landscape. A team of First Key subject matter experts worked together to build the program from scratch, which was ultimately tailored for 50+ senior managers located across seven countries. The project required complex project coordination to ensure clear communication between client and First Key team members operating in numerous countries. While initially the project was designed for in-person training, it was changed delivered remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions; therefore, creatively designing a course structure and timeframe that ensured maximum engagement was an important factor in achieving project success.
Operations Assessment and Improvement Plan
First Key successfully produced a detailed operations assessment and improvement plan for a 1 million hL/yr brewery. The assignment included an assessment of the physical plant, manufacturing cost structure, organization structure, financial analysis and projections, operations benchmarking, and identification of opportunities for improvement. The technical review covered the brewing process, packaging operations, materials handling, and utilities. We delivered a comprehensive and detailed report identifying over 60 recommendations for improvement ranked by their impact on quality, cost, and capacity with a priority recommendation for each.
Process Design for New Beer Transfer Routes
A leading national brewing company operating 5 plants across the country required process design/engineering for the integration of specific processes needed for the production of new beer brands. The project involved integrating new beer transfer routes into existing automated processes while removing bottlenecks from existing beer/brand transfer systems. First Key worked with brewery operations personnel and controls specialists to facilitate the new production processes without hindering the existing production schedules.
Network Optimization Tool
First Key developed a network flow model with over 1500 variables and delivered a comprehensive “modeling tool” for optimizing beer production volumes and product mix with optimal alignment of beer supply between breweries and company owned restaurants. The optimization tool determined the lowest delivered cost to each location and the total cost of ownership of beer produced at each brewery.
Production Facility Revamp to Produce RTDs for Top 50 US Craft Brewer
First Key was tasked with supporting a brewery to quickly determine needed infrastructure, equipment upgrades, and necessary process changes, to meet a goal of achieving large-scale RTD production – which subsequently would fulfill their objective of supplying a large national grocery store chain with the product - within an extremely fast timeframe. The First Key team of engineers and technical consultants provided a utilities analysis, gap assessment, and layout plan in order to achieve production objectives; project work also included partnering with vendors for needed equipment additions/upgrades and helping to develop production processes to effectively meet the goal of creating and producing RTDs at scale. Ultimately the brewery with First Key were able to complete a successful first production run within the client timeframe.
Brewery Operation Cost Analysis for USA Brewery with Two Locations
First Key was asked to assess and analyze brewery operational costs for a US beer company with two production locations. First Key worked with the client to develop a clear, overall picture of standard costs and actual variable costs by each brand and SKU. The First Key team started by creating a process map that helped the client understand their brewing process and cost inputs. This better informed them of how costs were added from brewhouse to packaging steps. Standard costs were created for each brand that included raw materials, labor, process materials, and utilities. This information was then used to analyze differences between the standard costs and actual variable costs. A similar analysis was completed by SKU to create a standard COGs. Through this cost analysis project and the documentation that First Key provided, the client was able to assess their performance by brand and by SKU. KPIs were established to allow easy review of variances and Gross Margin performance by SKU. With the help of all the newly developed written modeling and analysis tools, the client now has the visibility into their financial planning routines – and subsequently improve their profitability.
New Craft Brewery Business Plan
First Key produced a comprehensive business plan with a market, technical and financial assessments for a new craft brewery. The assessment included arranging tours in craft breweries for stakeholder reference; defining product portfolio, packaging ratios, distribution practices and potential sales volumes; brewery design and layout, equipment requirements, technical requirements, projected production variables and annual production capacities; capital requirements, break-even point, payback period, key performance indicators and industry benchmarks.
Process Engineering for New RTD Capability in Existing Infrastructure
A global top 5 brewer decided to enter the ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage segment in one of its key country markets and needed to install the process technology and production capacity on a fast-track schedule. The selected facility was a 3 million hL/yr brewery that required mixing, blending, storage and cooling systems, as well as a new building and upgrades to utilities to support the new production capability. First Key integrated the bulk alcohol receiving capability and designed and installed the RTD blending and storage system into the existing brewery process infrastructure. First Key used existing tankage and equipment where possible to minimize Capex spend and meet the aggressive product launch and production targets.
Redesign of Distribution Network
The main objectives of the project were to produce a 7-year investment plan for optimizing the distribution network as well to improve service levels and reduce costs for a Latin American client. First Key delivered a process design to quickly identify root causes of material and information flow problems; highlight major constraints on and opportunities for process improvements and provide an objective basis for optimizing system performance and costs.
By benchmarking the client’s product and services purchasing against best-in-class and identifying cost gaps, First Key was able to come up with a new purchasing strategy and action plan that Identified potential savings for the client in excess of $1.5 million from annual direct material spend and $2.7 million from annual indirect spend.
New Bottling Line
With a highly time sensitive client requirement, First Key was engaged to engineer, execute, project management, install and commission a fully functional bottle line capable of producing 6, 12, and 24 packages for two bottle types. We successfully delivered the line on a fast-track schedule along with a workforce trained and certified in the operation, changeover and maintenance of the system and complete documentation for operation, changeover and maintenance.
Operations Technical Review & Capacity Planning for Growth of Farmhouse Brewery
First Key was engaged to an assignment with a Belgian-Inspired Farmhouse Brewery with the goal to enhance the productivity and efficiency of its brewing operations. Work began with a current-state analysis on-site to better understand existing process management, capacity bottlenecks, and production planning/scheduling methods. Through on-site assessments and analysis, First Key was able to produce a comprehensive technical report, as well as an action plan to achieve increased demand considering both capital and non-capital solutions over the short, medium, and long-term. Developing a capacity model to quantify the overall impact of each solution on brewery throughput, was an important component in this work. Due to this model - as well as the other action plans and budgetary estimates - the client was able to clearly gain a full picture of their operations and a plan forward for growth.
Foam Quality and Consistency Improvement Project
First Key was engaged by a 4-year old craft brewery experiencing strong growth, with the goal of helping to improve quality and consistency. Foam quality, as well as other factors such as yeast/fermentation health and flavor quality were a focus of the engagement. Through an on-site visit, First Key worked closely with brewery team members to assess their current state, then conducted an audit to comprehensively review and develop a specific set of recommendations relating to brewery raw materials, processes & procedures, and quality systems, especially as they related to foam generation and stability. The work positively impacted both the brewery team’s knowledge/understanding of foam quality and consistency, as well as provided the brewery team with a number of strong recommendations that would help to improve overall quality. The brewery continues to thrive and won a gold medal at the 2021 Great American Beer Festival.
Craft Brewery Expansion Project
A fast-growing craft brewery that was acquired by a major brewing company required technical and engineering services to plan and execute an expansion. First Key assisted the client in devising the plan for expanding capacity at the craft brewery and provided AutoCAD drawings for future tank additions. The project involved the study of the operational capacity of an existing cooling system to meet the brewery’s expansion needs, as well which technologies/equipment that could be employed to increase process yields in the short term, maximizing volume throughput in the current operations. First Key calculated all process loads to verify utility capacities, advised on brewhouse modifications to increase number of brews per day, and delivered an expansion plan consisting of capacity calculations, drawings, and costs estimates.
First Key was instrumental in the relocation of a 1 million hL/yr facility from the United Kingdom to China. We were appointed as the agent to sell the brewery and then engaged as project and construction managers for de-commissioning, crating, and shipping the plant for re-installation in China. First Key delivered the project on budget and on time to the seller’s complete satisfaction.
First Key conducted phase 1 environmental audits at 3 breweries that ranged in capacity from 0.75 to 1.5 million hL/yr. Work consisted of visiting each brewery, discussions with local engineering staff coupled with a visual inspection of the facility and surrounding property and a review of all existing environmental permits, agreements and waste disposal agreements against local, district and federal regulations. The audit and ensuing report on each of the three facilities met or exceeded the ASTM Guidelines for conducting a phase 1 environmental site assessment audit.
Operational Assessment of Packaging Line Efficiency for a Top 20 US Craft Brewer
An established leader in the US craft brewing industry for over 35 years - that sells beer across most of the country -requested the expertise of First Key to assess and offer improvement recommendations for their dual bottle and can packaging line, with the goal of increasing operational efficiency. Through pre-visit information gathering and regular on-site visits with the packaging operations team, First Key recommended short-term process fixes and technical adjustments for the existing outdated packer. This resulted in a 10% increase in packaging line efficiency. First Key also presented a set of longer-term recommendations that would increase efficiency by another 25% via investment in a new packer. First Key then continued to provide ongoing support to the brewery via quarterly on site reviews to help progress the long-term action plan.
Quality Improvement Program for Association of 30 Breweries
First Key developed a quality improvement program that included sensory evaluation (taste panel), lab analysis and an on-site process / operational review. A scorecard of taste / lab / process results vs. best practice was produced with recommendations developed jointly by each brewery and First Key. After initial implementation, there was a second sensory evaluation and lab analysis to benchmark the improvements against the first scorecard results.
Warehouse Operations Study
First Key was engaged by a global top 5 brewing company to review the finished goods and packaging warehouses at one of its largest breweries. The engagement included identifying changes to the operations in order to align with the company’s strategic 10-year goals, identify potential risks and mitigation strategies, as well as estimate the costs and benefits of the proposed changes, and evaluate the options and recommend changes. Based on the study, First Key, along with the brewery team, developed an implementation plan.
Technical Feasibility For Production of New Beverages
A national brewery looking to diversify their beverage offerings engaged First Key to analyze the capital requirements to produce new beverages within their existing brewery. The project included a visual inspection of the current operation, an engineering feasibility study, preliminary layouts showing major equipment and a summary of key risks and attention areas for the successful integration of the new processes.
Malt Strategy for Major Brewing Company
First Key developed a malt strategy for a regional brewer with operations in 9 countries. The project involved the review of alternative procurement strategy models, recommendations and the preparation for discussions with suppliers. Included was a review of the existing operations, preparation of audit documents and templates, site inspection and technical reports on existing facilities. The overall work-flow included group working sessions, draft reports, presentation and discussion of draft reports, and final report with recommendations and implementation assistance.
Brewhouse Capacity Increase
A 3 million hL/yr brewery required increased capacity for a portion of its brewhouse (hot wort transfer/throughput increase) in order to maximize the overall capacity of their brewhouse. First Key worked with suppliers and made recommendations for equipment modifications and equipment additions to facilitate the throughput increase. First Key provided process design/engineering encompassing hydraulic calculations and the review of performance specifications for all water and wort pumps, aeration system, wort cooler and yeast injection systems downstream of the whirlpool vessel. The brewery achieved approximately 50% throughput increase for some brands, while maintaining quality specifications across processes and staying within budget.
Assessment of European Brewery Investment
First Key provided an independent assessment of the brewery’s business and operations from the perspective of a strategic buyer. We were given one month to complete a wide range of deliverables including a plant inspection, capacity assessment, capital expenditure plan, management and IT assessment, divisional valuation. We were also asked to draw up a business plan and financial forecast assessment, an analysis of branding issues and an overall SWOT assessment.
Independent Valuation Opinion
On behalf of a minority shareholder, First Key provided an objective assessment of the fair market value of their interest in the brewery for comparison to the Company’s offer price. The assignment was structured into two phases. The first phase included a critique of the Company’s valuation analysis to determine whether any deficiencies or limitations might have resulted in a material undervaluation of the shares. The second phase included a comprehensive valuation analysis and formal opinion prepared with the knowledge that our report may have to be defended in a court of law if legal proceedings were to commence. Because of our involvement, the client received share redemption proceeds in excess of 50% more than the original offer price.
Marketing Review & Brand Strategy Assessment for Regional Brewery
A regional brewery having received multiple medals in national competitions for their beers focused on light lagers, engaged First Key to help them to identify opportunities to grow sales through reviewing brand strategy, presentation, promotion, and general marketing efforts. First Key consultants visited both the client as well as competing breweries to help with developing a comprehensive market assessment and analysis. Multiple recommendations were made including broadening the targeted competitive set, making a moderate but real shift in brand positioning to reflect more adventurous themes, ensuring the taproom experience was more brand-immersive, and incorporating more intangible imagery reflecting the brewery’s brand values and personality into their online presence. The report identified actionable opportunities to strengthen their branding and marketing for future success.
Brewing Operations Training for US Craft Brewery
A craft brewery based in the USA that prides itself on being family-owned while also using local ingredients and resources, asked First Key for brewery operations training and coaching support; this included assistance in areas such as improving their standard operations procedures, production scheduling, quality control/quality assurance, ingredient and capacity utilization. The 5-day site visit – during which First Key technical experts worked closely with the client’s brewing operations team - was a valuable opportunity to train and assess all processes as well as define areas of opportunity. As a result of First Key’s recommendations, the client was able to double the capacity of their existing brewing facility.
Independent Advisor to Governmental Organization on Craft Alcohol Production Practices
A government authority engaged First Key to play the role of a third-party auditor; the work comprised of reviewing and updating an application package, a Commercial Permittee Manual and Terms, Quality Assurance Guide, and Liquor Inspector job description. The First Key team assigned to this project were also expected to provide guidance on the unique alcohol production facility health and public safety risks, and to share best practices relevant to other liquor inspection checklists used across other jurisdictions. The objective of this work was met, which was to provide assurance and advice to the government authority on the management and governance of craft alcohol production.
Feasibility Study for a Brewpub
The study involved commercial, technical and business plan components. The commercial review covered market opportunities to determine scale of operation. In the technical assessment we developed the design for the brewery operation including facility requirements for offices and quality control labs. We provided a room list with requirements for steam service, floor drains, special ventilation, special floor and wall finishes as well as staffing requirements and an implementation strategy. All the information was pulled together in a pro forma business plan indicating initial capital outlay, life cycle investment, operating costs and return on investment projected over a five year period.
Recruiting Assignment for CEO Position
First Key was selected for a recruiting assignment by a fast-growing top craft brewery needing to fill a CEO position. Through the First Key network and sister company, Brewingwork.com which has a database of over 30k candidates, First Key was able to find the right person for the role.
Highly Innovative New Product Development
First Key was instrumental in the development of a highly innovative new beer style. When the client’s test batches were not performing as anticipated, we re-evaluated the client’s recipes and identified workarounds, while still maintaining the original vision for the new product. Test batches for the updated recipe were a success, procedures and ingredients were defined, and the client has since decided to move forward with the new recipe.
Hard Seltzer Product Development
A start-up company engaged First Key to develop a unique hard seltzer product for the UK market. First Key’s work included developing the base liquid recipe, conducting trial brews and providing guidance in arranging contract brewing in the UK. Unique challenges involved adjusting recipe parameters based on differences in water profiles between site of trial work and the initial commercial brews. First Key provided the chemical and sensory analyses of the hard seltzer base liquid and the equipment requirements and support for the process and technology scale up, including the step-by-step procedure on how to make the hard seltzer recipe.
Development of Relocation Plan for an Established Brewery
A craft brewery in an iconic neighborhood – which is also home to two other brewpubs – engaged First Key to support in identifying the detailed requirements of relocation from a location that had been leased and in operation for over 30 years. One important task for the First Key engineering team was to identify all the unique challenges with removing and relocating brewing equipment/assets; the project deliverable also included a Scope of Work report that formally defined contractor requirements and expectations – which subsequently was used by the client for project bidding. Once the Scope of Work was completed, First Key continued to support the client in completing the relocation and redesign of the new brewery space incorporating new equipment, all requisite utilities, and by working closely with base building engineers.
Award-Winning Product Development
First Key worked with a new start-up brewery to develop the initial comprehensive profiles for their target beer styles. Our First Key brewmaster then created the beer recipes, complete with the raw materials and process parameters, incorporating the key characteristics desired for each product. Pilot brews were completed to prepare representative samples of each beer style for the client to review. As well, expert tasting and laboratory analyses reports were provided as an independent evaluation. The recipes were a success, ingredients and procedures were defined, and the brewery ultimately won a medal for one of the resulting beers.
Investment Study for a Malt Plant in Asia
First Key evaluated a proposed investment strategy for a malt plant in Asia. The study included analysis of the country’s beer market & the malt supply/demand balance; general considerations on investment in the country; and usual terms for contractual relationships and mode of relationships. First Key reviewed the business case and made comments on opportunities and risks identified and provided recommendations in view of mitigating these risks.
Based on brewery need, First Key selected all equipment required for a start-up brewery, including all production, packaging, supporting and utility equipment. We prepared the technical and performance specifications, managed the bidding process, selected vendors, and negotiated, reviewed and finalized all purchase agreements. For the major brewery equipment (brewhouse, fermenters, bright beer and packaging), a lead vendor was selected by analyzing each competitive bid. First Key then worked along with the client to highlight and focus on the strengths of the lead vendor’s technical offer, in an effort to further tailor their solution to match the client’s specific needs. Through this value engineering exercise, and additional commercial negotiation, our client realized a savings of 33% versus the selected vendor’s original quote.
Cannabis Beverage Capacity Plan
A fast-growing beverage company looking to develop, sell and distribute a portfolio of best-in-class cannabis beverage products hired First Key to develop the capacity growth strategy to meet the company’s short and long-term growth sales forecast. The project required analysis of changes in operational capacity under different scenarios and product mixes, and the development of layout, first-order equipment, construction, and engineering cost estimates as well as the timeline estimates and sequencing strategy for the different capital projects required to achieve the different growth milestones as prescribed in the capacity plan. First Key developed a working spreadsheet model for testing different product % mixes and different operational scenarios to analyze their impact on the productivity and overall capacity of the operation.
Talent Search for a Senior Supply Chain Leader at a Top 50 Craft Brewer
A top 50 US craft brewery engaged First Key to help them find a talented senior Supply Chain leader to join their team. They were in the midst of redesigning certain operational job responsibilities that would consequently reshape their organizational chart; therefore, this confidential search required a candidate who could both proactively lead and be the driver of new positive changes within the organization. One challenge was when the search was temporarily halted for a two-month period - First Key worked with the client and the preferred candidates to maintain communication between the parties until the process could continue. Ultimately, First Key presented multiple talented candidates with strong skillsets to the client, and a Senior Supply Chain executive was successfully hired.
Technical Due Diligence for a Major Craft Brewery Acquisition
First Key performed a high-level technical due diligence assessment on a top-50 craft brewer on behalf of a global private equity firm. The due diligence project involved an on-site assessment, interviews and questionnaires with key brewery personnel that validated current brewery capacity, identified bottlenecks, evaluated the equipment and facility, assessed the company’s quality management system and estimated market value of the existing equipment. The project also developed recommendations and guidelines for future capacity expansion. The resulting report provided the private equity firm with reasonable evidence to proceed with a go or no-go decision on the acquisition.
The assignment included layout plans for 6 million hL/yr and conceptual study, master plan, preliminary and detailed process design and contract development for the initial 2 million hL/yr greenfield installation. First Key delivered design for automated process areas including combi-cellar, yeast room, bright beer cellar, CIP and filter room areas as well as commissioning assistance for start-up and the preparation of operating descriptions and instrumentation design.
Distribution Modeling Study
First Key undertook a distribution modeling study to evaluate shifting production of beer products from an existing network of breweries to another network of breweries in different locations. A distribution model was developed that assigned beer production to each source location; as well as the shipment volume to each customer from the assigned source location. This provided the relative difference in freight costs (based on rate and distance from the source to the customer assignment) between the present shipping/sourcing pattern and the future state pattern. By modeling different scenarios, an optimal sourcing model for the future state breweries was provided.
Integrated Hops, Barley and Grain Processing Facility
To address New York State’s Farm Brewery requirement of 90% in-state ingredients by 2023, the client engaged First Key to complete a feasibility study which was funded in part by New York’s Chautauqua County, Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency and local foundations. The study demonstrated the viability of an integrated hops, barley and grain processing facility using Chautauqua County as a central hub of operations.
Operational Leadership for Cannabis Beverage Company
After providing the overall capacity plan for a manufacturing facility for a global beverage company looking to develop, sell and distribute a portfolio of best-in-class cannabis beverage products, First Key was asked to lead the operations on an interim basis. This included overcoming various issues in supply-chain, production and materials planning, improving equipment reliability (moving from break/fix to prevention), working with all stakeholders to overcome operational obstacles, effectively executing several initiatives (product launches, equipment installations/commissioning), mentoring staff, daily problem solving, improving process efficiencies and product consistency. First Key advised on the day-to-day operational organization structure, addressed issues and transition through changes in operational procedures, and successfully produced their products efficiently and reliably.
Strategic Malt Study for Major Malt Supplier
A comprehensive strategic analysis of the malt supply chain in three major global regions was conducted for a major malt supplier. The analysis included consumption trends, malt trade flows, players and malt capacities, planned expansions, and expected malt supply / demand balance in key end markets. The study included a detailed evaluation of investment considerations including operating and construction costs, production challenges and trade trends, as well as an analysis of the procurement practices of major brewing groups.
First Key provided a comprehensive written report that involved the inspection of current systems and operational and maintenance procedures. The audit included recommendations for energy efficiencies and operational improvements, updated maintenance procedures, cost estimates and estimated payback for improvements along with operator training.
Automated CIP System at Global Spirits Company
A global spirits company required the design and integration of an automated CIP system for vessel and line cleaning throughout the fermentation cellar. First Key developed the total system design by selecting and procuring all valves, heat exchangers, pumps, and non-instrumentation equipment. First Key also developed scopes of work for the welding, fabrication, and automation specialists, and ensured operational readiness with on-site supervision and troubleshooting during system commissioning. First Key trained plant operators on the new technologies and implemented the methods to safely service the equipment. A complete parts list and set of P&IDs for the new system incorporating existing plant tagging nomenclature was provided, and the system performed as expected by reducing total bacterial load and improving overall plant productivity.
Business Plan and Feasibility Study
A successful brewpub operator planning to build a new craft brewery and expand into the retail packaged beer market called on First Key to draw up an expansion strategy and feasibility study to be presented to potential investors. This included development of a preliminary plant layout, capital cost estimates, volume, pricing and costing estimates. The project required significant research and analysis of industry trends and competition as well as consultation with multiple internal and external parties including the local government authorities, trade associations and industry participants.
Market Entry Strategy Study
We helped develop a market entry strategy study for a client looking to enter the beer market in an overseas country. First Key conducted a detailed analysis of the country’s policies, regulations, and standards for imported beer, and examined the beer market seasonality, segments, and historical sales information by region. A detailed analysis of the distribution system, and access to the distribution system was included. We delivered a comprehensive report including a recommended strategy identifying a focused step-by-step plan of action.
Guidebook Development Project for a National Craft Brewers Association
First Key was engaged by a national brewers association to support their membership on the implementation of new labeling requirements from a national food inspection agency. First Key was asked to provide their technical expertise in developing a guide to help explain the new requirements for craft brewers; this included understanding beer’s new definition and compositional standard, allergen statements, the components of a beer label, as well as other technical and compliance requirements. The guide was published and made available to 1,000+ craft breweries and brewpubs throughout the association.
Audit of Malting Facilities and Operations
The objective of the audit was to assess four plants on two levels, to maintain them in a functional state to achieve a best practice standard for malt production. First Key reported on each plant covering all parts of the process and key equipment including the capital budgets required to maintain the plants at current levels and the options for development of the sites.
Lauter Tun Upgrade
A regional brewer with approximately 500,000 hL/yr production capacity required capital project support for a lauter tun upgrade with minimal downtime. First Key conducted site visits and meetings with a major equipment supplier and provided technical integration coordination with all consultants and contractors. First Key prepared a step-by-step / day-by-day schedule with inputs from all consultants and contractors to ensure an achievable and accepted timeline was communicated to brewery management. The global pandemic created unique travel and on-site challenges, which were accepted and dealt with without major impact.
Craft Brewery Technical/Operations Assessment
First Key conducted a 4-day on-site review of the craft brewery and provided the business owners with a detailed report and “road map” for improving process management, quality, and operating systems and procedures. Comment was provided on condition of process equipment, the immediate improvement requirements; short term and long term requirements for expansion; and quality control improvements. We developed an outline of general quality control, upgrade and expansion steps in order to modernize and/or increase the plant capacity and improve quality control — with the objective to enhance productivity and efficiency at each step.
Expansion Planning for Brewing Company with Four Locations
A team of First Key consultants conducted a site visit and meetings with brewery ownership, management, and operations team members to understand the brewery’s current state, as well as any constraints and unique challenges to develop an expansion plan. The objective for the plan was to successfully meet the future brewery volume demands within the board’s defined budget. First Key created drawings of the existing site/equipment, analyzed the options for increasing capacity, developed future plan-view layouts that encompassed all identified recommendations, and developed a customized capacity model that would ultimately triple brewery output.
First Key performed a visual inspection of the ammonia refrigeration system, reviewed drawings and commented on code and safety issues, condition of refrigeration equipment, and immediate requirements, short term and long term requirements. We completed an energy audit of the refrigeration system and provided recommendations for energy efficiency improvements including energy savings and payback analysis of improvements. We also provided a review of operational procedures, operator training and organization with recommendations on operations improvements and worked with staff to review and update maintenance procedures.
New Craft Brewery
We consulted on all elements leading towards the launch of a new brewery. On the commercial side, First Key led the development of the brand strategy; corporate identity, public relations and on-site strategies; developed a comprehensive sales strategy; and created a multi-platform digital media strategy. On the technical side we developed the site plan; production, packaging, supporting and utility equipment selection, procurement, installation and commissioning; development of product portfolio and analysis of beers; and, development of operations management systems.
Refrigeration Audit For a Top 10 Craft Brewer
First Key was engaged by a Top 10 craft brewery to perform a refrigeration capacity audit. A tour of the existing facilities was conducted to review existing infrastructure and potential areas for expansion. First Key worked with equipment vendors to validate capacities of individual components and provided calculations to show existing refrigeration capability, existing load requirements, future load requirements. We identified gaps between refrigeration capabilities and process requirements, and provided recommendations/options for future refrigeration system expansions, complete with budget cost estimates.
Standard Operating Procedures for Regional Craft Brewery
A fast-growing regional craft brewery engaged First Key to develop their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which involved performing a gap analysis against a list of critical SOPs provided by First Key, writing new SOPs, and aligning the brewery with best practice. First Key trained the team on the new procedures using a “train the trainer” approach and continues with follow-on technical audits and support. First Key also provided an “Opportunities for Improvement” summary document highlighting areas where changes in the equipment/processes can lead to improved process efficiencies, increased capacity, less product loss, greater product quality and consistency, and a safer work environment.
Opportunity Assessment Project for Craft Brewery
First Key successfully delivered an Opportunity Assessment project for a craft brewery. The project identified opportunities to enhance sales and revenues, while controlling costs in four areas of review: brewery technical, organization, distribution and marketing & sales. Site visits were conducted along with the client team members to identify the main issues impacting revenues and costs to understand the root causes impacting profitability. A comprehensive report was issued with recommendations highlighting key observations and opportunities to improve profitability.
Recruiting a VP of Manufacturing for a Regional Brewing Company
First Key worked for a regional brewing company with three locations to find the right person for their VP of Manufacturing position. The company required the right level of experience and expertise and was particularly interested in finding the correct cultural fit for their organization. After presenting several high-performing candidates and a successful interview process, the company hired a candidate and has been most pleased with the results.
Market Evaluation for Malting Expansion
First Key was engaged to deliver a market evaluation for a European malting company that was considering expansion. The goal was to develop an understanding of domestic and international market characteristics, scale and opportunities, and deliver a comprehensive Market Evaluation for the capacity increase. First Key looked at the production estimates in relevant regions, malt usage by brewers and distillers and demand analysis in various regions. The report detailed the competitive environment, the changes in malting capacity and malting barley supply.
Hard Seltzer Development and Commercial Scale-Up for South Asia Brewery
A brewing and beverage company based in South Asia for over 20 years, asked for guidance in the development, scale-up and start-up of commercial production for multiple hard seltzer varieties. The project work by First Key included developing their hard seltzer base, as well as providing feedback and troubleshooting their subsequent flavoring / product development trials. A key part of this project work involved researching and understanding the client’s limitations as to local ingredient availability and government regulations. The next phase then included developing a cost model for the product, including cost of goods, capital expenditure, and other fixed costs. This consultative work helped the clients to successfully bring their hard seltzer products to market within a relatively short timeline while working within limitations/constraints faced by the clients in their market.
Engineering Conceptual Design for Integrating New Beverage Processes into Existing Operation
First Key completed the conceptual engineering design for adding a new beverage process into the operations of a national brewery. The project included process equipment layouts, preliminary P&IDs, general piping layouts, cost estimates, building modification inputs and timelines for implementation.
First Key has a solid track record for providing independent assessments and opinions for asset valuations, acquisition targets, capital budgets, marketing strategy, company performance and other industry related issues. Clients have included major brewing companies, investment partners, financial institutions, development funds and entrepreneurial groups.
Commercial and Technical Services For New Brewery
From the drawing board to final completion. We began with a detailed business plan, and built a brand and sales strategy for the brewery. This included defining the brand, package design, development of marketing and advertising campaigns, brand execution strategy, creating sales management systems and targeted customer lists, staff sales training, and developing customer relationship management (CRM) systems. At the same time, we organized the technical aspects of the brewery itself, including site building and engineering, equipment selection and procurement, product development and analysis, and complete installation and commissioning of all related equipment.
CIP System Upgrade
A large national brewer required process engineering support for CIP system upgrades in one of its major plants operating with 4 million hL/yr capacity. The original piping system was not set up to easily facilitate alternate CIP processes. First Key provided process design/engineering for integration of new valves, pumps and instrumentation into existing brewery piping infrastructure to optimize CIP processes in an effort to reduce weekly downtime, thereby increasing uptime/capacity. The project implantation resulted in a CIP/piping system with the lowest practical weekly downtime requirement.
Brewery Investment Study
The assignment required an assessment of the current performance and future prospects for the Russian beer market and its major competitors; a capex/capacity review/audit of 2 existing plants and one plant acquisition target for the brewery in question; and an assessment of their market growth plans/strategies including the brand portfolio, pricing, sales, and management. We provided a team of 2 specialists in marketing strategy and facilities/brewing for the assignment and delivered a fully integrated report evaluating the investment opportunity and identifying key issues.
Business Plan for Launching a New Contract Craft Brand
The project comprised of an assessment of the opportunity with pricing and cost models, capital requirements, product and packaging specifications, potential co-packers, forecasts and margins. Included was the development of a distribution model and negotiate and draft a production co-pack agreement that identified the responsibilities of both parties (including but not limited to production volumes , order process and lead time, quality, shrinkage tolerances, price, payment terms, etc.)
Brand Acquisition and/or Licensing Strategy Study
The assignment included an assessment of the acquisition environment with strategic marketing and operational consideration for the fit with our client’s business in order to increase volume for a client operating significantly below capacity. First Key held confidential discussions with brand owners, and delivered a “short-list” of available brands to consider identifying their strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.
Refrigeration Audit and Recommendations Study
A Latin American client with 4 breweries ranging in sizes from 3.5 million to 6 million hL/yr called upon First Key to conduct a refrigeration audit and to come up with recommendations. The client required a visual inspection of each plant, comments on safety issues, equipment condition, operation, maintenance and staff training and, recommendations for improvements with associated costs and investment returns. First Key delivered a comprehensive report detailing the mechanical integrity of existing equipment, identification of technological improvements (energy saving options), and operational review of organization and training issues.
Market Analysis for New Craft Brewery
The study included pre-analysis of the national and state beer markets, including size, dynamics, trends, channels, package mix, per capita consumption, pricing, distribution, seasonality, demographics, employment and ethnicity. During the study, First Key visited numerous retail and on-premise accounts, conducted distributor interviews and gathered extensive data related to the competitive set, consumer pricing and unique local market dynamics. We then used this information to develop a comprehensive business plan recommending strategies related to product, branding, channel, promotion, distribution, packaging and pricing. In addition, detailed volume projections and marketing and sales budgets were developed.
Commercial Development Strategy for New Craft Brewery
Building on market research, First Key conducted strategic planning sessions with the client to develop nearly every aspect of the commercial plan for a new craft brewery. Areas of focus included brand development, corporate identity and alignment, creative development, execution strategy, public relations, the on-site customer experience, sales management, sales territory and retail account development, digital media strategy, human resources (including creation of the HR manual), staff training and the launch plan. We also assisted in the development and execution of these elements over a period of two years.
Beer Technical Review and Assessment for a US-based Craft Brewery
A craft brewery that operates both a taproom as well as distributes their beer to their local market, requested the expertise of First Key to complete a comprehensive review and evaluation of their beers, including their processes, beer styles/recipes, staffing, and equipment operation, as well as a sensory review in order to assess quality and flavor stability. Through on-site visits, the First Key technical team partnered with the brewery team to review these areas. Several areas for improvement and recommendations were made that helped improve the clients’ procedures and general practices regarding general and vessel sanitation, yeast pitching, recipes, and quality control testing.
Quality Management System (QMS)
A Quality Management System review was produced for a large multi-plant brewing company in Eastern Europe. The two-stage assignment initially required a prerequisite review of existing brand liquids acceptance in the marketplace, coupled with process / recipe alterations (liquid portfolio management). The second stage focused on the development of a comprehensive QMS for managing and controlling product quality. The QMS included detailed technical manuals containing specifications, recipes, analytical methods, reporting systems, benchmark performance measures, and an audit program.
Director of Brewery Operations Recruiting Assignment
A start-up brewery was looking to fill a key role and turned to First Key for their hiring needs. The process started with identifying the requirements for the position and then moved to the search. Through an effective outreach into the First Key network, a candidate was selected and successfully placed for the role. All timelines and expectations were met for the client.
A number of First Key consultants have served as expert witnesses on a variety of industry related cases in North America, Europe and Asia.
Investment Evaluation Study
The assignment required an assessment of the political and economic environment and distribution channels in the country for a 10 million hL/yr brewing company. It also entailed a complete marketing, technical, operations and financial due diligence on the acquisition company. First Key delivered a “complete picture” report on the investment opportunity including recommendations for streamlining promotional spending and re-focusing the brand portfolio, financial proformas, required technical up-grades, and overall joint-venture observations.
First Key was tasked with the job to improve productivity and cost efficiencies for a 1.2 million hL/yr operation involving a complex mix of bottle, can, PET and keg sizes for beer, soft drinks and malt. This involved an evaluation of current line layouts, capacities, operations, and material handling. We delivered detailed recommendations for high efficiency layouts, increased line utilizations, changeovers, maintenance, palletizing, maximizing production time and manpower reduction – leading to improved efficiencies and a significant reduction in the overall cost of operation.
Capital Project Upgrade for Distillery
A global spirits company needed to replace a cooling tower at one of their distilleries in North America. The project included engineering services to complete a feasibility study for internal funding approval. First Key validated existing drawings and verified the current cooling tower water users, basic flow diagrams and determined the existing overall cooling load. Cooling load for future facility needs was also considered. Upon implementation, the new cooling tower location was moved across the facility to a location above a new structure. Cooling water return to the central tank by gravity was no longer an option, so First Key worked with other project stakeholders to develop and manage installation of a system for balancing the system using pumps and controls.
The project included recommending equipment suppliers, acquire supporting equipment and supplies, acquire brewing materials, organize lab and lab equipment, formulate beer recipes, brewing trials and beer development with beer samples, startup and commissioning of brewery equipment in conjunction with equipment suppliers and local trades, hire and train staff brewer, educate and train staff about beers, prepare quality control standards and procedures (manual), and the development of a brewery maintenance management system.
Independent Project Assessment for Major Investment Bank
The assignment was to provide a critical assessment of the company’s proposed investment plan, its effectiveness and compatibility with existing operations/infrastructure, and the company’s ability to implement its development plan in a cost-effective and timely manner. By critically assessing the technical risks and opportunities presented by the proposed investment; gave recommendations to mitigate risks and successfully implement the investment plan; confirmed the capital expansion project was well planned with realistic cost and time budgets; and assessed the ability of the existing management to carry out the investment plan in the expected time frame and costs while managing risks.
Strategic Advisor to University Brewing Program
A major university in the USA asked First Key to be their strategic advisors to develop a brewing business certificate program and put it into action. First Key worked with the university to chart a vision for the program and then advised on curriculum development, preparing course content, recruiting instructors/guest speakers, and delivering courses. Since the inception of the program five years ago, First Key has remained involved – mentoring, planning, instructing, and updating course content to match quickly evolving business and operations challenges in the craft brewing industry. Today the program is recognized as one of the industry’s best, where students gain essential details of business and operations to start and run a successful brewery.
Industry Advisor to Governments
First Key consults to various government authorities with respect to antitrust/competition, regulation and policy, and other industry related matters.