Sea Change Brewing Co.’s founders have definitely experienced profound changes together. As a group of friends participating in Edmonton’s perennially booming independent music scene in the aughts, they probably wouldn’t have predicted a shared entrepreneurial future. But Ian McIntosh made a series of life-changing decisions three years ago and took his friends along for the ride.
“We all had gotten into different lines of work after we stopped being as active in music,” explains Brand Director Peter Nguyen. “Some were in brewing, others in hospitality. I was in branding and marketing.”
“Then, one day, Ian came up with a name for a brewery and built an ownership team. When he reached out to me, he had already leased out a space. My wife was skeptical we could pull it off! But it felt like a no-brainer to jump on board, knowing what we could all bring to the company.”
The founders did, of course, pull it off, quickly making a name for their approachable, unpretentious, and ultimately award-winning beers. In fact, the first major challenge Sea Change Brewing Co. had to tackle was unanticipated growth. The founders’ strong connections to the hospitality industry meant they had a lot of bars and restaurants asking for product right off the bat.
“It’s one of those problems that doesn’t sound like a problem, right? But in the craft brewing world, it really is a serious one, because production equipment is a big investment and the equipment you choose determines your capacity. So, in the two to three years we’ve been running, we’ve had to upgrade our equipment three to four times.”
Then, of course, when COVID-19 hit, chaos erupted in the hospitality sector. It was no different for Sea Change.
“We didn’t package a lot prior to COVID-19 but obviously we had to switch up our whole approach when the bars and restaurants shut down. We started putting our beer in cans and creating corrugated packaging with Great Little Box Company/Ideon Packaging (GLBC).”
When the partners first started packaging and delivering beer, they figured they’d handle fulfillment among themselves. But that fantasy was quickly punctured.
“We were sitting there on that first day, ready to take turns driving. And we got 400 orders. We’d just laid off all our staff, so we had to call them up so we could bring back a core team to handle fulfillment.”
As for the corrugated cardboard packaging, landing on the right solution was also a process. Sea Change originally investigated producing a box to handle 12-packs of tall cans. But, uncertain about the retail climate they were entering, they ultimately choose a more flexible option. A flat beer tray would allow them to package different configurations of products together. And it also opened up a creative challenge for the partners, who never stray far from their artistic roots.
“There was a lot of unused design real estate on the flat beer tray, so we asked ourselves how could we use it to build excitement for the product. We went through lots of terrible ideas before we found the right one: a dartboard printed on the bottom of the tray. At one point, we were talking about a mask people could cut out of the tray,” Peter laughs.
“GLBC gave us a great opportunity to learn more about what’s possible. They gave us the canvas to be more creative and helped us push our brand further.”
These days, Sea Change is looking forward to the creative pursuits they plan to support after the pandemic. In particular, a music festival that they’d hoped to put on in 2020 is still in the works.
“We’re an owner-run company. And as owners, we inject our creative history into everything we do, from the craft brewery to our art-forward campaigns to the cultural events we’re going to sponsor in the future.”
It’s been amazing to watch Sea Change express its identity as an artist-run and artist-friendly company—and even more amazing to be part of that evolution.