The pandemic could have toppled Brewer’s Food, but co-owner Matthew Fiasconaro says failure wasn’t an option.
Part of the company's mission is to reduce food waste by incorporating into its products grain that had been used to brew beer, Fiasconaro said.
But COVID threw up obstacles. At the pandemic’s onset, the company, then called Brewer’s Crackers, relied on supermarket sales and in-store product sampling. In March 2020, in-store sampling stopped, and then some grocers ceased accepting new products.
"In-store sampling allowed us to educate the consumer on food waste and our product. It was essential to our success," says Fiasconaro, of Roslyn Heights, who co-owns the upcycled food company with brother Kyle, who is now in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Sales immediately slipped. They also slowed as people increased their online shopping and a relatively new product like Brewer’s Crackers didn’t pop up on search algorithms. "By April and May, sales were 70% of what they once were. That was our lowest point. We had to find a way to battle back. We couldn’t let the company fail."
Fiasconaro, who is also a business education teacher at Syosset High School, shares the story of how the brothers refused to give up.
How did you change the way you did business?
To keep paying the bills and find new customers we switched to outlets of selling we hadn't tried before. We sought out smaller shops and specialty stores like cheese shops. We began selling our crackers on [wholesale] websites such as Faire.com and MeetMable.com to make sure we had ways to keep moving product. Faire.com was a blessing and we did over $85,000 in business on the website alone since the beginning of the pandemic. Faire.com kept the business afloat.
Any other marketing shifts?
Farmstands were also key to our pivot and survival. We had been involved with them previously, but we increased our pursuit of them. Many people started shopping at farmstands because they were outdoors and safer. Farmstands love our philosophy of fighting food waste and sustainability, so it’s a great fit. Our products are now in many farmstands, from the East End of Long Island all the way to Maine. We started calling on gift basket companies, and in December of 2020 we got our crackers to be included with Gourmet Gift Baskets offerings.
Why did you change the name of the company from Brewer's Crackers to Brewer's Food?
With the slowdown we focused on expanding our concept. We came up with an upcycled pita chip that we launched this April. Without them we would have not stayed in business. We sold just as many pita chips in the last few months as we did at the height of our cracker business! Sales exceeded expectations. It helped that we had existing relationships with places like Whole Foods. They picked up the pita chips instantly.
What's behind your new single-serving sizes?
Three months ago, in addition to the 7-ounce size pita chips, we started offering 1.5-ounce, snack-size pita chips. This is convenient for wineries, breweries — it’s opened more doors. When we have both products running at full capacity, we will be in a much better position than when the pandemic started. We changed the name of our business this spring to reflect that we are more than crackers.
What kept you going during challenging times?
Kyle and I aren’t quitters. We were both Division I athletes, he was lacrosse and I was a cross country runner. We believe in our mission. We’re not just a cracker or chip company, we’re driven to reduce food waste in the craft brewing industry. Breweries in the U.S. produce over 1 billion tons of edible food waste each year that ends up in crowded landfills.