BR Exclusive: Crafting brew profit – How the founders of Bere Zaganu are helping micro-breweries make a comeback

Ovidiu Posirca 04/05/2018 | 08:00

Alexandru Geamanu and Laurentiu Banescu met for a beer six years ago and started thinking about their own company in the brewing industry. And they dreamed big times. They wanted to build from scratch a new craft beer brand and revive the local market which once boasted a large number of specialized producers. Don’t start a business just because it’s cool, say the two entrepreneurs who are currently expanding the operations of their own micro-brewery.

Initially, the two founders embarked on a complex task of find a manufacturing unit –  a crucial component of their business endeavor. They found a former beer plant at the base of the Zaganu peak, in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. The name of the peak also bears the name of their beer brand, which they selected after brainstorming dozens of ideas.

Zaganu was also a bearded vulture that roamed the skies above the Carpathians. This species has gone extinct, reflecting pretty much the downturn of the local craft beer in the past decades which counted more than 100 brands. Now, the image of the bird is engraved on the labels of the new beer.

Production equipment

Their message for people exploring the entrepreneurship path in this market:

“Our advice for them is to be original, and not to go on this path just because its ‘cool’, but because they believe in it. Then, they should have in plan the development of the craft beer market together with other micro-breweries in Romania. We believe this is the only way in which the craft beer movement stands to win.”

With a starting capital of EUR 250,000 secured from various sources, including close friends and a bank, they were able to kick off the production in the autumn of 2013.  But more challenges laid ahead.

The two entrepreneur love beer a lot, but their professional background wasn’t really in the production of craft beer. While Alexandru worked for more than a decade in the advertising industry, Banescu held roles in various multinational firms. With a handful of employees on board, the company was able to reach fast an annual production capacity of 4,000 hectoliters, with plans to more than double it.

The team making the beer

To put this into perspective, the total amount of beer produced stands around 16 million hectoliters, with multinational groups holding a tight grip on production. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for niche producers, and the microbrewers at Zaganu came up with their own recipe for an unique taste.

“This year we are trying to consolidate the beer sales and to continue to invest slightly so as to increase the production and bottling capacities, in order to deliver to all our customers in the hot season. This year started slower, but March and April make us feel more optimistic. We hope to increase our sales this year versus 2017, by increasing the number of customers, by taking part in more events focused on craft beer and by increasing the production capacity organically, step by step,” Laurentiu told BR. The production focuses on lager and stout, but the company also makes ale and red beer.

With a fresh brand on their hands, the founder of Zaganu started to gradually grow their presence at national level, making sure that their beers got fast to the anxious consumers. The beer can be found in bars across the large cities of Romania and the company also started to sell its products through a deal with retailer Mega Image.

Reaching the consumers directly is one of the strategies deployed by the Romanian brand in the competition with the giant brewers.

The bar opened by Bere Zaganu’s founders in Bucharest

In late 2017, the owners of Bere Zaganu opened a bar on the famous Calea Victoriei boulevard in central Bucharest, where they sell their own products but also other kinds of local craft beer brands.

Laurentiu says that there are still a lot of challenges for smaller players in relation to the HoReCa industry.

“Our role is to develop the craft beer market, we have been doing it in for five years since we started Zaganu and we grew close to the limit of the production capacity. Still, the main challenges come from the HoReCa field and from major events where the access of small producers is blocked by the contract of large companies, multinationals,” he said.

Despite the market challenges, the two entrepreneurs are committed to continue making good craft beer, advising potential new players in the sector to help grow the footprint of smaller breweries.


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