How Fourpure disrupted craft beer with a modern approach to IT

Modern IT and data analytics take breweries to the next level (image: iStockPhoto/Olivier Le Moal)

Located in the middle of an industrial park at the end of the self-styled Bermondsey beer mile in south east London, Fourpure has quickly become one of the best-known craft breweries in a city where there is no shortage of competition.

Founded by brothers Dan and Tom Lowe in 2013, CEO Dan started his career in IT, studying computer science and software engineering at the University of Birmingham before setting up his own data networking company.

When that company, Six Degrees Group, was acquired by a private equity firm, Lowe signed a non-compete clause, which left him with a choice: stay put in IT or look for a new challenge in a different industry.

"I wanted to enter a different industry where I saw similarities in terms of opportunity for high growth," he told Computerworld UK. "I wanted to disrupt, to use technology where other people traditionally haven't and bring intelligence and analysis and trending and backend systems to an industry where they weren't commonplace, to bring this startup of mine a competitive advantage out of the box."

The industry he chose, obviously, was brewing, and more specifically the booming craft beer business of the early 2010s. In 2012 there were 1,218 breweries in the UK according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), but thanks to changing tastes for more varied beers, this figure would jump to near 2,000 by 2016.

Back in 2013 Lowe saw an industry ripe for disruption, where many smaller breweries relied on manual processes such as paper brew books and account ledgers to keep track of their business. If you walk around the Fourpure brewery you are more likely to see someone entering details on an iPad than with a pencil behind their ear.

It's safe to say that he got a lot of blow back when he announced his intentions to bring a modern IT approach to brewing in 2013. "People thought I was crazy and said that's not how it is done," he said. "It wasn't even a philosophical argument, they thought it was madness." 

The approach Lowe took was to bring data analytics and modern IT tools to bear on the business, from drawing rich data from equipment monitoring systems, to storing everything in the cloud with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Fourpure then enriches this data set with external data sources, such as market data from Nielsen, and its own CRM data to spot what styles of beer are proving popular and to stay ahead of the curve.

"That gives us the power to see trending and analysis information, and what people are buying to give us that area of focus," he said. "Then as a creative environment we have beers we want to make because we want to drink them."

For example, brewers have access to an analytics tool which shows them if a new beer they want to make is economically viable. This information allows Lowe to flex how much they make over a given week to stay in the black.

"We have some developed metrics on what works in the market and our brewers use the systems we have to create recipes and show them the finished goods price," Lowe explained, "so they have the tools to go back and develop it within the guidelines we have set out."

Lowe said he came to the industry hoping to use some of the systems architecture lessons he had learned in IT, but admits that he wasn't sure if it would work seamlessly. Fortunately for him "much of it fell into place really well and we are now fully BYOD [bring your own device], we have no servers, it is all cloud hosted and web accessible, with no bespoke apps.

"To be able to start with a fresh slate and deliver those things, that were supposed to be more aspirational, means a business our size, of nearly 100 people, has no IT person walking around helping people with laptops and things like that."

This data-centric approach has allowed Fourpure to double in size in 2018 and, after being acquired by Australian food and beverage giant Lion last year, is planning to double in size again in 2019.

Lowe puts a great deal of this success down to his lean technology infrastructure.

"I think it is entirely the foundation for the success we have had," he said. "To be able to make such strides in the years we have been going is probably down to the technology foundations we have and to allow our people to do their jobs without being encumbered by legacy."

Computerworld UK

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