Alex Boyles joins Hofmeister with a clear target. To help build its premium distribution in the right venues across the on-trade. He explains to Richard Siddle why he can’t wait to “roll up his sleeves” and help the brand achieve its huge potential.

“What’s not to love? Hofmeister is an internationally award-winning beer. The branding is eye-catching, bold and premium; it just oozes quality, and you have got a seven-foot grizzly bear as your mascot.”

That pretty much sums up why Alex Boyles is so pleased to have joined Hofmeister to head up its on-trade sales and distribution across the south of England.

Boyles knows a premium product when he sees one having enjoyed a wide career working across FMCG and the craft beer market with national account roles at Mars, Lindt. More recently he was at Camden Town Brewery, where he was finally able to follow his real passion to work in the beer market.

When the Hofmeister opportunity came up he jumped at the chance. Not only was he keen to work with an up and coming premium beer brand, but also the idea of working for a business with more a start-up, 'all in it together' mentality was what really appealed to him.

That’s what he was really able to enjoy during his five years at Camden Town Brewery, before it was bought by Budweiser Brewing Group and his job slipped more into a corporate role.

“I absolutely loved my time at Camden. I had always wanted to get into the beer market and the on-trade,” he says. “I am so grateful to Camden that it gave me the opportunity to do that. All the time I was there it did not feel like going to work. It was a very cause-led organisation. We were all working harmoniously together to the same vision. When you are growing a brand that is so exciting, I felt very privileged to be part of that.”

Start-up mentality

He is now in a similar situation at Hofmeister, but whereas Camden already had over 70 people working for it when he first joined in 2017, he is one of 14 at Hofmeister.

“That is one of the reasons why I was so keen on the opportunity to join Hof. I absolutely love working for smaller companies. I love the whole experience of being prepared to roll your sleeves up. Of not being precious about the jobs you are asked to do. Where you are willing to turn your hand to anything if it is needed. If a customer needs a keg delivering, you will happily get in the car and take it to them. Regardless of what your job title is.”

He says that entrepreneur, start-up mentality shines through the Hofmeister team: “Everyone is pulling in the same direction. You earn your successes and failures in equal measure.”

It is also that hands on approach that Boyles is so pleased to be able to get back to after his role at Budweiser pushed him further and further away from the end customer. “I just felt too removed from the customer and there is very much a sense of getting that feeling back here at Hofmeister,” he says.

From print to brands

Not that Boyles has always worked for start-ups. Far from it. In fact, he started his career training as a journalist, and on the back of a multi-media journalism degree, got his first job at a business-to-business publishing company specialising in aviation and duty free.

Whilst he enjoyed his days in journalism it was actually the access it gave him interviewing senior figures from major luxury brands and finding out how the Duty-Free sector works that actually made him want to be a “doer” in business rather than an observer reporting on it.

“As a wet behind the ears cub reporter I got to go to some great places and meet really interesting people, but after a while I came to the realisation that I wanted to be one of the people doing business. I wanted to be on the other side of the fence.”

Soon he was part of the Mars empire moving his way up through the pet food world and learning the ropes of being a regional and then national account manager, working with major multiples on business plans.

“It was a fantastic experience working at Mars. It has great people and is a brilliant organisation. It is like the grand old lady of the FMCG world, it’s a bit like having Oxford or Cambridge on your CV. People really respect the fact you have worked there.”

From Mars he was able to take up a similar national account manger role at Lindt, the premium confectionery brand where he says he was proud to have worked with Asda to turn around its relationship and help build sales by a third.

“It was both a challenge and opportunity at Lindt to manage its business with Asda that was underperforming. But we managed to turn it around and develop a commercial partnership with them.”

Move to beer

He says the commercial experience he has been able to build up during his time at Mars and Lindt has helped him enormously with the move over to the beer and on-trade sectors.

Having such a strong FMCG background is not normally the route into the beer sector which is why he is again so grateful to the Camden team for giving him the opportunity.

“At Camden it was all about wanting to work with people who could help them take it where it wanted to go. Its view was you can learn the beer industry, you can’t learn the commercial experience you have.”

That is very much the same culture that has attracted him to Hofmeister and the chance to not just work with a great quality beer brand, but also the top talent it has been able to recruit from the beer and branded sectors. Including Jim Harling, sales director, who was a former colleague at Camden Town.

“I can’t believe my good fortune to be here. I am a huge believer that if you enjoy what you do in a successful company then it does not feel like work. You have more energy and are willing to put more into it. Working in the on-trade is like the holy trinity of great things: beers, pubs and people. At Hofmeister it is not hierarchical at all. Everyone is just a phone call away.”

He thinks his training as a journalist certainly helps in terms of building relationships and being able to talk to a wide cross section of people.

“That’s what you do as a journalist. You get exposed to a wide variety of people and have to talk to them about their business. I can remember as a cub reporter being asked to interview Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair. It is really intimidating, but you get to learn to take the fear out of it and just take people on face value. It teaches you how to talk to people.

“It also teaches you tenacity as you are constantly getting knocked back and you have to learn how to regroup and go again.”

Working with Hofmeister

Boyles was only a child when Hofmeister was in its initial pomp in the 1980’s so he does not remember the brand from its first incarceration.

“For me it is a completely new beer brand. I am coming to it with a fresh set of eyes,” he says.

Which hopefully is an advantage when talking both to the generation who do remember it from the 1980’s and 1990’s, and the new generation, who, like him, are discovering it for the first time.

“You are, though, only as good as the beer you are selling and all the touch points of the brand are so spot on and premium.”

His role will be to work with the rest of the Hofmeister team to build its premium distribution across the south of the country - from the East Midlands down.

“I want to drive our business in the on-trade predominantly with draught. If you think Hofmeister tastes good from a bottle, it goes to another level on draught.

“We are following a selective distribution model and only want to work with those customers that can be the best reflection of what the brands stands for, the best shop windows for the brand. For us it is about quality of distribution rather than quantity. We want to grow the brand sustainably with the right people - venues that are looking for a quality, premium beer that can be a point of difference for them as well. That is what Hofmeister offers you. It can also command a huge premium and the rate of sale of our draught beer is extremely strong.”

Finally he adds: “We have an amazing award-winning beer and it just feels like it has everything in place for this brand to take off.”