The Greater Good Brewing Co: The future of Fresh Beer, Interview with Jennifer Chong

the greater good blog

In the final blog of our Food and drink sustainability week, April 2021 Associate Joe Rodgers interviews Jennifer Chong, COO of placement organisation The Greater Good Brewing Co about how sustainability is built into the fabric of the organisation, and how they are changing people’s mindset of what is possible. 

Joe: Please can you explain the mission of Greater Good?

The Greater Good is set up to make Fresh Beer accessible for everyone, to redefine beer, and innovate in a few ways. So firstly, it’s changing traditional drinking culture to be a more sustainable way of drinking and we are doing that through the Pinter.

Our product is sort of a Nespresso for brewing beer, so in one Fresh Press Pinter Pack that you receive in the post you add water and brew 10 pints of Fresh Beer at home, that is the equivalent to drinking 17 bottles or cans. 

One of the analogies we use is water bottles, it is so strange now to go out and buy a bottle of water, and I think that is really something last minute that you haven’t planned. Most people just carry their own water bottle. This is kind of the same as that - why would you keep going to canned or bottled beer when you can have your own way of drinking?

The other angle is to build out and teach people about Fresh Beer. Beer that is in a can has been bottled months and months ago, and it has been through the whole supply chain, and isn’t fresh by the time it gets to the consumer. So this is why we are pioneering this concept of Fresh Beer as you brew it in the fridge and you are drinking it the day that it was brewed - and it tastes so much better! 

As a business, we are very purpose-led. What we mean by that is that it is not just just in the way we connect to consumers but actually the way that we treat our team. We do everything to put people first.

To give concrete examples of that, so it was a few months ago now that we got certified by the Living Wage Foundation (although we were already paying the living wage) but just going for certification demonstrates to people that you are committed to do it, and that is a nice communication to have with your staff as they know you are committed. 

Joe: Do you think that what Greater Good is doing has wider application to the food and drink system in general?

I think it will change people's mindset of what is possible. So if you think about the beer industry, the most innovation they have had in however many years is going to a can. This is the same innovation after decades and decades of beer drinking and now we are presenting a new solution.

To use Nespresso as an example - prior to Nespresso, I think it was not that common to have good quality coffee at home at a reasonable price. Coffee culture hadn’t yet developed fully. When you would go out to get a coffee in the 80s and 90s, you would buy filter coffee or standard black coffee, but all of a sudden coffee shops and cafes became more sophisticated and all these different types of coffees emerged, and a new movement was born. 

But what Nespresso said was, we are going to let everyone have good coffee at home. Since then, the idea of having good coffee at home is now really normal, you don’t even think about it. This is what the Greater Good is doing with beer, actually changing people’s mindsets towards drinking Fresh Beer at home. 

Joe: How is sustainability built into the fabric of the Greater Good? 

Sustainability is a key pillar of the brand - that one refill pack is equal to 10 pints. As a starting point, our packaging is miles better than our competitors and equivalent products. Actually, we won the Footprint Sustainability Food Award, for innovation and packaging, and we beat really big names in the industry like Budweiser and Heineken. 

We are very conscious not to be associated with phrases like “Green-wash” and “Purpose-wash”, at The Greater Good we know the actions we are taking are the right thing for the Environment, however we know we can always improve, without reporting and measurement it is very difficult to pinpoint where your flaws are, so we are committed to doing that - so we are investing in that area of our business and we have recently started to build an impact strategy team within the business. This is common in social enterprises and charities as that’s how to demonstrate the value of their work and even though we are a for-profit business we want to do this to push the organisation forward. 

Joe: I really like designing with sustainability in mind - talking about innovation, given the year we have had, what are the specific challenges about launching the Pinter in the midst of the pandemic? How has the team overcome that?

There are two sides to it, we have a warehouse team who can’t work from home and they had to carry on producing so we have had to put in lots of measures to keep people safe, making sure that everyone is distanced, wearing PPE and doing separate shifts in bubbles but all of that affects productivity and the daily enjoyment of work as you can’t talk to people you would otherwise talk to across shifts, and even in different teams we are very strict that if you work on this part of production then you can’t mix with someone from a different team. 

Then there is the office side of people having to work from home, and like every other organisation, we have missed having the social interaction and being able to collaborate with one another. We are now looking forward to having everyone back in the office! 

Actually, the biggest challenge about launching a business in the pandemic is that, as you may know, the global supply chain is severely disrupted. As a small business trying to have a secure supply chain is very difficult, competing against established businesses with much more bargaining power. We were even competing against Nestle for cardboard! It is hard trying to manage all of that, but we really care about customer happiness, and making sure customers have a great experience.

J: It is interesting that you mention global supply chains, with the Greater Good itself being purpose-led, have you found any difficulties when having those conversations with suppliers?

I think it is a really interesting time. When starting out as a startup you have relatively low bargaining power when choosing which suppliers and partners to engage with so it is not always possible to have sustainability feature as a key criteria for partnerships.
But, what’s really great now is we’ve done incredibly well over the last 6 months, people now want to work with us and we have a choice. In more recent tenders we have included a specific section describing our environmental goals and we specifically ask the companies to tell us about what they are doing for the environment and their social impact as well. Selecting the right partners and suppliers will be key for us as a business. 

Joe: What is it like working at Greater Good, what are you most excited about?

I love working here as there are so many opportunities! You have a lot of autonomy and freedom, to carve out things, you can work in your own way to help the company achieve its strategy. There is a lot of scope to do things in the way that you want to do things. What’s great is coming from a corporate background, it’s such a stereotype to describe a start-up as agile, but that is one of the really great things about it.

To give you an example of that, we are hiring at an incredible rate, we grew from 20-30 ish people in October to now over 150 people. And, 3 weeks ago, a social enterprise called Beam got in touch - they are a crowdfunding platform for homeless people. But they’re also launching Beam Recruit where they partner people on the crowdfunding platform with employers. So, I got a call about it one Friday afternoon and in under 2 weeks’ time we had taken on 6 people through the service. The speed at which you can go is so great. I joined the company in October, and one of the first things I said was that we need to get Living Wage accredited and become a B Corp. It was not questioned, I explained it to everyone and then we just went for it and are making it happen!

Alice: Greater Good is a for-profit company rather than a charity or non-profit. I find that interesting, as you expect that for-profit businesses would not be driven by purpose. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I think the ethos of the founder's culture is really important. I would say when jumping into a start-up the most important thing is whether the founders are good people. I came with all of these ideas around sustainability and social impact because it’s my background, it’s what I care about, I used to be a lawyer advising charities and purpose-led businesses. But it would have been impossible for me to come in and convince people who are purely money-driven. Here, I was able to do it in my first week. It’s great to work for a company where they genuinely care about people. And there’s no reason not to operate like this at any scale, but especially when you’re start-up size there’s no reason to be cut-throat.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash