Updated: Apr 21
Ahead of the Curve press release was featured in Brewbound.
Story credit: Justin Kendall
The names Ethan Stienstra and Dan Kiefer may not be immediately recognizable within the beer industry. But their work has definitely left an impact on the U.S. craft brewing industry.
Stienstra helped establish the orange garnish ritual for Molson Coors-owned Blue Moon Belgian White, while Kiefer helped develop the brand’s “Artfully Crafted” advertising campaign.
Their resumes don’t stop there. Stienstra most recently spent five years at New Belgium Brewing Company as director of brand innovation and renovation, helping develop the Mountain Time Lager brand, as well as work on Voodoo Ranger and other brands. He also held leadership roles with Molson Coors in the company’s Tenth and Blake craft division and marketing leadership roles at Craft Brew Alliance.
Kiefer recently spent two years as vice president of creative for the CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective, helping launch the Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water brand, which has become the top selling craft hard seltzer. Kiefer is also a co-owner of Kansas City-based Bier Station, one of the country’s best craft beer bars.
Stienstra and Kiefer today officially launched their next endeavor, Ahead of the Curve Strategy, a Denver-based consulting firm that aims to apply their big brand knowledge to smaller craft breweries and beverage alcohol producers.
Ahead of the Curve’s services include brand positioning, portfolio strategy, brand and product innovation, e-commerce onboarding, and design.
Stienstra brings experience in innovation and portfolio strategy, while Kiefer is an advertising industry veteran.
“What we both bring is our marketing chops, and strategy chops, but there’s a lot of people like that in the world,” Kiefer said. However, he believes their combined 40 years of industry experience give them an edge. “We speak beer, and we speak marketing and strategy. I think we can really do some damage.”
Stienstra described their “sweet spot” for potential clients as companies generating between $10 million and $250 million in revenue, or breweries producing 150,000 barrels or less. They’re currently working on projects with seven clients.
“We’re working with five breweries that are in the top 20, a cidery that’s in the top 10, and we’re actively talking to [others],” Stienstra said. “The way that the alcohol industry has become so fragmented, we’re working with some seltzer companies, we’re working with a vodka soda company from Canada, … so we’re looking at a lot of different spaces within the alcohol industry, not just beer.”
Stienstra said the questions that they pose to key stakeholders of the businesses they’re working with is can they succinctly explain what their company stands for and what their point of differentiation is from their competitors.
“It’s typically a lot of giggling and no, we aren’t all on the same page,” he said. “That’s where we’ve got them for step one, and that’s the positioning piece that Dan is so really good at.”
Next, they dive into portfolio strategy, which is Stienstra’s specialty.
“He really knows how to separate brands with a lot of potential versus brands that maybe you need to retire, rethink or honestly just kill,” Kiefer said. “That’s a tough conversation with a lot of breweries because there’s a lot of emotional baggage that goes with brands, but Ethan is amazing at figuring out the portfolio strategy, how all these brands go to market together, why they exist in the portfolio.’
From there, they look for portfolio holes and whitespace opportunities.
“Some folks are coming in with the beginning with brand identity and positioning, which is where Dan is really strong and he’s the whisperer,” Stienstra said. “Some are coming for the whole gamut, and then some are coming in just for e-commerce and trying to help them onboard.”
Stienstra and Kiefer have hired Rom Van Der Zee as their e-commerce strategist. They are also partnering with Bump Williams Consulting for NielsenIQ data dives, and their firm is also in contact with various e-commerce platforms, such as Drizly and Instacart. If there are any holes in their game, Stienstra and Kiefer say they will rely on their deep Rolodexes of industry experts and mentors. And they say they’re affordable.
“We don’t have a high rise in downtown Denver with a shop,” Stienstra said. “We’re working from our home offices, so we have low overhead.”