These days, if you want to organise a piss-up in a brewery, you might have to walk a long way to find enough employees to join in. The newest production line at Australian brewery Coopers is highly computerised and can produce 23 bottles a second, but requires just four staff to run.
Speaking at the Gartner Business Intelligence and Information Management Summit in Sydney, Coopers chairman and marketing director Glenn Cooper explained that automation and data tracking was crucial to remaining competitive, especially in an industry where the biggest local players are owned by international companies. While it is the largest Australian-owned brewery in operation, Coopers commands just 4.5 per cent of the Australian beer market. (A takeover attempt by Lion Nathan in 2005 failed in part because of Coopers' unusual share structure, where only descendants of the original founder can hold shares.)
One key metric which Coopers tracks closely is perception of its brands, something which varies significantly between cities. "We focus a lot of research on our brand equity," Cooper said. "You cannot assume that every state is exactly the same." That said, there can be an advantage in being a smaller player. "Our perception as a key Australian brand has gone up substantially since Fosters was bought out."
"We don't over analyse ourselves but we do place a huge emphasis on image," Cooper said. "Without image, Coopers would be an also-ran."
Industrial automation has been vital in that process. "We can't serve that customer and be competitive unless we have the right technology and information," Cooper said. When he began working at the company, its brewing plant had become outdated during a phase of diversification. "What we didn't look after was the grass-roots technology. So we upgraded all of our plant. All of our plant is highly computerised."
The most recent second line expansion cost $20 million, and can produce 1100 bottles per minute. However, maintaining that line requires just four staff.
"In manufacturing it's a no brainer, you have to go that way," Copper said. "The only way Australia can be competitive in manufacturing while overseas has low wages is we have to have the high technology. $20 million plant. That's a shame, but we have to be competitive.
With internal systems already automated, more sophisticated tracking of sales data, consumer sentiment and social networks will be key, Cooper said. "External data is our biggest source, because it's changing so quickly. People always ask me what will happen in 10 years? We've got a 'hope plan' for 10 years, but what are we going to be doing in 5-6 years' time? I haven't got a clue right now."