North Carolina’s first brewpub in a grocery store, The Beer Den at Lowes Foods, has something for everyone craft


Belle. Robin Hood. Rumpelstiltskin. The Hoppit. If you’re looking for the perfect craft selection, The Beer Den at Lowes Foods has you covered. North Carolina’s first brewpub in a grocery store, the space is making you rethink the whole going to the grocery store trip.

While lots of stores have beer caves, only Lowes Foods has a place with a complete selection of crafts and drafts from around the whole wild world. As varied as it is local, the Beer Den offers seasonal offerings of unique beers on tap with Growlers filled on site for you to take home and enjoy.

Its one-place-has-every-craft-beer-you-need approach is a festival for craft beer aficionados. To get a closer look at Lowes Foods’ Beer Den, we sat down with Heather George, Senior VP Brand Strategy at Lowes, and John Scheffel, VP and Director of Visual Design at api(+).


Give us a snapshot of today’s craft brew market from your perspective. What’s likely to happen next?

Scheffel: I see the craft market continuing to grow and the offer of both take-home product and in-store taprooms expanding in the grocery store and convenience store worlds. The demand for locally crafted beers is not a fad, and I feel it is here to stay. There will certainly be some attrition along the way and the best will rise to the top.


What trends are defining the space?

Scheffel: Today’s consumers react well to a store-within-a-store with a defined environment. For our clients we design a brewery or taproom within a store that transports guests out of the shopping trip and into a curated, appealing environment. That environment might be fun, festive, refined, edgy or another style to embody the concept’s brand and create the retailer’s desired experience for their guest. Whatever the style, guests may stay and linger or shop the store with a beer in hand.

In the craft brewery space in general the environmental design trends lean toward a handful of distinct styles and offerings: Casual warehouse style look and feel; large array of beer taps; emphasizing local brands; variety of beers including sours; non-alcoholic beers; collab beers; incorporating family and pet friendly elements like games; outdoor space; entertainment stage; personality driven concepts backed by celebrities.  


What’s your story from a brand perspective? Walk us through your branding strategy.  

George: Lowes Foods is all about bringing community back to the table—making it easier for families to get dinner on the table at home and bringing guests together through our store experience. Each store has a Community Table made from reclaimed barns, but the best place to gather is in our Beer Dens.

Each Beer Den evokes the feel of a rustic lodge where our guests are hunting for the best craft beers. The Beer Den “beer” is half-bear, half-deer.


What’s the biggest issue today related to the marketing/sales side of the craft beer business today?

George: As soon as we created the Beer Den concept, Lowes Foods was able to offer beers from smaller breweries on-tap that were not packaged for distribution in other stores. As we expanded the audience for those smaller breweries, we found there was a demand across our marketing area.  

Since another distribution channel was not available, we created what we call, The Beer Run. We distribute beers from small breweries across the Carolinas to our stores in areas where those items would otherwise not be available. Through The Beer Run, we can surprise our guests with hard-to-find beers and support local entrepreneurs at the same time.


What’s the secret to creating a branding story that consumers can buy into?

Scheffel: Brand identities tie together business goals and customer desires. When done strategically—it is that perfect blend of visual, verbal and emotional attributes. And when drawn together, a brand tells a story that touches the audience in a distinct and authentic way.

We create an authentic story that becomes the cornerstone of building the brand—making it easier to connect to the consumer on a deep and personal level. The essence is finding a retailer’s point of difference and creating an environment that really engages the customer and builds long-lasting brand loyalty.


What’s the one thing that every craft beer brand should be doing in the way of marketing?

Scheffel: Have a great taproom design. The taproom is a place where people enjoy exploring your beer selection and your brand while socializing. It should look and feel welcoming, function well for your target demographic, and create brand engagement.

And we must note that it’s essential to provide an array of seating options that accommodate your guests’ needs. If your customers come to meet others, provide large community tables. If many of your guests come on dates, provide cozy two tops. If you see after work networking, provide large open areas. Know your audience and offer a variety of seating to accommodate their needs.  

Bonus points if the space is ‘instagrammable.’ People are eager to share their social experiences online and accommodating them with good lighting and beautiful spaces can work wonders for your marketing goals.


What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities moving ahead?

Scheffel: Moving forward, the craft brew world and many retail types have many exciting opportunities, many powered by technological advances. Some of the hottest and most exciting opportunities we are seeing with our clients are incorporation of interactive experiences, virtual brand expansion into brick and mortar spaces, adaptive reuse of commercial space, marketing with brand influencers and brand extensions into new product lines and concept types.


What’s the biggest item on your to-do list right now?

Scheffel: Post pandemic, getting back out to industry trade shows and conferences and visiting cities that are blossoming; visiting the latest and greatest projects and studying design trends. Completing this interview was a big one, too.


How does your taproom space integrate into your branding/marketing strategies?

Scheffel: The taproom should be an extension of your brand. It is a physical space to express your personality. Every element of the space should be sensory touchpoints for your brand—the materials, fixtures, colors and lighting, the way your team members communicate to your customers, the music you play, the aromas. You need to have compelling elements that will entice customers to come back. 


Chatting withapi(+)’s John Scheffel
The most rewarding part of the job

Experiencing projects come to life, experiencing them when they open, and observing how customers interact with them. However, the best part is seeing the project be successful and our clients happy. – John Scheffel


What was the best advice you ever received?

Listen to your clients and give them what they ask. At the same time, if you think they need to go in a different direction to be successful, guide them with your expertise, but make sure you show that you’ve listened to them.


What’s the best thing a customer ever said to you?

Store Customer: This is my favorite place and I love everything about it. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I keep wanting to come back.


Client: We’ve worked with a lot of design firms, but you’re the first that truly listened to us and gave us something far greater than we ever expected.


What is your favorite brand story?

I was immensely impressed with the debut of the “new” VW Beetle in the late 90’s and how well done that campaign was and it elevated the brand and made you want a Beetle. And they were such fun cars.

Project wise, it’s still Lowes Foods. What they did to transform their stores and the customer experience was revolutionary. They changed their whole company’s DNA. They call their customers “guests” and everything is about the guest experience. And they treat their employees exceptionally well.