Drinking beer can hardly be called a noble pursuit. If it were, many of us would be saints. Yet, three young men decided to make it just that. – Article by FUNZINE’s beer expert, Aaron Troye-White.
Their brand can be found around Budapest in popular craft pubs such as Szimpla Kávézó, Élesztő, or Léhűtő. It’s called SHARE – A Jótékony Ser, and the company donates all of its profits to a growing list of Hungarian charities. The founders, Lóci Alvégi, Márton Káldi, and Isu Ádám, had little experience in the beverage world, but now find themselves in charge of a growing craft brand. They’ve already donated 200,000HUF and hope to raise much more by their one-year anniversary. So how did an architect, tour guide, and t-shirt merchandiser get into the barely-existent benevolent beer business? It all started a bit over two years ago with the ordering of a simple pint.
Lóci Alvégi was in Berlin for a business trip and stopped at a local bar for a beer. Unable to choose from a staggering list of unknown brands, the bartender offered him a bottle of Quartiermeister, explaining that all proceeds from the beer go to charity. Having worked with charity foundations in the past, Lóci was no stranger to altruistic pursuits. As he sipped on his pint, he felt great. “Drinking and saving the world at the same time, this is perfect for me.” Afterwards, Lóci told the bartender, “give me that beer from now on, every time I enter this place.”
Lóci realized that such a model would do great in Hungary, one of the world’s largest consumers of alcohol per capita. “Consumption of beer is really high, but the civil sector is small.” So he enlisted two of his friends and got started. It took them a little over six months to get the brand off the ground, eventually launching in September 2016. Much of this time was figuring out logistics and navigating through piles of regulation. It took months alone to find the best brewery to produce their product. They needed a place that not only had the spare capacity to brew for their brand, but could also produce a consistently high quality product. They eventually settled for Ikkona brewery in Slovakia. SHARE must still buy the beer—unfortunately, making a beer for free is an unreasonable financial burden on most small companies—albeit at a reduced price.
SHARE has two products, a pilsner and a non-alcoholic citrus-flavored dark beer. However, they hope to add an IPA and other more craft-focused styles to their portfolio soon. Their lofty goals don’t stop at beer. Someday they’d love to expand their brand to coffee, wine, soft drinks, and other products. At the moment, their two beers have been enough to keep their growing team of over twenty workers, all of whom work completely for free, extremely busy. The charities are spread within six target areas, each getting an equal part of the proceeds. Because Hungary has among the top rates of alcoholism in the world, alcoholism and addictions programs will get twice as much as the other areas. And yes, the founders are well aware of the irony of selling beer to fight alcoholism.
So far they’ve made two 100,000 forint donations. The first was to Káva Kulturális Nevelési Műhely, a theater education group which provides a type of therapy through art. Last week, they sent their second gift to Utca Jogász, who give free legal support to the homeless. Recipients are chosen by six ambassadors, one for each of SHARE’s target sectors. At the moment, they have only found the first three, but they will hopefully be able to fill the final seats soon. Their ideal ambassadors would have both the expertise and public recognition to not only administer the funds, but also bring attention to the group’s work.
The ambassador program was started to remove the founders from any involvement with the handling of donations. Due to tax limits and laws prohibiting charitable foundations from selling beer, SHARE is “officially” a for-profit business. Therefore, transparency is of the utmost importance, especially for the corruption-weary citizens of Hungary. A financial summary of each quarter is posted on their website, and their books will be made public when the fiscal year is complete. Executing the project has not been easy. Even though their noble goals give them strong negotiating leverage, they still have to deal with the same struggles as any small beer company. Many bars and restaurants are locked into contracts with large breweries, preventing the sale of non-affiliated brands. Retailers are still allowed to make a profit from selling SHARE, but the margins will be significantly lower than those for products made by Dreher or Heineken. Large breweries control nearly all of the Hungarian beer market, but SHARE is not deterred. “Even if we only got just fractions of percents, that would mean billions of forints we can give to the civil sector,”Lóci says. “This project can grow quite big if we do it well.”
SHARE is doing all it can to reduce administrative, marketing, and production costs, which use about 50% of their income. Quartiermeister, their German inspiration, actually donates less per beer, which gives SHARE a bit of pride. “It’s easier for us because they were doing it for five years so we can learn from their mistakes,” Lóci says. There may be a bit of friendly competition involved. SHARE has recently started exploring a new, more funds-generating channel for their brand. They’ve begun to secure contracts with tech companies such as Prezi, LogMeIn, and Coding Sense, to stock their fridges and provide SHARE at company outings, parties, and training events. With no retailer taking a cut, this means more money for charity.
So if you see SHARE at your local pub, buy a bottle. And if you find yourself being a little too charitable, take solace in that when you wake up the next morning with a splitting headache, feeling sorry for yourself, that you did it all for the greater good.