Do you really drink beer? A discussion with Renee Navarro about diversity in Ontario’s craft beer industry

Renee Navarro, beer sales rep, consultant and diversity advocate.
Renee Navarro, beer sales rep, consultant and diversity advocate. Photo: Racheal McCaig.

“If I had a dollar for every guy who asked me ‘do you really drink beer?’ we’d be on my private island right now,“ Renee Navarro says as we sit down on my local patio at Clinton’s to talk about diversity in craft beer.

It’s that sort of slanted question and closed-door mentality that helped pull the longtime craft brewery sales rep into her current role as an advocate for more diversity.

The turning point for adding “diversity champion” to her day job came around the time when Navarro helped found the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies. “The Society, with the way they did it, got people to think a bit differently and at that time I was their mouthpiece — and the accidental mouthpiece for the lack of diversity in craft beer.”

Part of the focus for her message is definitely on beer marketing, a body of work that has lagged behind on keeping up with current norms for being progressive and inclusive.

That’s especially the case for advertising, where Navarro notes that the point is to get customers to identify with a character in a magazine or TV  ad. “When I see me, I’m draped over Billy D. Williams [in an ad for Colt 45] with the tagline ‘works every time’, which means I get raped when he finishes his beer. That’s disgusting.”

“I talk about a 40 being marketed to black people and everyone laughs,” says Navarro about addressing audiences that are predominantly white and female. “But I follow it up with that Colt 45 example and everyone gets super quiet. And that surprise is because that’s not what their beer life has ever been.”

The problematic behaviour isn’t just a big-brewery thing from a bygone time. (And there are some giant breweries that have done well like Guinness with their “Sapeurs” ad.) “You don’t see us as sales reps in large numbers,” she says of the current industry “and when you watch something from a craft brewery, you don’t see a multitude of colours.”

Navarro points out that diversity is not just a big-city idea. To a white male brewery employee in northern Ontario who wonders what he can do given the local demographics, she points out “I hear women also live there. Not to mention an indigenous community.”

She consults for restaurants and bars with beer list and education services and obviously loves her job. I can tell she plans to keep working passionately  from the inside, to make Ontario’s beer industry stronger: “What I’m pushing for is that there should be space for everyone at that table.”

How to do better today? As well as more inclusive marketing, Navarro wants to see us connect with each other over our shared love of good beer. Breweries, she says, should find out what a person likes to drink and keep the conversation on beer.

Update: Navarro has a full roster of diversity-in-beer events scheduled for Southern Ontario this winter. Including:

  • Jan 25: Grain & Grit x Beer. Diversity. for a collaboration release + talk.
  • Jan 29: A 5-course dinner with Side Launch at Butchie’s in Whitby. (Tickets)
  • Feb 22: A talk with Robin LeBlanc about diversity in the Canadian craft beer industry at Montgomery’s Inn in Toronto. (Tickets)
  • Feb 27: Beer. Diversity. comes to the Appel Salon at the Toronto Public Library. Details TBA.

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