May 212019
 

As the title of this blog states, the subject matter for my writings is truly limitless!  The inspirations come from my real life experiences of more than 50 years in the beer industry, providing fodder for the inspiring topics covered over the past seven years.  Frequently when asked about my knowledge of the industry, I share stories concerning the companies I have managed, the brands I have represented, and recently, about my teaching assignments, and consulting jobs. 

Though questions often center on what involvement I have had in the industry, some inquiries are less focused on the mundane and more so on the exciting and less talked about aspects of this business.  Like the dead bodies I have seen in bars, the outlines of human remains on bar floors, the beer stolen from my truck, the retailer who pulled a gun on me, and even the retailed who pulled a pistol from his pocket and began shooting at a rat running across the floor of his establishment.  I have also seen brewery executives fired for stealing, taking bribes and kickbacks, wholesalers trans-shipping beer, selling beer outside of their territory, altering the liquid in the kegs, falsifying bill-backs, and even hiding out-of-date products.

Of course, I have witnessed many employees partaking in the same tricks and once even knew of an individual who worked in the field for two different breweries at the same time! And, he was a full-time employee for both companies. The special considerations asked for by retailers have ranged the gamut from legal to illegal and everything in between.  Unfortunately, I have seen many breweries accommodate those requests.

On the flip side, I have witnessed a tremendous amount of good in the beer industry. For example, many wholesalers and breweries have provided help to victims of natural disasters; countless in the industry have hosted charity events for veterans’ organizations; and many have provided opportunities for fund-raising events to support local needs. I am happy to report that the good that is being done in the industry far out weights anything shady.

Perhaps, when asked: “What have you done in the beer industry,” rather than answer with the historical overview of my previous positions, I should respond:  “I have done and seen just about everything one can imagine in an industry that has a far-reaching impact on many.”

The subject material for these blogs is unending.

Editors note: There have been some technical difficulties with this site, we are trying to resolve these soon. Thanks.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
May 142019
 

 

Cinco de Mayo was celebrated last week and though the numbers for the weekend have yet to be released, the industry expects to see the continued success of Corona, Modelo, Dos Equis, and other Mexican beers.  This growth did not happen overnight. It took these brands many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to become major selling volume beers in the U.S.

Other imported beers have tried to penetrate the U.S. market, and while some have created a nice business, most have been unsuccessful.  Those that were not as profitable have either left the country or have maintained a small, yet viable business concentrating on the CDI/BDI indexes where they have a fair chance to create volume.

On the other hand, American crafts that have attempted to launch markets overseas have also struggled to establish themselves as viable companies.  Some brands have been successful, and some, like Stone, have not flourished and consequently have left Germany.

With the exception of the Modelo brands, no other imported brand has become a disrupter in the U.S. market.  To date, other imports lacked the knowledge, resources, and/or the desire to build their brands.  That, however, may soon change.

In a major announcement last week, Lion published that Simon Thorpe, the former CEO of Pabst, has been named CEO of Lion for their U.S. market.  Kirin, which owns Lion, is also the owner of a number of Australian and New Zeeland breweries and beverages, some of which have been imported into the U.S. The company brings with it years of leadership experience in operating U.S. companies.  Other major American investments made by Kirin include Coke a Cola bottling of Northern New England and the partial ownership of Brooklyn Brewery and Four Roses Distillery.

With more than 7,000 employees, Lion could easily be considered a disrupter.  The question going forward is will Lion be the disrupter or will Lion become more like Sapporo.  This brewery moved into North America with their purchase of Sleeman in Canada and have since purchased Anchor in San Francisco.  Sapporo has a major presence in both the U.S. and Canadian markets, but has yet to move the needle in either.  The reason could be that Sapporo is taking the long road and not pushing for immediate results.

Lion could well employ the same strategy, but with Simon as CEO, coupled and the current beer environment in the U.S., Lion’s timing puts them in the perfect position to play the disrupter.

No doubt that Lion has the key parts to become a disrupter: resources; leadership; partnerships; investments in the U.S.; and worldwide success.  The industry will know Lion’s ultimate goals by the end of 2020 and they could be interesting.

This is the age of disruption.

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
May 072019
 

MillerCoors released their first quarter numbers last week, and once again, the results were worrisome.    Depletions were down -3.8% and shipments were off -2.7%.  In the fourth quarter, depletions were off -5.1% and shipments were off -8.9%.  Perhaps a more telling stat is that MC’s first quarter negative numbers were up against 2018 negative numbers, depletions down -3.8% while shipments were down -6.7%.  This trend in negative numbers continues not only MC but also for AB.

While recently visiting with employees of a large AB distributor, a former, long-time employee put the negative trends into perspective.  In the almost 30 years this individual had worked at AB, Budweiser had lost volume every year, yet even today, Budweiser remains the fourth largest volume brand in the U.S.! This is remarkable.

At the same get-together, it was announced that senior management had decided to add a spirit line to the company’s portfolio with the hopes of bringing in local spirit and wine brands.  Obviously, this large AB wholesaler was looking to the future, as are AB and MC by rapidly adding to their product line.  The conversation moved to the effectiveness of this AB wholesaler given the fact that they will now compete against W&S houses, including Southern Glazers, Republic, Diageo, Brown-Foreman and other powerhouse companies and brands.  Keep in mind that Tito’s is a regional product from Texas and will also be considered a competitor.

Southern Glazers and Republic have both attempted to enter the beer side of the industry with little to no success despite the fact that both distributors have states with competitive beer portfolios.  Neither company, regardless of the brand quality, however, can compete against the beer guys in servicing the market.  This is because the marketing of beer is so distinctly different from that of wine and spirits.

Unless a beer distributor is fortunate enough to acquire a successful brand like Tito’s, competing against powerhouses Southern Glazers, Republic and other large W&S companies will be difficult. Such an acquisition will take resources from what could otherwise have been spent on their malt business.  A more successful model can be seen in the Northwest beer house, Columbia, where both Constellation beer and the W&S segment consolidated under one roof.

Many industry pundits have provided their opinions as to why the industry and brands continue to decline. Some say it is pricing while others tout the decline is due to marketing (above the line). Either way, the negative trends persist.

As the fall-out of craft breweries continues, it will not be long before wholesalers identify which crafts to invest in.  Spreading a limited dollar amount among 20 to 30 crafts has little effect, but when that amount of vendors is reduced to 10 to12, a wholesaler might experience the unexpected… greater success.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 302019
 

A couple of weeks ago Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters tournament and subsequently his 15th major win.  This was Tiger’s first major win since the U.S. Open in 2008 and his last Master’s victory in 2005, some fourteen years ago.  Just two years ago, however, Tiger’s back pain made walking difficult and returning to competitive golf seemed a distant memory.

Tiger Woods’ golf career has been a roller coaster, to say the least.  The multiple back and knee surgeries coupled with his personal problems had many pundits believing that Tiger would never win again.  His come back is remarkable in lieu of what he has overcome; however, Tiger’s true transformation is his outlook on life. A transformation that is perhaps even more notable than his golf comeback.

it is safe to say that during Tiger’s early years on the tour, he was cold, distant, and aloof.  Now, after multiple physical and personal problems, Tiger is a changed person. It is obvious that he is grateful that he can play again, compete, and win!  Tiger is happy to be in his own skin right now and it shows.  He is a changed man.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal focused on the changes in Carlos Brito, head of AB in the U.S.  AB has been driven by 10 years of declining sales and market share, coupled with a heavy debt load from the acquisition of other breweries including SABMiller.

But Brito has transformed his management style: once an advocate of zero-based budgeting, cost-cutting, and headcount reduction, Brito is now transformed.  A true numbers cruncher, Brito has reduced the quantity and length of meetings; he has eliminated non-marketing people at the meetings, and he has increased the number of women in the company.

The article goes on to state that Carlos has freed up his time to take crash courses in AI and robotics, while focusing on new ventures like the Keurig machines for cocktails that the company is reviewing. Carlos goes on consumer safaris, shadows millennial shoppers overseas and visits other consumer companies including Starbucks and Harry’s to gather pertinent information, and he has even spent time learning about the coming Blockchain robotics and applications.  Brito has all done this while shuffling his senior leadership team and increasing the number of marketers.  His hope is that these changes will slow the decline of Bud and Bud Light while pushing new brands and products like hard seltzers, cold-brew coffee, and canned cocktails.

Assuming he remains in the leadership role, Brito’s legacy will be chronicled at AB, but that is yet to be determined.  Tiger’s legacy is already written regardless of how he performs going forward.   Tiger’s legacy will not be what he accomplished but what he did not accomplish.  That begs the question: will Carlos Brito’s legacy be similar to Tiger’s? Will Carlos be remembered for what he did versus what he did not do?

The greatest accomplishment is the not fact that one never fails, the greatest accomplishment comes in rising after the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 232019
 

Despite a Denver snow storm, another successful Craft Brewers Conference recently concluded. As is typical at these conferences, old friendships were renewed and new ones were formed. Brewers and distributors visited, learn about new industry topics, and viewed the exhibits. The CBC continues to dwarf all other beer industry conventions with more than double the attendance at the NBWA. Expect the CBC’s attendance growth to continue at next year’s event in San Antonio.

One of the more interesting speeches at this year’s CBC was made by Marc Sorini, in his annual appraisal of governmental and legislative affairs. After providing an update on the history of franchise laws, Marc noted that some states are finally loosening their franchise laws. As he noted, this move could signal the beginning of states’ siding with the craft industry. According to Marc, “Wholesalers have massively consolidated and now have more than enough clout to protect themselves both legislatively and legally.” Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Maine all are currently undergoing some form of franchise reform.

Each state has a different sales volume maximum which is required in order for the wholesaler’s supplier to have the right to terminate “at will” without the necessity of paying to terminate the contract. The status of each state’s bill varies.  Some bills will not make it out of committee and some bills will not get to a vote, while others will.

Certainly most in the industry will celebrate this news; but should they? On the surface it appears that these laws are advantageous for the small suppliers, enabling such suppliers the ability to terminate and move to a different supplier without financial compensation; and thereby providing improved ability to execute on the suppliers’ products.

Suppliers, however, need to first step back before concluding that these changes in franchise laws are advantageous. Consider that there are two, perhaps three wholesalers in any major market. A supplier’s choices are very limited. If any supplier believer that a wholesaler would take on a new vendor without franchise protection, they should reconsider.

The reality is that without protection, wholesalers will rewrite their distributor contracts. It is possible that many wholesalers could ask both parties to wave all provisions of their respective state beer franchise protection laws and only use the contract as the legal document. Rest assured these contracts will have provisions on terminations and multiples. The language will be very wholesaler specific, with little regard to the rights of the supplier. In fact, most of these contracts will become evergreen. Suppliers will not have any choice but to go along or simply pack up and leave. Since there are only two or three wholesalers, the supplier is right back to where they started. Wholesalers may lose their franchise protection but they will not compromise on contracts.

Divorce is probably as painful as death.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 162019
 

Last week Stone Brewing announced the sale of their Berlin facility to BrewDog of Scotland for an undisclosed amount.  Stone has owned the brewery since 2014, but has now decided to leave the Germany market.

In an August 2014 edition of this blog, (Sound strategy starts with having the right goal.), Greg Koch, Stone’s co-founder, blamed the closure of the brewery on multiple issues, one being building complications and the resulting delay in construction.  Koch claimed that when concerns arose, construction was halted and no solutions were presented.  He added that the delays cost Stone both time and money, stating that the project was “too big and bold” for Germany.  Koch lamented that the brewery should have started smaller, thus giving all involved the opportunity to gain insight into what was necessary for successful growth.

In the same post referenced above, the challenges that Stone Brewing faced in building a facility in Germany were outlined.   And as it turned out, those challenges were real and Stone is, in fact, closing.

Various posts have addressed the topic of foreign ownership and management faced by beer companies hoping to establish in the U.S. market. Such companies continue to fail or fall short of their goals by not adapting to the U.S. beer industry model.  Leaders, who have been successful in other countries, fail to understand the American systems or they try to incorporate their countries’ systems in our country. The result is frequently failure.

ABI, MC, Pabst, Heineken (to some degree) and others breweries are managed by non-American leaders.  But the ongoing theme seems to be: is this working for these companies?

Jeff Alworth, who writes a blog entitled Beervana, criticized Koch when he, Koch, announced the Berlin project by smashing a pile of German beers with a rock. Shortly thereafter, Koch exclaimed that “Berlin is not really a beer city yet.”  That is like saying Augusta, Georgia is not a golf town yet.  That statement surely endeared Koch with many of the Germans.

Simply because a brewery finds success in their home country does not mean that same success will be duplicate in another country.  It does not matter whether you are dealing with the U.S. or another country, the facts are the same.  As we discussed in the 2014 post, Germans have local breweries and support them, just like Americans support our local crafts.  The German’s might have tried one of Stone’s beers, but in the end, they will support their own countries’ beers.

Based on Stone’s approach to the Berlin brewery, the chances of success were slim at best.  The same can be said of other breweries that approach business in a similar fashion.   It is an historical fact.  Having spent many years with German breweries, Stone’s struggles come as no surprise.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 092019
 

The term GOAT is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time.” And while GOAT discussions are held regarding a variety of topics, the area of sports is frequently one that is deliberated and these conversations about which sports are the greatest are frequently held in sports bars.  For example: the greatest football player of all time, the greatest basketball team, the best golfer, etc. Mathematicians or statisticians might create algorisms that, in their opinion, prove who is the greatest.  As you can guess, such analyses do little more than throw gas on the fire, but it is always fun to engage in the conversations.

Now that the first quarter of the year is in the books, pundits and others are debating the myriad of reasons why sales in the beer industry have declined.  Someone in the industry might tell you sales are down as a result of “Corn Gate,” the ingredient battle between AB and MC.  Honestly, if this is what we are now arguing about, the beer industry is in trouble!

Perhaps the term GOAT in the beer industry should not apply to a particular brand or brewery, but rather the term GOAT should be known as the Greatest of Any Time?  In other words, where are today’s industry leaders and who are they?

Many leaders of the past, including Pete Coors and Jim Koch are on the back side of their careers and Bill Hackett just retired.  The leadership void between the two industry giants, AB and MC is now quite evident.  It seems obvious that there are no new leaders stepping up to replace these storied industry giants.  But, perhaps, one could make the case that the industry no longer needs such leaders to develop and protect it because the industry is so diversified.

The usual adage purports that those currently exhibiting success are the next generation of leaders.  Perhaps the recent industry articles on Tito’s Vodka illustrate this truth. Tito’s continues on its sales rampage, taking no hostages nor deviating from their core marketing.

Perhaps it would be difficult to follow in the footsteps of a leader whose company has negative growth. Some will support this supposition and see no need for leaders like as Pete or even August III with the current industry diversification of creative products and segments.

One can argue that now, not in the past or the future, the beer industry really needs true and strong leadership.  The industry needs those who will look past “Corn Gate” and speak directly and forcefully to the real issues and problems.  GOAT = Greatest of Any Time but now would be as good a time as ANY for leadership.

GOAT.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Apr 022019
 

In the early 1970s, Texas was by far the largest volume-producing state for the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company.  Texas itself was a stand-alone division of Schlitz, and the largest division in the company. Many of the Schlitz wholesalers were ranked in the top ten in volume:  Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas were all in the top five, with Austin and the Valley rounding out the top 10.  These large distributors did not need multiple markets to obtain their high rankings, in other words, their footprints were exclusive to their respective cities.

Even the expansion of Coors into South Texas in the mid-1970s did little to dent Schlitz’s market share.  The Coors expansion, coupled with the rapid growth of Miller Lite, however, had raised eyebrows among some of the Schlitz wholesalers who began to look at their own futures.  Coors had gone with exclusive wholesalers and their initial market share was as low as two to three percent, up to 13%. It would, however, be several years before the Coors houses started selling out to other distributors.

By the early 1980s, with their volume in decline and a loss of confidence in Schlitz’s senior management, Schlitz wholesalers began to sell their companies in an effort to maximize their own investments.  The Valley was one of the first to sell, followed by San Antonio. The Alamo City still had Schlitz roots in their GLI make-up and, interestingly, the Schlitz warehouse sign still sits on top of their warehouse.  The sale of Austin, Dallas, and others key markets quickened the death of Schlitz.

So the question is, did these buyers get any return on their investment in Schlitz?  It is probably safe to say that those who sold never regretted their decision to sell. Honestly, some may have wished they had sold years earlier.  It is all about timing when selling.

Recently it was announced that Silver Eagle, the largest AB house in the U.S., had sold its Houston operation.  The selling price was rumored to be close to one billion dollars.  It is no secret that the volume losses of Bud and Bud Light have been dramatic with no turnaround in sight.  John Nau, the owner of Silver Eagle will maintain ownership over the San Antonio branch. Many of the small to medium size AB houses will most certainly be contemplating selling to large AB operations where certain synergies can be realized.  It makes sense given current trends for the AB operations.

The Schlitz operations of 30 years ago were not as diversified as today’s businesses.  Combined with the rapid decline of Schlitz, these wholesalers had no choice but to sell.  I have never had a former Schlitz wholesaler state regret at their decision to sell, while on the contrary, I have had both former Coors and AB wholesalers state their regret in selling.

The next five years will shed some light on the future of many of the AB houses.

Success is a matter of luck and timing.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Mar 262019
 

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “How Sears Lost the American Shopper,” was written not by the retail investors but by ex-employees who were dealing with the decisions made by senior management.  This article was written from the employees’ viewpoint of what went wrong.

In the 1980s, Sears acquired multiple companies in the financial industry including: Discover Card, Allstate, Coldwell Banker, and Dean Whitter.  All of these establishments required capital, which, of course, had to originate from Sears.  The purchases initially resulted in shareholder value but when the time came to divest, time away from the retailer was required.  This was coupled with the fact that Sears was not investing in its own stores during a time when technology was becoming necessary to run a successful business and the retail industry as a whole was changing.

A second area of failure from Sears’ standpoint was seen in the internal arrogance of the company. Initially, competition from companies like Home Depot and Best Buy was not viewed as potentially threatening. It was not until the late 1980s that Sears started to add to their line of retail appliances and began accepting additional credit cards.

By the mid-90s when Walmart was four times the size of Sears and other retail companies were on the uptake, Sears, who was simultaneously declining, decided for the first time to bring in a CEO who had not grown through the internal ranks. The new CEO elected to discontinue the once-famous Sears catalog business. At the same time, the company’s extensive distribution and logistics mechanisms were becoming antiquated.  The elimination of the catalog resulted in the loss of 50,000 jobs.  People from across the county who once had access to everything in the store, now had nothing.

The next failing change came when the CEO decided to place the emphasis on the company’s clothing line instead of on the well-known Sears’ hardware and appliance lines.  Nation-wide Sears retail establishments rearranged their floor displays, placing appliances in the back of the store while clothing was moved to the front.  The ensuing years were witness to more missed opportunities and poor management decisions, including the purchase of the retailer Lands’ End.  Perhaps the final nail in the coffin was the acquisition of Kmart.

One can see that by taking their eye off the core business of retail, and ignoring future opportunities, the inevitable end of one of America’s iconic retails was a foregone conclusion.

What happened to Sears is not much different from what is currently happening, and what has already happened, to a number of breweries.  It all sounds all too familiar.  Part of today’s breweries’ struggles is related to not focusing on their core business.  Many breweries seem to be in desperation mode and are rushing to prop up their businesses with new products, many of which are not malt based liquid.

The exception to this might be The Boston Beer Company who has transitioned from craft beer to teas, seltzers, and a myriad of different products.  One can suggest that Boston Beer was in a better position, or at least a less risky position, in changing their core business.  For other beer companies, the same cannot be said.

Layoffs, cutbacks, reduction in marketing, and resources moved to unproven new and risky products; all the same movements executed by Sears’ management, are now being performed by many beer companies across the industry.  Soon, the beer industry will be experiencing the same unsuccessful results as Sears.

The ultimate goal of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Mar 192019
 

Thirty-five years ago, establishing a new beer was not a frequent occurrence and so doing resulted in a bit of a stir. That beer was Corona. In a few short short years, the brand had made the move to the clear longneck bottle and the results were immediate.  Sales in South Texas took off. The Corona wholesalers, in fact, ran short of supply as they could not acquire adequate inventory from Mexico.

About that time, a young sales manager from Barton Brands, Bill Hackett, decided to fly to South Texas to find out just what the commotion was all about.  Bill saw a tremendous opportunity in Corona and Barton soon picked up import rights for the Modelo’s beers.  A couple of years later, the importing rights were shared with Gambrinus until Constellation (Barton) reacquired all of the U.S.

When Mike Mazzoni left Barton in the late 1980s, Bill took the reigns as president.  After decades of leadership under Bill, it was recently announced that he has retired from Constellation, thus closing the book on one of the most highly thought of supplier executives in the beer industry.

Bill’s legacy is one of respect…. respect within all three industry tiers of the beer industry.  Bill’s contemporary suppliers admired his leadership and success. While he was leading Corona, the brand’s growth was unprecedented.  Retailers loved the marketing support Bill provided behind the Modelo brands and the higher-ring the brands produced.  It was, however, with the middle tier that Bill was most respected.

Bill believed in the wholesaler and the wholesaler believed in Bill.  Bill felt that wholesalers were the key to Corona’s success and he built the Modelo brands on this philosophy.  Bill instilled that culture of the wholesalers’ importance into the employees of Barton/Constellation and the result was a win-win for all.

Earlier this decade a California wholesaler, who had sold their Modelo distribution rights to the AB network, filed a lawsuit against Constellation Brands.  The wholesaler asked for compensation for being denied the opportunity to purchase existing Modelo rights from another wholesaler. The reason the wholesaler had been denied was due to poor performance with their Modelo brands.  Instead of beginning termination proceedings, Constellation sent in a sales team to help the wholesaler turn around their performance.  Within a year, that wholesaler, with Constellation’s help, won the best wholesaler award for the given time period.  This example of Bill’s leadership speaks volumes as to his view of wholesaler relationships.

Baron Beers’ annual wholesaler meeting, traditionally held late winter/early spring in Palm Springs, was the talk of the industry.  Wholesalers never missed that convention.

Bill’s legacy is well documented and he will be considered, by all three industry tiers, to be one of the very best beer executives of all time.  Bill will be missed.

When I see the annual Christmas ad for Corona on the island with the lights on the palm tree, I will always remember Bill.

El Rey – The King…

 

 

 Posted by at 6:00 am