Last week’s NBWA convention was once again held at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas and hosted approximately 4,000 attendees, including 250 vendors who took up three massive halls in Caesar’s convention center. AB, MC, Diageo, and Pabst had their large hospitality display booths open, as did a number of other suppliers. The craft brewers had their own row of booths displaying all, or a majority of their products. There were also the multitudes of vendors that sell their products to the wholesaler. Vendors who sold trucks, software, specialty items, uniforms, glassware, warehouse equipment, and many other industry- related items. To see all the booths and visit everyone, it would have taken both afternoons of the convention.
A comparison of the NBWA of today, to that of four decades ago, is a study in contrast. The NBWA at Caesars in the late 1970s was much smaller, despite the fact that there were many more wholesalers in operation. At that time, the middle tier consolidation was just beginning and the various topics of conversation between the wholesalers and the industry executives were strikingly different.
In the late 70s, the hot topic, by far, was the eastward expansion of Coors. Since I was running one of Coors’ largest wholesalers, many hopeful wholesalers were looking for information and direction as they were preparing their RFPs for Coors. A number of wholesalers, and even some non-wholesalers, were anticipating the opportunity to visit our operation, and many did visit.
By contrast, at the NBWA convention of 2017, Heineken had a huge Mexican booth behind their Heineken front, and of course, Constellation Brands had their usual blast across the street, taking over a large popular roof-top venue, complete with bands and entertainment. These two brands were not even around in the late 70s. At that time, imports were just beginning to catch the wholesaler’s attention, just like the crafts that have recently caught the attention of the wholesale market.
The main issue this year, as in recent years, was the topic of what ails the beer industry and why the industry is struggling to maintain volume. The principle speakers from Heineken and AB, along with others brewers, had their ideas as to why the industry is struggling, and in upcoming weeks, these pages will address those issues. That said there was one vendor at the NBWA who traveled a different path.
Many longtime European brewers, who have actively participated at the NBWA over the past decades, were not in attendance. It seemed that these breweries have either given up, or just walked away from the industry. After investing for years, they have quit, leaving wholesalers to fin for themselves. This abandonment was befuddling to many in the industry.
This issue of abandonment, however, was not true for the Japanese brewer, Sapporo, who has, in recent years, invested heavily in North America. Their last acquisition was the iconic brewer, Anchor Steam. Sapporo began their upsurge in investing some years ago with the purchase of the Canadian Brewer, Sleeman, and subsequently Unibroue. Sapporo is definitely bullish on North America.
It is a fact that attendees at the NBWA have a good time every year. Seeing old friends and making new ones is what this industry is about. Until next year in San Diego, all the best to the NBWA!
Remember the most valuable antiques are dear old friends…