When wholesalers only represented one brand such as AB, Schlitz, or Coors, brand owners were always under the gun to produce the results expected of them by their brewery. As the years passed, however, wholesalers, fearing termination for any reason, ensured franchise legislation was passed making termination by their supplier difficult, if not impossible.
Consolidation, at both the brewery and the wholesale levels, has done more to ease the influence of any one supplier than could, in past years, be used to force a wholesaler to do something for which they did not agree. The recent craft beer rise, coupled with the merging of the major suppliers, has abated that, giving the wholesaler more control of the discussions.
The declining sales of the top two companies, ABI and MolsonCoors, have again changed this model. Where initially AB, Coors, Schlitz, and later Miller, drove their wholesalers through threats, intimidation, withholding of funds, pulling back of p-o-s, crew drives, and other means of intimidation, there is now a new 400 lb. gorilla on the block. That gorilla is Constellation Brands.
For decades, under the leadership of Bill Hackett, both Barton Beers and Constellation Brands, have led their wholesalers by developing a friendship formed by the vendor. In addition, Hackett has another policy, whereby he does not change the effective marketing strategy of the brand. Bill took Barton Beers from a small western importer to a national, major brewer. First by consolidating the Gambrinus Modelo territory and next, overseeing the changing model from importer to brewer. This was accomplished at the same time ABI had purchased Modelo, but divested it in the U.S. market. Bill did this while continuing to see Modelo trends grow at double digit rates.
Few, if any, major heads of importers had the wholesalers’ respect more than Bill Hackett! But like all things in life, Bill has now stepped aside and turned over the keys to new leadership. Recent IRI numbers show that Constellation is now the number one high-end company with a 25% share followed by ABI with now a 24% share. Remember too, that the entire Constellation portfolio is considered high end.
Constellation believes that it will soon be the number-one gross profit vendor in 40% of their volume with distributors who are 70% MolsonCoors and 24% ABI and 6% other. Constellation is open and upfront with their method of approaching distributors. Their EVP recently stated: “We can get more out of this, we can get them to invest more, co-op more, and give us more priorities on a monthly basis.” The beer industry has heard these statements before, word for word, from other fast growing brewers.
So the question becomes: will Constellation go the path of other suppliers before them with increased demands on wholesalers while riding the success of the wholesalers? Or will Constellation continue their current model that brought them the success they are experiencing today? One way will endear them to their wholesalers, the other way will eventually turn the wholesalers elsewhere. It is a road well-traveled, but by whom?
Hogs get fat, pigs get slaughtered.