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.