For decades, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas has published a monthly report analyzing beer shipments into the state. This report begins with a summary of the entire state’s beer by volume, by brand, and by package. The report also converts the brand totals into barrels. Obviously, this is a pretty handy report as it provides a clear indication of volume rankings, who is hot, and who is not. Talking points, if you will. The remainder of the report is categorized by distributor, not by market. The report does, however, list distributors by the city in which the distributor receives the beer.
In the 1980’s, as Coors expanded into Texas, the brewery appointed four Coors distributors in San Antonio and five distributors in Houston. In San Antonio, these four distributors competing against one Budweiser distributor, one Miller distributor, and one Schlitz distributor, in addition to several other distributors including a Pearl, a Lone Star, and a Falstaff house.
Acquiring accurate shipment numbers reflective of one’s standing in the market, obviously took some creative accounting. The one-house operations typically had only one county to service, however, all the Coors houses had a part of San Antonio, plus to three to four more counties outside the city. Therefore, one had to attempt to line up counties as best as possible. Certainly not a perfect system, but it worked.
The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas was published monthly, along with other industry publications, including Modern Age Blue Book and Beer Marketer’s Insights published on orange paper. At the time, these were the only publications reporting on the industry.
In the 1960s, and into the 1980s, there were still a number of very small beer distributors in the state. Almost all were in rural counties, producing small volume, so at times, these small distributors had no beer shipped to them, and thus, there was no report. By the end of the 1980s, most of these small operations had been purchased by larger distributors.
For years there was only one Hamm’s distributor in the state, a very small operation in Mission, Texas. In addition to owning the distribution rights for Hamm’s, the distributor in this little southern Texas town, also sold Femsa products, mostly Carta Blanca and Tecate. The town of Mission is on the Rio Grande River, a Mexican border town, and a seasonal destination home for many retirees during the winter months. Because many of the retirees were from the upper mid-west, there were a plethora of Hamm’s consumers in Mission during the winter months. All of which is surprising considering that these old, small, operations are the forerunners of today’s start-up craft/import distributors!
Today is the last day of this year’s National Beer Wholesalers Association convention in Chicago. As is the norm, most attendees are AB or MC operations and suppliers. While attendance is around 2,000 people, the beer industry saw 12,000 present at May’s Craft Brewers Conference; a huge difference in attendance between the two conferences.
The distributor tier could now be experiencing the same growth as the craft brewers have enjoyed. The number of distributors operating today is growing, as more and more, highly focused distributors open representing only the crafts segment of the market. These operations are experiencing the same issues as craft breweries: undercapitalization, lack of knowledge, shortage of experienced professionals, logistic and operational challenges.
As with craft breweries, those companies that are aware of their weaknesses, and work to improve them, will be successful; while those that do not recognize their weaknesses, they will die out. Some will grow, some will sell, and others will fade away, but these start up craft distributors are here and growing. Soon there will be new faces at the annual NBWA convention and we will not know them!
Across professions, consistency is a direct product of work ethic….