Oct 312017

Before the 1970s, it was rare for a wholesaler to roll out new beer products.  It was not until light beers, Miller Lite, Coors Light and Bud Light, became popular that line extensions came on the scene.  Of course times have changed, and now not only rolling new products, but, introducing new vendors, has become a wholesaler’s key function.

With a small portfolio, wholesalers worked on growing their business by gaining market share.  They focused on execution at the retail level, driving both new and existing distribution, developing off-premise domination at the shelf and display levels, increasing ad activity, and, of course, targeting on-premise key accounts with draft beer.  It seemed simple, and it really was when compared to what is expected of today’s wholesaler.

Wholesalers today are swamped with new products, many from existing suppliers, some products even from their main supplier AB, MC, or Constellation.  These suppliers are looking for successful roll-outs, while wholesalers are looking for help for the supplier with feet-on-the-street, chain authorizations, support dollars and, when possible, above the line media.  Without all of these parts, the supplier is not, in most cases, going to achieve their desired result.  This lack of result is due to other brands or products, also being being rolled out at the same time, which have their act together.

The same is true for seasonal beers, too. Seasonal products, however, require extensive inventory management to ensure the wholesaler does not get stuck with out-of-date product.  Again, such a situation as knowing the proper amount of product to buy or sell, can put the wholesaler at odds with the supplier.  One can make a case that perhaps the most important role of a wholesaler is to be the new product filter for the retailer and consumer.

It is easy to refuse your main supplier when a new product does not meet the required quality or taste specifications need to sell said product.  Consider the original Coors Extra Gold, a beer the Coors wholesalers in Washington refused to carry.  As it turned out, refusing to sell the product saved these wholesalers a fortune, as Coors Extra Gold was an immediate disaster.  Another poor quality product was Captain Morgan’s Gold.  A product not fit for consumption.

This attention to detail and filtering of products is important when a wholesaler looks at a new craft supplier who is expanding into their footprint.  Smart wholesalers take the time to look at any supplier who is hoping to expand in their market.  Most wholesalers have their own filters they use in determining if the craft brewer is a long term player, and if so, determining if the supplier’s product fits within their organization.

Again, these filters should have all the above areas of support including, but not limited to, feet- on-the-street if the market can so support.  Craft brewers complain about focus and access to market; major suppliers are dancing around their declining sales; and wholesalers are working to define their role now and what it will be in the future.  But at this time, providing the role of the beer industry filter is a role much needed by all tiers.

Great companies are built on great products…..



 Posted by at 6:00 am
Oct 242017

While building the beer portfolio at Glazer’s, I initially focused on acquiring either the number one or number two best-selling imported beer from each country.  In each case, these brands were from long established breweries and were committed to continuing to build the growth of their respective products through their investment in new countries.

Although Glazer’s had a descent, but small portfolio to start with, once it became known that Glazer’s was a viable option for going to market, many importers began taking the initiative to make the contact.  These brands included: Sapporo, Asahi, Singha, San Miguel, Tiger, Yanjing, and other small brands from Asia. These brands were solid and very successful, and while the volume was small, it was steady and growing.  The importer were easy to work with, and most importantly, realistic as to their requests and goals.

Fast forward to today’s environment and the change is astounding.  Wholesalers today spend a great deal of time analyzing potential suppliers to determine which of the suppliers will be long term players?  One would think importers or breweries that were long-established would be exempt from such scrutiny.  Not so with the craft breweries of today.

Look at some European breweries of today and how they are investing in the U.S.  Carlsberg and Bavaria both walked away from their U.S businesses, turning from their own importing operation, to instead being a part of an independent importer.  Warsteiner, once twice their current size, now merely survives while maintaining their own agency.  How long will this trend remain?

Most of the Asian brands continue to just take what is out there, with one exception, Sapporo.  Although Sapporo has extensive holdings in Asia, unlike others, they are focusing on North America.   After some time as a JV with Sleeman Brewery in Canada, Sapporo purchased the operation and then added Unibroue, a highly regarded brewery, also in Canada.  Sapporo then, not unlike ABI, MC, Heineken and Constellation brands, purchased the iconic Anchor Brewing Co. of San Francisco.  These three operations, when combined, have compiled a nice portfolio for Sapporo, and one that any wholesaler would love to represent.  You know Sapporo is not going anywhere.

So the question is: why does Sapporo see North America as the place to invest, and not China, India or Africa?  Europeans breweries are backing out of, or slowing in their investment in North America, yet, Sapporo is continuing to invest.  Beer sales in Japan are soft, just like in Europe, so why not invest where there is money!  North America!

There may soon come a day when these brands from Sapporo become a “must have” for a wholesaler!  Until then, we will just be watching how Sapporo continues to grow, and what will happen to those European imports who gave up!

You have to make it happen!



 Posted by at 6:00 am
Oct 172017

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…


 Posted by at 5:30 pm
Oct 032017

Beginning this week, and until the middle of next week, the beer industry has two of its three largest and most important industry conventions:  the Great American Beer Festival, in Denver and the National Beer Wholesalers Convention, in Las Vegas.  Both conventions are extensive and important to each other.

For decades, the GABF has recognized breweries who submitted their beers for judging by awarding the top beers with gold, silver and bronze medals.  The winning breweries typically displayed their medals at their respective breweries, and leveraged their marketing materials to reflect their winning status, which also included displaying graphics on their product packaging.

This is really nothing new.  Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, whose label was the grand prize winner of the best beer blue ribbon at the World’s Fair in the late 1800s, did the same thing, and  Pabst has been leveraging that ribbon ever since.  Winning a medal at the GABF gives that beer, its brewery and the head brewer a celebrity status in the beer industry.

Award winning beers also help their wholesalers.  With today’s emphasis on beer styles, flavors, colors etc., and the role of the cicerone, an informed sales person can again use an award winning medal to gain placements and handles, not to mention promotional opportunities in the on-premise market.  These convention awards are a win-win for all parties.

Immediately following the GABF, the NBWA will begin this Sunday.  The key question for this year is: what does the industry need to do to once again jumpstart growth?  There will be many industry experts and executives talking about this particular subject, not to mention panel discussions.  Seminars, speakers and exhibitors will be everywhere. All eyes will be looking at reestablishing relationships and creating new ones, as vendors hope to gain new business.  The exhibition floor will be full, and, of course, the Monday night get-together, with all the various vendors, will be the place to be and be seen.  As a wholesaler, one year I had 16 invitations just on that one Monday night.

Like the industry itself, the number of conventions and industry events seem to have become unmanageable.  This is most likely more so for wholesalers with their multitude of brands and the various conventions like the GABF, the CBC and the NBWA.  While at Glazer’s we used to flip a coin to see who attended what?  It is crazy.

I feed on conferences….

Editor’s note; As reported last week the BBUP blog is still down and not fully working.  I hope to have it back up and working this month so please bear with me.  It will not be long and thanks to all who have responded with encouragement!





 Posted by at 6:00 am