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 Seasonal products, however, require extensive inventory management to ensure the wholesaler does not get stuck with out-of-date product.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…..