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