My first assignment, 20 years ago when I joined Glazer’s, was to oversee the statewide rollout of New Belgium for which the distribution rights had been awarded to Glazer’s. Texas was New Belgium’s fourth state with the brewer already having a presence in Arizona, New Mexico, and of course, Colorado.
Glazer’s felt that New Belgium was going to be the key brand the distributor needed to build a world class malt portfolio. Even without any internal malt structure, and a delivery system not built for beer, the first order for New Belgium products consisted of 20 trucks of bottles and three trucks of kegs. New Belgium did not have the cooperage to fill that first order so they postponed the rollout date until New Belgium could fill the kegs.
That first year Glazer’s sold more than 500,000 cases without a malt infrastructure, without cans, and with only three brands and no single serve packages. Had this all been in place, it is not unrealistic to think 750,000 cases could have been sold. New Belgium started with only two rangers in Texas and one did not last long.
New Belgium has had great success with their sales footprint; yet like Glazer’s, both entities were attempting to find their own way in the beer industry. As New Belgium grew they encountered multiple challenges including hiring experienced beer managers, while simultaneously ensuring the cultural integrity of their founders.
By 2008, Glazer’s entire view of the beer industry had changed. The distributor began selling off their beer brands in markets where they had no Miller/Coors houses. Other distributors were more than happy to pick up New Belgium along with a multitude of other fine brands including Sierra Nevada and numerous imports. Glazer’s, however, kept the fine brands in their core MC markets.
New Belgium expanded across the country, hired top beer people, and soon became employee owned. Many of the employees were invested after just one year and remained with the brewery. In recent years, New Belgium built a world-class brewery in North Carolina to service the east coast, but this created a huge debt load. After growing to becoming the fourth largest craft brewery in the U.S., New Belgium appeared to have hit a wall with their growth, and even though the brewery has begun to grow again, the employees decided to sell to Kirin’s Lion Little World in an all cash transaction. You can rest assured the New Belgium employees had a good weekend.
The acquisition of this craft brewery by Lion is just the most recent purchase of a major U.S. craft brewer by a foreign brewer. Others include: Laginatis, Founders, Anchor, and to name a few, all acquired by non-U.S. brewers…and why not? The U.S. and Canada are where the world goes to get gross profit. China, India, and Africa have people, North America has money.
Over 300 current and past New Belgium employees will divide up over $190 million from this sale, and with Lion’s global resources, their professional careers look secure.
Treat employees like partners and they act like partners.