May 232017

Jim KochThis Saturday Jim Koch will turn 68, and as we do every year at this time, let’s take a look at Boston Beer in 2017.  Unfortunately, what we see is not a pretty picture.

In the recent IRI data, ending April 30, 10 of the top 17 growth craft brands are totally owned, or partially owned, by larger brewers.  This includes the top five brands, the top three of which are owned by either MC or ABI.  The only craft beer on this list is Seasonal Overlay, a Sam product, which is in the sixth place. Perhaps this data reveals more about Boston Beer’s current status than anything else.

In a recent three-hour investor meeting, Sam laid out three strategic priorities: (1) return Sam Adams/Angry Orchard to growth; (2) eliminate waste; and (3) increase long-term innovation.  The new CMO, Jonathan Potter, has implemented a new brand direction which was well received by the industry analysts.  So the question is: what needs to happen in the craft beer industry to make to make Sam successful again?

Some decades ago, when distributors only represented one major brewery, if their major brand started to decline in volume, the strategy was to eliminate a route and consolidate the stops onto other routes.  In almost every situation, when a route was cut, the decrease in volume accelerated.  The opposite was true for increases.  When a route was added, the trends increased.  It was simple; more feet on the ground produce growth in a brand.

In reviewing Boston’s three priorities for the coming year, only eliminating waste is controllable.   Returning their two key products to growth will be challenging at best. And while Boston has long been known as a company on the cutting edge of innovation, recent years have produced little success.

If Boston fails to turn around their trends, cutting costs will no doubt positively impact their stock prices, thereby putting the company in a more attractive position, should Koch decide to sell.  One analysist put Boston’s odds of selling at one percent over the next five years.

More and more what is coming into play is the impact that the major breweries are having on the brands they are acquiring.  With the resources that an ABI, MC, Constellation, or Heineken can bring to a craft, it is no wonder that IRI data reflects that the top growth leaders are crafts owned by these major breweries.

Much of the success of these acquired brands occurs when their new owners are able to expand their footprint. That being said, however, the impact of their resources is obvious. It makes sense that any potential buyer for Boston would be a major brewer.  A major brewer would be willing to pay a premium and could leverage their resources and synergies.

Just two years ago this week, Boston’s numbers showed growth in the double digit range, while their stock prices were setting new heights.  How Boston will look two years from now is unknown, but what we do know is that Jim Koch will be 70!

Happy 68th, Jim!





 Posted by at 6:00 am

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