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!