Decades ago, when a major beer distributor sold out, the distributorship was typically composed of only one brand. Likewise, the distributor’s supplier was only focused on two issues: first, how much equity was in the new company and second, how much experience the new owner had in the beer industry. If the new company had unencumbered equity of 25% or more and the new owner/manager had an executive background in beer, approval was almost certain.
In 1980, during the purchase of the Schlitz operation in south Texas, acquiring Schlitz’s approval was a simple task of following their internal procedures and interviews. The other two breweries, Pabst and Pearl, likewise, rubber-stamped the deal based upon Schlitz’s approval. Thirty years ago, there were rarely issues in ensuring a breweries’ approval. The procedure was simple.
Fast-forward to today’s beer industry and one will find that a stand-alone independent sale of a beer distributorship is rare. With the magnitude of consolidations over the decades, suppliers now demand their brands be aligned to certain houses. The recent sale of Skokie Valley in Chicago is a good example of a supplier moving their brand to a house of their choosing. In the big picture, the seller leaves that decision to the brewery. Brand evaluations are made prior to the selling of the company thus ensuring the seller obtains their desired value regardless of whom the brand is eventually sold.
Bonanza Beverage of Las Vegas, a legacy Miller operation, decided to sell to Southern Glazer. And as also reported, Southern Glazer is not the typical W&S operation in that their beer portfolio includes Constellation Brands and other major imports and crafts.
About 10 years ago, Bonanza was Warsteiner’s distributor in Vegas. Warsteiner’s volume was not obtained from on-premise accounts and certainly had no distribution in the top casinos. As an international brand which was sold across Europe and South America, Warsteiner asked Southern to purchase their portfolio from Bonanza. Bonanza followed through and sold the Warsteiner brands to Southern. In a very short time, Warsteiner had on-premise distribution in multiple major casinos and bars while still maintaining their distribution status in liquor stores and grocery stores. In fact, Southern could place Warsteiner almost anywhere on the strip as targeted. Sales spiked during those years simply from the act of moving into a house where a vendor could take maximum advantage of a distributor’s strengths.
With the growth of the Modelo brands, it was only a matter of time before Southern’s c-store delivery process would increase. Realistically Southern could not compete with the AB house or Bonanza, even with Modelo in this channel, however, the opposite was true for the casino/hotel business.
Bonanza has now decided to sell its business to Southern Glazers, but MolsonCoors wants the brands to go to Breakthru Beverage who is negotiating to merge with Republic National. This complicates the sale. It seems that MC would allow Southern Glazers to buy Bonanza while persuading Breakthru to sell Coors to Southern Glazers, thus taking advantage of SG’s strength, combining Miller and Coors, and not dealing with Republic National.
The 800 lb. elephant is Constellation Brands. Does MC really want to be in a house that is dominated by Constellation, a brand that is on fire in a highly dynamic on-premise market? About two-thirds of MC houses have Constellation Brands but here is a chance that MC can avoid Constellation.
In the future, one might expect more beer brands to avoid Constellation houses. The culmination of the Bonanza and Southern Glazers deal will illustrate the future of buy-sells in the industry.
If we open a quarrel between the past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.