Jul 232019

In the last 35 years, no brand has come close to the growth of Corona. The brand went from being in a position of not even having a hand full of distributors who could sell a layer of the beer, must less a pallet, to the current situation of now selling over 150 million cases of Corona.  The beer industry has never seen anything like Corona, though recently Modelo, Michelob Ultra, and perhaps White Claw have given Corona a little run for their money. 

In the early years of Corona’s growth, the brand was distributed by Barton Beers and Gambrinus, each of which had the western and eastern halves of the United States, respectively.  Years ago, Barton Beers acquired the rights to all Models brands for the U.S. at which time the importer became Constellation Brands. Constellation Brands’ timing could not have been better as ABI soon bought the Modelo Brewery and spun off Modelo’s U.S. business to Constellation Brands.

Modelo’s growth continued under the leadership of Constellation Brands, but success subsequently produced changes. Constellation Brands bought Ballast Point and distributed those beers throughout the country. Constellation Brands then introduced a number of line extensions, some of which were successful, including Corona Familiar, and more recently Corona Premier.  But at what cost did these changes come? Corona Premier, Modelo’s answer to the success of Ultra, has cannibalized Corona Light, and in recently published data, even Premier is slowing in growth.

Of course, there is also Constellation’s investment in Canopy, the Canadian cannabis company which, to date, has not been a profitable investment. With a $245 million loss in the U.S., Canopy may never be profitable. 

With Corona Refresca, Modelo now has a new entry into the spiked water and seltzer segment. The new FMB segment that is on fire are those products low in ABV, calories, and carbs.  Yet Modelo’s Corona Refresca is high in calories at 199, which means high sugar and carb content. Is this type of product what today’s consumer is looking for? It does not seem so.

For decades, Barton Beers and Constellation Brands were the industry leaders.  These companies were leaders, not simply in the fact that they produced top selling beers, but also leaders in their program development, marketing, and media productions. Corona was the envy of the industry. It seemed that they could do no wrong and everything they touched turned to gold.

Not anymore! The question becomes:  how many more investments will Constellation Brands make while the recent products and companies struggle? The first indication is what happened to the recent CEO of Canopy, one of their founders, who was asked to leave the company.

In the not too distant future, Constellation’s brand managers will be removed, agencies will be fired, new agencies will be hired, senior management will leave, and new management will realign the structure to “be more responsive and quicker to react to the changing market.” Constellation will follow AB, MC, Heineken, and others. It is not just a matter of if; it is more a question of how much longer?

Sometimes, very competent people make errors!

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jul 162019

This post begins the eighth year of Beer Business Unplugged.  As I have done for the past seven years, I will comment on the previous year’s posts and industry issues.
The February 19th post, Success and Failure are Both Part of Life, was the most read post for the year, and it also set an all-time record for the most read post ever! Success and Failure told the story of the reincarnation of Austin’s Celis and the struggles of the brand.  The post brought a multitude of responses from all tiers in the industry, many advocating that Celis was, in fact, a viable brewery. In recent weeks, the industry learned that Celis has gone out of business and two weeks ago, filed for bankruptcy under chapter XI.
The Celis story was one of the many lamenting breweries that had closed or sold over the last year. It seemed that every week there was another blog about another brewery closing. This trend appears to be continuing over the next year.
Another shift which seems to be gathering some steam is the growth of sessionable or light crafts. More and more brewers are adding a low ABV and lighter flavor to their portfolio. Call it the Ultra effect, but it will continue.
Breweries by Population

There are two other key developments which have continued to capture the industries sights during the past year.  The first is the cannabis situation which seems to be losing traction at this time, and the second is the continued and amazing growth of seltzers and spiked waters, led by White Claw.
Once again, I want to thank the readers who have sent comments and thoughts, they are always appreciated and helpful. I look forward to the continuation of this blog throughout the coming year.
This year’s classic Schlitz commercial.

And now, on to year number eight….

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jul 092019

In a conversation several years ago with a distributor who had recently sold his large, successful operation, the distributor commented on the challenges he encountered trying to train and maintain company employees. As an illustration, he referred to the tradition of sports teams and the amount of training and preparation, often a full five days, for a mere three-hour game.  The distributor noted the length of practice in regards to a relatively short game and acknowledged a similar training system used by the United States military, noting the importance of superior training techniques in the event soldiers were called to duty.

When one looks at the beer industry, it is quickly evident the amount of time invested into craft beer training. A recent article in the Dallas Morning News, “Jobs Data Helps Track the U.S. Brewery Boom,” highlights the job growth of the brewing industry.  The article stated, “The number of jobs at breweries jumped from 26,380 in 2008 to 77,902 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” This parallels the growth in the number of operating breweries.

The article further states that there is also a regional variation to be found. Some regions, or cities, have more breweries than others. To sort this out, an “employment location quotient” provided by the BLS for states, metropolitan areas, and countries was in each industry. The BLS measures an industry’s share of total jobs in an area divided by its share nationwide. In Bend-Redmond, Oregon, population 191,000 in 2018, one is 18 times more likely to run into a brewery worker than in the U.S. as a whole.

This article goes on to state that the BLS will suppress data so as not to reveal employment and wage information that can be traced to a single employer.  For example, in Chico, California, home to Sierra Nevada, and in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the home of Yuenglng, the data is suppressed. The data translates into salary ranges, thereby illustrating that an AB brewery or a MillerCoors operation would have the highest pay. The metropolitan areas with annual brewery wages of $80,000 are indeed home to major AB breweries. In the craft world, San Diego, which has 128 breweries, has low wages, as would be expected.  Employment, however, has more than doubled since 2014. The annual wages on the low end of the scale are $23,049 in Niles-Benton Harbor, Michigan and the highest in Syracuse, New York, at $89,675. The brewing industry only accounts for 0.05% of total jobs in the U.S. 

Many craft brewers struggle to find quality employees as referenced by the low salaries. These brewers can find bodies, but without the proper, on-going training, how well are they going to perform? Many of the young beer people have some type of Cicerone training, which does aid with the understanding of beer, but may not necessarily translate into sales.

The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” could not be more evident than in today’s beer industry.  It is easy to equate a breweries’ payroll to their success by using the above mentioned statistics. If a brewery wants to be successful, they should pay for talent instead of simply acquiring more employees.  Not only will the brewery benefit, but so will the wholesalers, retailers, and consumers

Money and salary are not particularly good motivators in the long term.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jul 022019
Also last Friday, the state of Texas filed a tax lien against Celis Brewery’s parent company, FFBC Operations LLC (which also operates as Flemish Fox Brewery & Craftworks LP).
Christine Celis, who 
resurrected her late father Pierre Celis’ long-shuttered brewery in 2017, did not return requests for comment.
Messages left for representatives from Amplify Credit Union and Streusand, Landan, Ozburn & Lemmon LLP were also unreturned.
Additionally, Celis is facing a trio of liens filed earlier this year against the company for thousands of dollars in unpaid construction and electrical work.
In an “affidavit claiming lien” dated February 1, Hill Morrison of Hill Morrison Construction Services claims that Celis owes “at least $271,872.81” for the construction of a beer garden and remodeling work.
According to a second “affidavit claiming a lien,” dated March 15, R&M Electric owner Rick Hendrick said his company is owed $8,211.85 for electrical work done at Celis in November 2018. Also on March 15, Elliott Electric Supply Inc. filed a “mechanic’s and materialman’s lien affidavit” seeking $5,058.80 from FFBC for materials provided to R&M for work done from October to December 2018.
Brewbound reported in May, rumors of financial struggles, layoffs, and a potential bankruptcy filing dogged Celis throughout the beginning of 2019. At the time, a new investor group was considering acquiring the distressed brewery. Sources told Brewbound then that the Celis operation was in trouble soon after opening in 2017, after overspending on a 50,000-barrel brewery in northwest Austin and relying on financial models that required high double-digit, year-over-year growth in order to service debt.
Last year, Celis’ production increased 320 percent, to 11,339 barrels of beer.
According to a “modification and extension agreement” filed with the Travis County Clerk’s Office this past April, Flemish Fox Brewery & Craftworks reached an agreement with Amplify Credit Union to suspend payments on the principal $5.3 million note it first took out in March 2016, from February 1 through July 1, 2019. The company was to resume payment on August 1, with the total balance to be completely repaid by September 1, 2037.”

The above is from Brewbound, at the time of this posting, Celis has not filed for bankruptcy, however, it is expected to do so soon.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jun 252019

Over the years, we have visited various beer industry shifts in consumer preferences. Many changes have been the result of the consumer altering the beer segments and brands. Such swings have included the rise in light beers and the growth of imports, led by the Mexican beers, primarily Corona. In the last 20 years, we have seen craft beers develop, create their own segment, rise rapidly in popularity, and in recent years, we have witnessed a slowing of growth in crafts.

Consumer shifts in beer products do not happen often, but it seems the industry is now experiencing one such move. Industry pundits have unloaded as to why the industry is contracting and why crafts have slowed. It is, however, becoming crystal clear to all that the Millennials are shifting their consumption from crafts to now preferring low ABV, low carbs, clear liquid, and gluten free FMBs and Seltzers.  This is not a shift characterized by moving into the “better” beer segment, as has been witnessed in the change from domestics to crafts; it is more along the lines of shifting to healthier made products… at least in the eyes of the Millennials.

A post from Labor Day last year highlighted the success that FMBs and Seltzers were having with product placement, usually being positioned in the high-priority end-caps in the liquor stores. In that article, we highlighted the early success of this segment but also questioned if these products were only seasonal or if they truly possessed what it would take to become long-term players. It is clear that FMBs and Seltzers are not the typical one-and-done creations.

It is also clear that the distributors are supporting FMBs and Seltzers. Distributors are chasing many new products in this segment as witnessed by the Mark Anthony group and the fact that White Claw went to distributors outside Mike’s current network. This is taking a page out of the old G. Heileman book which had distributors compete against each other by awarding Heileman products to different distributors.

The focus in which the distributors have been placed on this segment has negatively affected the sales of crafts.  The shift shows that the consumers of such products are coming from the craft segment as verified by the monthly shipment reports.

FMBs and Seltzers are packaged in cans, have great margins, and play in the premium price segment. What more could a distributor ask for?  The products are coming from large vendors, not the typical small, under-financed craft brewer; and the results are across-the-board-marketing, chain support, and field sales support. All the parts are there to make this segment work.

The craft segment, much like the domestic light beers, will not disappear; however, one can expect the craft segment to continue to struggle, even as many crafts shift from hop-bombs to lighter craft liquids.

Where this seltzer segment ends up and where the next new segment comes from will be interesting to see. The next generation will soon tell the beer industry what it needs to be.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jun 182019

Last week’s post highlighted the story of the Mark Anthony Group. The account of Mark Anthony is not as much about their hot product, White Claw, as it is about how the company made a complete turn-around. This is a bit of an anomaly in the industry as most turn-around stories are about the brands themselves, not about the actual beer company.

There have been a myriad of stories about Schlitz in these posts. A brand that could not have been saved despite the fact that multiple leaders tried and millions of dollars were spent. Pabst is another story, albeit one with an asterisk. Notwithstanding a small revival some years ago, and multiple owners, Pabst is now struggling.

Many regional brands, long since departed, have attempted comebacks under different ownership. None have succeeded, although several appear to be riding the proverbial roller coaster. Examples include Rainer and Lone Star, both of which are owned by Pabst, and both of which have managed to become more relevant in their regional markets.

Because crafts, many of which have not been existence for 10 years or more, have a shorter history, they do not fit into this category of come-backs. Older crafts like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Boston have either morphed their portfolio to ensure success, or have simply ridden the ups and downs from year to year. The glaring exception is Yuenglng, which, under the same ownership, continues to excel regardless of how or what the industry is doing.

Wholesaler’ degree of success is not relevant when discussing the topic of turnarounds because success is more directly tied to that of their suppliers. Even wholesalers, whose volume for decades consisted of brands like Schlitz or Pabst, survived if they could capture a brand like Constellations Brands or Heineken in their house.   

Obviously, wholesalers who were not as fortunate to have afore mentioned vendors, have since sold out or closed. A wholesaler who finds themselves in a crisis is most likely in that position due to their portfolio; and in almost all cases it does not matter who is in charge. Without the bullets, you are firing blanks.

Importers are the one segment where a change in leadership can and does make a difference. With the right leadership a restructuring and direction change can turn a small to medium-size importer around.

The beer industry is not one of turn-arounds. This is an industry which needs the right product at the right time; a product that will be supported and enabled to move in the right direction with a clear understanding of who and what that product is.   Victory is never going to happen when a beer attempts to be something that it is not, can never be, and prevents the brewery and the products from ever being successful.

Spending resources in an attempt to be something that will never happen is a waste and a pathway to failure. A crisis in beer is not about leadership, it does not have to be a crisis if the proper leadership is in place.

Careers are made in times of “crisis.” 

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jun 112019

An article in Beer Business Daily last week focused on the Mark Anthony Group and their hot brand, White Claw. As a company, the Mark Anthony Group could be considered the personification of what it means to move from insignificance to viable vendor, for yet the second time.

In the 1990’s, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a front runner among FMBs, was one the hottest brands of their time. Not only was their product selling at record pace, the company’s culture was envied by many. But in 2000, that all changed and Mike’s sales started to slip. New management was brought in, many of whom were from Gallo, and immediately the culture changed, key employees left, and the company began to struggle.

A year or so later, Mike’s annual sales meeting was held in Las Vegas. What was typically an easy location at which to entice distributors to attend turned into a challenge to get distributors to show up.  In some cases, distributors were so reluctant to attend the convention that field reps even had to persuade them to do so. And once at the convention, many distributors walked out just 10 minutes into the opening session as they were so disgusted with the comments.

Eventually, Mark Anthony made changes, however, it was not until Phil Rosse took the lead role did Mike’s begin to move in a positive direction.  Phil stated, “Businesses today need purpose, and the next generation of employees is looking for so much more than just a job. You need a reason to feel deeply connected to companies, businesses, and brands. So for many years now, we have been working hard to make Mike’s a different type of place to work. And by different, we mean something that attracts folks that want to be part of something special that we’re trying to build, and a place where every employee plays a critical role.”

Phil goes on to say, “We have been trying for many years now to create an environment where everybody wins. Obviously, there’s ownership, there’s management, but winning must be felt by all employees and all our partners. We want everyone associated with this business to feel like they are a part of the success. That, in our mind, is the Mike’s culture and we believe organizational culture can be as much a disruptor in today’s world as a new product can.”

The article in Beer Business Daily is extensive, but there were two other comments which provide additional insight on how Mike’s goes to market. Sanjiv Gajiwala, the marketing chief commented on consumer targeting: “We have not in our marketing been trying to identify or associate who, or what, a White Claw drinker looks like.”  Phil added, “My perspective on category management, shelf sets, and space at retail is that it has always been our number one opportunity as a company. I think it (category management) is truer now than ever, is our number one opportunity as a company.”

There is no discounting the fact that superior products such as Mike’s and White Claw speak volumes in the success of any company, but in Mark Anthony’s case, Phil and his leadership team have implemented a winning culture.

It is apparent that Mike’s learned from their past, the question is: why is it others cannot see that, too?

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Jun 042019

When Jerry Jones bought the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s, Texas Stadium was not owned by the football franchise; therefore, the venue was not subject to the rules of the NFL corporate sponsorships.  After Coors passed on the offer, Jones sold the beer-pouring rights to Miller. Today, Miller Lite remains the beer sponsor of AT&T Stadium and finding another beer at AT&T is difficult at best.

Selling the pouring rights to sporting events is embedded in the beer industry and has been an issue for decades. In recent years, college stadiums and basketball arenas have sold their pouring rights. While one can find other brands to purchase at these venues, it is typically difficult as other brands are sold in out-of-the-way locations

The state fair of Texas hosts an open-air concert stage called, The Dos Equis Pavilion. At the pavilion, one can buy a plethora of beers brands, however, the name Dos Equis is liberally splashed throughout the pavilion. The amount of money spent by breweries on these venues is enormous, but this is part of the business and has been for many years.  

The industry appears to be oblivious to the growing number of vendors who have been fined for illegal payments.  Constellation Brands is the latest brewer to find themselves in a less-than-favorable position, having recently agreed to a $420,000 dollar fine for buying draft placements. This comes on the heels of Heineken’s agreement to a $2.5 million fine in April. Prior to these fines, Eagle Brands was hit for $1.5 million in fines and, of course, Warsteiner paid $900,000 in fines just last year. Remember, some distributors have also been fined. Brewers Distributing paid $350,000 and Elgin Beverages paid $325,000 in fines, both for illegal activity.

It is no secret that brewers, importers, and distributors are pushing hard for volume and market share regardless of the cost. But the question is: how do buying rights to a stadium or venue differ from the buying rights of a draft handle in an account? Is this another gray area? The industry sees the blurring of lines across all three tiers as brewers, distributers, and wholesalers brew and sell beer at the brewery and act as a retailer.

Any way you look at the current situation; it seems the industry has become oblivious to announcements that another fine has been levied for some type of illegal activity or payments. As the size of the pie continues to constrict downward, expect to see more fines.

Gradually, many of the previous restrictions in the industry have either been eliminated or loosened.  An example of such is the fact that professional athletes are now able to represent a brewery or beer. So where does this end?  Or perhaps a more appropriate question is: in what direction will these actions lead and how will the consequences affect the future of the beer industry?

Not listening results in misunderstandings and conflicts.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
May 282019

Jim Koch celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday, May 27th, and as a tradition with these pages warrants, we annually revisit Jim and Boston Beers on this date.  Because this is Jim’s 70th, this year is most relevant in the future of Boston Beers.

The company has evolved into one that is perhaps more in-tune-with the consumers’ wants than any other current beer company. Boston’s portfolio is extensive, but their brands, like Twisted Tea, Truly, and Angry Orchard, have transformed the company.   Where Boston’s great beers once led the charge, they are now secondary in volume sales; and their alternative products are primary in volume sales.

Several years ago, Boston Beers’ future was being discussed by many industry and Wall Street pundits. The company’s recent successes in alternative beers now has Boston’s stock price at or near all-time records! Their short term future outlook has changed dramatically.

Recently, the on-going question for Jim has been: what will the future hold for the company as Jim aged. That seems to have been answered with Boston’s recent announcement regarding the purchase of Dogfish Head and subsequently, Sam Calagione will be joining Boston’s team.

As structured, the deal was certainly a win-win for both companies with both portfolios’ merging. Even their individual distributor networks are workable as over 50% of distributors have both brands in their houses. The key to this acquisition is that Jim and Boston now have a 50-year-old, passionate, and motivated craft beer leader who can assist Boston and Dogfish going forward. On the surface, it looks like a perfect fit for both companies, but only time will tell. In the past, the industry has seen similar ventures which initially appeared to be a good fit, but then things changed, and ultimately the the merger did not work out according to plan. This one, however, looks to be different.

So the question going forward is: now that Boston and Dogfish are together, will there be more acquisitions by Boston? Jim has commented recently that he has been offered over 50 such deals, but passed on all until Dogfish presented itself.  Of course, when your company continues to grow, its stock remains at or near highs, and you lead in new products and categories, it puts the company in a position to be very selective as opportunities present themselves.

It appears that Jim’s wait-and-see approach is working. Given the current craft trends, that wait-and-see approach is the right hand to play.

No doubt this next decade for Jim will be very interesting. Happy 70th Jim!

May 27th, 2019

 Posted by at 6:00 am
May 212019

As the title of this blog states, the subject matter for my writings is truly limitless!  The inspirations come from my real life experiences of more than 50 years in the beer industry, providing fodder for the inspiring topics covered over the past seven years.  Frequently when asked about my knowledge of the industry, I share stories concerning the companies I have managed, the brands I have represented, and recently, about my teaching assignments, and consulting jobs. 

Though questions often center on what involvement I have had in the industry, some inquiries are less focused on the mundane and more so on the exciting and less talked about aspects of this business.  Like the dead bodies I have seen in bars, the outlines of human remains on bar floors, the beer stolen from my truck, the retailer who pulled a gun on me, and even the retailed who pulled a pistol from his pocket and began shooting at a rat running across the floor of his establishment.  I have also seen brewery executives fired for stealing, taking bribes and kickbacks, wholesalers trans-shipping beer, selling beer outside of their territory, altering the liquid in the kegs, falsifying bill-backs, and even hiding out-of-date products.

Of course, I have witnessed many employees partaking in the same tricks and once even knew of an individual who worked in the field for two different breweries at the same time! And, he was a full-time employee for both companies. The special considerations asked for by retailers have ranged the gamut from legal to illegal and everything in between.  Unfortunately, I have seen many breweries accommodate those requests.

On the flip side, I have witnessed a tremendous amount of good in the beer industry. For example, many wholesalers and breweries have provided help to victims of natural disasters; countless in the industry have hosted charity events for veterans’ organizations; and many have provided opportunities for fund-raising events to support local needs. I am happy to report that the good that is being done in the industry far out weights anything shady.

Perhaps, when asked: “What have you done in the beer industry,” rather than answer with the historical overview of my previous positions, I should respond:  “I have done and seen just about everything one can imagine in an industry that has a far-reaching impact on many.”

The subject material for these blogs is unending.

Editors note: There have been some technical difficulties with this site, we are trying to resolve these soon. Thanks.

 Posted by at 6:00 am