Posts ByJulie Rhodes, Author at PorchDrinking.com
Amongst the revelry of craft beer fans that descended upon Denver in late September for the annual Great American Beer Festival, a smaller group of beer enthusiasts gathered at Cervantes Masterpiece in Five Points for the last Brewbound BrewTalks industry event of 2023. While GABF is mainly a consumer-facing event, there are a small number of industry insider, business-focused events that occur that same week and BrewTalks is one of them.
On August 10, 2023, the Brewers Association issued a press release summarizing the craft beer industry midyear update from the Chief Economist, Bart Watson, where he expressed that things are still not great for craft beer, but also not quite as bad as they have been.
Number nerds unite! This was the call to action for many brewery owners, operators, and employees during the Brewers Association 2023 Craft Brewers Conference, which took place from May 7-10 at the Music City Center in Nashville, TN. So what’s the noise about numbers and why should the craft beer community even care?
Together Is Not Always Better: How Consolidation In the Middle Tier Is Impacting The Future of Craft Beer BrandsApril 28, 2023 | Julie Rhodes 1
For most craft breweries, the trajectory of brand growth follows a somewhat traditional path – starting with taproom sales, progressing to selling in the wholesale channel, and then alignment with a beer wholesaler to grow the distribution footprint. Sounds simple enough on paper, but if you drill down into the nuances of selling beer wholesale, things get complicated very quickly. The US is unlike any other country in the world when it comes to the three-tier alcohol distribution system. Some states do not allow suppliers to self-distribute (sell directly) their products to licensed retail accounts, yielding asinine practices like selling beer to yourself for your own taproom. Some states are also dubbed “franchise” law states where if your brand aligns with a distributor you must endure a contractual arrangement that makes changing distributor partners harder than selling beachfront property in Arizona. And we haven’t even begun to address the large big beer elephant in the room and how many large beer distribution houses are aligned with one of two big players in the US beer market. For many craft brands that are just getting started or fall into the category of small to medium-sized producers, strategizing how to enter the wholesale channel is a formidable challenge, including contending with a host of other legislative, litigious, and anti-competitive issues in the middle tier that have surfaced over the past few decades. As if growing craft beer producers didn’t have enough to contend with these days in the form of rising costs of goods, labor shortages, inflation, and the squeeze from alternative beverage choices in the marketplace, woes like wholesaler consolidation, unfair trade practices, and antiquated beverage alcohol regulations are making the middle tier the next big battleground for craft beer brands.
Goose Island, Bluepoint, Boulevard, Sweetwater, Founders, Wicked Weed, Anchor, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas, Dogfish Head, Ballast Point, Cigar City, Modern Times, Stone, Bell’s, and most recently Avery Brewing – not a comprehensive list by any means, but just a sampling of formerly independent craft breweries that merged with or were acquired by larger parent companies over roughly the past decade. The difference between now and then is that craft brewery M&A’s are just not that big of a deal anymore. Back then, craft beer drinkers and superfans would be up in arms over a buyout or partnership deal of any size – suggesting boycotts, bashing brands online, and protesting festivals where “sellout” breweries would be pouring their liquid. Today, that’s not quite the case, with deals like the Bell’s and New Belgium merger or the acquisition of Avery Brewing by import giant Mahou San Miguel barely sparking a peep of controversy online. So what’s changed – the craft beer fan or the business of craft beer?
On January 17th, 2023, the nearly 100 current employees of Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens, GA filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to unionize under a brand new independent labor banner — BUG or the Brewery Union of Georgia. This does not mean that Creature Comforts has officially unionized their labor force, as a formal election process amongst employees must take place to solidify the new structure and then head to the bargaining table, but BUG organizers are optimistic about the vote. The discussion about unionization began earlier last summer and progressed quickly as many employees cited feeling neglected, overburdened, and unsupported by upper management, who have been busy planning the expansion of a new Creature Comforts facility in Los Angeles. BUG also believes that unionization embraces Creature Comforts’ overarching company values such as ‘“existing to foster human connection” and “building a balanced team of authentic and professional individuals.”
Back in July of 2021, the Biden Administration issued Executive Order 14036, addressing competition in the beer, wine and spirits industry. The goal of the executive order is to uncover the challenges that suppliers face in entering the industry. After an extensive request for information (RFI) period open to the general public and industry members alike, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Federal Trade Commission, Secretary of the Treasury, and the Attorney General of the United States determined that unlawful trade practices need to be a more prominent focus for lawmakers if they want to level the playing field for new and existing beverage brands.
The 40th anniversary of the Great American Beer Festival marks the first time the event has been held in person and open to the public since 2019. To say that brewers and craft beer fans are excited is an extreme understatement. While participation and attendance were limited this year due to renovations to the Colorado Convention Center, the exhibitor floor was still packed with over 200 suppliers and drew over 10,000 fans to the event.
Yes, but also no. How’s that for a definitive answer? The intricacies of why craft beer dances between recession-proof and recession-resistant are many, but the first step in answering this complex question is to analyze the underbelly of what a recession actually is, how it affects the alcohol industry overall, and what that means for craft brewery owners and operators. Taking a look at factors like consumer behavior, unemployment rates, gas prices, syndicated retail sales data, beer supply, and market seasonality all contribute to how craft beer will fare during times of economic duress. Earning its chops as a multi-billion dollar consumer packaged goods industry over the past decade, craft beer can simply not afford to overlook a downturned economy as something that will not affect bottom lines.
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Mark Twain
For most craft beer industry workers, this couldn’t ring more true. The idea of turning a homebrewing hobby or a passion for craft beer into a flourishing career seems like a dream scenario. The way other people’s eyes light up when someone mentions they work in craft beer is priceless. Feeling like you have a job that others outside of the industry can only wildly dream about makes beer folks feel as though they have something really special, but are things really that great, or is the beer labor force being gaslit by the false pretense of job satisfaction, security and just plain fun? As the industry matures and evolves, being one of the “cool kids” in the beer industry isn’t all backslaps and beer shots, it’s become more about workers’ rights, workplace safety, and earning a living wage.
Friday, June 24th, 2022 will forever go down in the craft beer history tomes as the day that the fiercely independent, “loud and proud” antithesis to “fizzy yellow beer,” Stone Brewing, was purchased in its entirety by the internationally famous for “fizzy yellow beer” conglomerate, Sapporo USA. As malt enthusiasts rose from their slumber and checked their social media feeds, widespread media coverage of the buyout hit the wires at about 3:00 am on this morning. For anyone who has followed the business side of the craft beer industry for the last couple of decades, this was no surprise.
Every year, the Brewers Association publishes its Industry Review issue of The New Brewer magazine, which gives craft beer industry members a snapshot of how each brewery segment of the industry has performed over the past year in terms of production and sales levels. This edition never fails to disappoint with a plethora of juicy statistics for beer data nerds to chew on and brewery ownership to postulate about the future of the craft beer market landscape. This year was not without its share of surprises, with the likes of a non-alcoholic beer brand entering the mix and even more appearances by well-known breweries now functioning as “beverage” companies enjoying success with products that go beyond the typical ale or lager. And while that sexy 8% overall segment growth rate gets industry folks all excited, it’s not without some fine print. It’s one thing to take these rankings on the nose and pass judgment on where the craft beer industry is heading, but there are some really interesting finds in this data if you learn to read between the lines.
For a vast number of current and aspiring beer professionals, the annual Craft Brewers Conference hosted by the Brewers Association is THE go-to industry conference for all things beer-related. It’s four full days of seminars, workshops, and social networking events, plus a seemingly endless trade show floor ripe with vendors enthusiastically waiting to sell you everything from gaskets and exotic hops to insurance and glycol systems. Most attendees return home with swag bags full of branded goodies and heads full of ideas. But what’s the true return on investment (ROI) of attending the Craft Brewers Conference when it comes to growing the bottom line of your brewery business? If you or your team didn’t attend the conference, this will give you some insight into what was missed and for those that did attend, some ideas for how to revisit sessions and take advantage of all that was offered to help you optimize the business side of your brewery.
After surviving a dismal Q1 of 2022, the craft beer industry can finally breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to more sunny skies for the remainder of 2022. A recent smattering of craft beer industry updates from trade associations, allied trade partners, and data aggregates are providing craft breweries more light at the end of their pandemic market tunnel. The general consensus is optimistic, whether it’s Bart Watson from the Brewers Association relaying his confidence about 2022 for craft brewers or 76% of craft brewers themselves waxing positive about sales growth this year in the 2022 Brewing Growth Trends Report from Arryved. It’s time to break out your sunglasses beer folks, let’s take a look at the brighter state of the craft beer industry (with some occasional clouds) heading into the remainder of 2022.
Back in July 2021, the Biden Administration issued Executive Order 14,036 focused on “Promoting Competition in the American Economy.” An Executive Order is a broad directive from the Executive Branch that sometimes can act as an immediate law. The goal of Biden’s EO last year was to draw attention to consolidation and competition in various industries in order to provide benefits to consumers in the form of better service, more product choices, and lower prices, as well as provide guidance for regulatory agencies to provide a more level playing field for small businesses. In this instance, Executive Order 14,036 specifically addresses competition in the beer, wine, and spirits industry.