The National Beer Wholesaler Association’s convention and trade show took place last week in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace. During the second day of the event, a number of beer distributors, industry suppliers and celebrity speakers took the stage to recognize the industry’s resilience and educate attendees.
During the general session, Paul Bertucci kicked off Day 2 by speaking about NBWA’s Next Generation Group, which is composed of younger distributors (many of whom are second- or third-generation members in the family business). The association held its annual gathering of more than 200 Next Generation members in Boston over the summer.
There was also a changing of the guard, as Bertucci handed off his role to incoming Chairman of the Board Jim Matesich, President and CEO of Ohio’s Matesich Distributing. He spoke at length about his family’s history in the beer business, and how the industry needs to do more to prevent loss of market share and drinking occasions to the wine and spirits categories.
Joao Castro Neves, North America President and CEO of Anheuser Busch, spoke about the need to change the image of beer to combat declining sales. He pointed to a campaign AB has spearheaded in Europe in Australia, which positions beer as a sophisticated, healthy drink that appeals to female drinkers. Specifically, the campaign showcases beer’s lower calorie count compared to a glass of red wine, and its versatility of having a style for any consumer or drinking occasion.
During a panel discussion, Marksetin Beverage President Travis Markstein spoke to a panel of speakers representing the supplier, wholesale and retail tier about the changing face of retail. David Newman, Chief Insights and Strategy Officer at Crossmark (a research firm), presented data showing that the beer category has dropped from 65% to 51% share of the beverage alcohol market in the past 20 years, and he projects it will be surpassed by spirits in the coming decade if these trends continue.
To cap off the morning session, sportscaster Brent Musburger sat down with NBWA president Craig Purser and Convention Chairman Frank LaRose to talk about his long career covering some of the greatest games played across a variety of sports.
Musburger is now involved in a venture that covers sports betting, with daily shows on Sirius XM Radio and a studio in Las Vegas.
Brewer Partner of the Year
Bell’s Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan was named Brewer Partner of the Year at the convention. Now in its third year, the award recognizes brewers for building strong partnerships, providing valuable education and growing their brands through supportive partnerships with beer distributors.
Catawba Brewing Company of North Carolina was recognized with the Brewer Partner Sales Execution Award, and Titletown Brewing Company of Wisconsin was presented the Brewer Partner Marketing Innovation Award.
“There were three brewers that really stood out in this year’s submissions, and I’m thrilled to be able to recognize each of them for their accomplishments,” said NBWA President & CEO Craig Purser. “Bell’s Brewery is the perfect example of a homegrown business turning into a brand name we all recognize, in part because of the relationships it has built with distributors over the years, and is very deserving of the Brewer Partner of the Year Award.”
Purser continued, “Catawba Brewing Co. and Titletown Brewing Co. have great successes to share since they partnered with distributors, and we’re excited to see what else is in store for these two great brewer partners.”
Founded in 1983 by Larry Bell, Bell’s Brewery started as a home brewing supply shop and became a commercial brewery by 1985. Beer was first brewed in a 15-gallon soup kettle, and by 1985, Bell’s was producing 135 barrels a year. Bell’s has remained an independent, family business since its inception and now produces more than 370,000 barrels a year.
Bell’s partnered with its first distributor in 1989 to help it establish itself and grow its reach across Michigan. Since then, it has partnered with more than 100 distributors to sell craft beer across a 32-state area, as well as Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
Bell’s also has a history of incorporating its distributors into the company’s culture. It once hosted a Seinfeld-themed dinner where brewery representatives dressed up and acted like characters on the sitcom and paired beers with food featured in the show.
“As we expand into new territories, one of the key aspects of our process it to meet with potential distributors to provide them with education about Bell’s, and in turn, learn about them,” said Laura Bell, chief executive officer of Bell’s Brewery. “We feel that making strong decisions about our relationships right from the beginning leads to future success. We enter into our partnerships with commitment and the intention of being in business together for as long as we can be.”
Shawn Gary, president of Alliance Beverage Distributing, added, “We have watched this company methodically grow into our number one supplier based on their ‘go to’ market structure, brewery culture, overall industry support, and most importantly, quality of their products. Bell’s has always invested heavily in their brands, providing both training for our staff and sponsorship opportunities for their brand. Their sales culture is one that provides positive guidance and true market help and assistance to wholesale partners.”
Catawba Brewing Co. received the Brewer Partner Sales Execution Award in recognition of the growth the company has experienced since partnering with distributors. In five years, Catawba has built more than 20 distributor relationships across five states and is now 17 times larger than it was as a self-distributing brewer prior to that.
“We know to our core that wholesalers make possible what we do,” said Billy Pyatt, owner of Catawba Brewing Co. “We treat them as true customers, and we work together to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities before us.”
Catawba has spent years working with distributors and consumers to enhance its brand in the market. Recently, distributor representatives, retailers and Catawba consumers helped to design and implement the new CLT-IPA. Everyone collaborated on the beer’s attributes, label and recipe tweaks until the final product was unveiled at a multi-stop pub crawl.
Titletown Brewing Company, the recipient of the Brewer Partner Marketing Innovation Award, recently changed to a brewery with statewide capabilities after 20 years as an 1,800 barrel per year brewpub. Since making the conversion two and one-half years ago, it now produces 7,500 barrels per year.
“The selection of a network and development of a distribution strategy was a challenging process,” said Jim Kratowicz, CEO of Titletown Brewing Company. “We have a great product, a great brand story and tremendous upside; however, we would not be where we are today without the advice, guidance and partnership of our distributors.”