Evolving Drinks Brands

Evolving Drinks Brands banner

I recently read and shared an article in Forbes by Patrick Hanlon called, “Why Brands Must Evolve” that is so spot on that it has led to a number of interesting conversations in the past week with some of my clients and partners who own brands in beer, wine and spirits. As one who spends a lot of time thinking about new brands, as well as igniting established brands in new ways, Patrick’s thoughts really resonated with me. I don’t think there is a better industry than beverage to illustrate his points about what is going on with brands. Brand proliferation is happening across the board making “breaking through the clutter” ever more difficult. At the same time, the reason this is happening if fundamentally that there is demand for new brands. As I wrote in “RE: Is Craft Beer In A Bubble”, there is a big and growing market for new brands in beer, but also in wine and spirits. Not everyone will succeed and in fact many new brands will fail. To the big brand manager, the fundamental challenge has also never been so big – how do you keep a loyal following when your following gets gigantic. I think about an Iconic brand like Patron Tequila. I was a distributor for Patron as it passed between different sales companies and was a very difficult sell. Five years from the time it launched, Patron was doing about 55,000 cases. Now that is a nice little brand, but nothing would have screamed, “This brand is on fire!” Then, it did catch on fire and became the very symbol of luxury. Check out Patron case sales for the first 10 years:

Patron sales first 10 years

Patron is an amazing brand and continues to outsell all of the other super premium tequilas (and frankly all other spirits brands at $40/750ml bottle and higher). They have a huge and loyal following. However, as brand manager for Patron today, the things one has to do to market the brand are quite different than in the early years. How does one keep the “cool” factor going when you are the largest brand in your category. There are dozens of new entrants who are going after their market and have the advantage of being smaller (think Avion, Casamigos, Don Julio) and bringing a new “cool” factor to the market. Clearly there are many that succeed at this but being true to your brand and your audience while changing things up can be quite difficult. Absolut Vodka was THE luxury brand of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was the “it” brand among the “it” crowd.

Andy Warhol Absolut IMG_6541

Pernod Ricard paid over $8 billion to acquire the brand a few years back. How does Pernod now manage a giant brand that was formerly the top luxury vodka in a market with such massive proliferation of brands that the high-end vodka category has experienced. I’m told there are 800 vodkas in the Beverage Media New York book. Pernod recently announced a new bottle. Absolut is one of those brands that defined itself by its bottle.   Changing the bottle is a big move even in subtle ways. Adding the big A is a pretty big move. Large companies don’t usually make big moves, but staying relevant in a crowded market sometimes requires big moves.    Pepsico made an even bigger move a few years back with their Gatorade brand. I thought at the time, it was fairly risky, but it appears to have paid off (does anyone know details?).

gatorade new gatorade old label

Patrick’s article certainly cites a number of great examples of big brands that have managed to evolve over time and keep or even build on their past successes. “…the challenge for brands has evolved from creating awareness to creating meaning.” How do you keep creating meaning at scale like Nike, Apple and Disney have successfully done.  They each connect to their consumers and continually create meaning.

The wine market has evolved so dramatically, that I have to look up many of the brands on the grocery shelf today and I have been involved in selling $100s of millions of wine over the years. Why? New brand proliferation to attract the millennial consumers.

barefoot wine logo Meiomi wine

Take a look at the top 10 domestic “Hot Brands” put out by Marvin Shanken’s Impact Databank:

  1. Barefoot
  2. Black Box
  3. Bota Box
  4. Liberty Creek
  5. Boggle
  6. Apothic
  7. 14 hands
  8. Barefoot Refresh
  9. Gnarly Head
  10. Meiomi

Four of these are Gallo Brands, but none say Gallo. All have interesting, contemporary labels. To succeed in this hyper-competitive market, every brand must have a number of things. Great branding is vital, without it your brand is lost and has no chance. Great liquid that fits the taste of your target market is key, without it they won’t buy a second time. Distribution is essential, a brand cannot become relevant if consumers can’t find it. But how does a brand build a real following of consumers who care? That is, how do we create meaning? That is the question every new brand team needs to answer.

 

To quote Patrick again: “We want the added value of believing in something. The added value of belonging to something: being a part of something that hard-wires us to a larger community of “people like me””

 

Seth Godin in his fantastic book “Tribes” articulates this concept well.

“Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the distant past: tribes. Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change. He urges us to do so.” Brands have to figure out how to reach their tribes and how to engage with them. Notice, I did not say create their tribes. This is an important distinction. I believe tribes are discovered not created. Brands who overtly try to create one typically struggle. If a following is not organic, today’s savvy consumers sense it.   I think brands can make themselves relevant and worthy of a following and then as that following begins to show signs of life can play a role in fostering and accelerating it.

 

I’d love to hear your stories of brands you think are doing this right.

 

Cheers,

 

Smoke

 

RE: Is There A Craft Beer Bubble?

Craft Beer Bubble? May 2015

Fortune Magazine published a story by Chris Morris  May 14th that is getting a bit of attention, posing the thoughtful question: Is craft beer in a bubble?. The New York Times  published Craft Beer Is Booming, but Brewers See Crossroads asking the same question on February 4th.  I am now getting this question quite frequently from my friends both inside and outside the industry.  I’m in Chicago at the National Restaurant Association Show #NRASHOW and this was a hot topic last night over cocktails. 

It is particularly relevant given the amount of new outside money (many of my YPO and friends from other industries are investing in local breweries and increasingly distilleries.)  I read the statistic that there is a new brewery opening on average every day in the US this year.  In Fortune, they increase this by end of year to every 12 hours.   This statistic is a bit alarming on face value, but let us dig a little deeper.  To answer the question, one must answer two others:

1. Market Growth: Where is the market going – meaning is the growth in craft share going to continue and to what level?

2. New Capacity: Given the market assumptions from #1, can the size of the market absorb the growth in total capacity?

Market Growth:  First, a little perspective:  In craft beer boom 1.0 (circa mid 1990s), Chris Miller correctly points out there was a slow down in late 1997 and then flat to low growth for more than a decade before the current much larger boom.  My company at the time was actively investing in and building multiple craft beer brands both on the distribution front in Chicago (Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Pete’s, Bells) as well as regionally/nationally (Goose Island, Rogue).   Fortunately, we also had a healthy import business (Grolsch, Staropramen, Tennant’s) that continued to boom during the slowdown.  At the start of the current boom, we helped Flat12 start-up in Indianapolis and acquired Napa Smith Brewery in 2009 (sold in late 2012).   There is very little comparison this time around from the 1990s.  The degree of craft beer penetration into the beer market is fundamentally different.   It is much deeper and wider, and is touching every market in some way.  That said, the current level of craft sales as a percentage of the beer market is still quite small nationally (11% of volume according to the Brewers Association) vs in select highly developed craft beer markets (Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver).  That number has roughly doubled in the past 5 years.   I predict craft beer sales will double again and exceed 22% of the US beer market by 2020.  This mean approximately 22 million barrels of new craft sales on top of the existing 22 million.

(NOTE: one aside/caveat: craft beer is narrowly defined as independent brewers excluding cross ownership by larger companies in the alcohol industry.  This is more political than it is any reality with consumers.  Therefore the current share is actually a bit larger than 11%, adding in brands from companies like Goose Island and Craft Brewers Alliance (ABI).  My 22% number includes craft taken over by larger brewers).

New Capacity: This is where the “new brewery every 12 hours” statistic is not the most relevant one.   The important question is how much new capacity is actually being added to existing breweries combined with new breweries?  95% of the new breweries (and existing breweries) are more like restaurant businesses with a touch of manufacturing, than they are breweries.   They will never sell any meaningful volume outside their four walls of the tasting room.  There is nothing wrong with a local brewpub being a go-to stop for local people and there is clearly a market for this form of on-premise account.  The real question is how much capacity are the production breweries adding and how many of the start-ups actually believe they are going to sell beer outside their four walls.  This is where the true competitive dynamic in the marketplace will come into play.  Most new breweries that intend to go to market through distribution and retail will fail.  This is not because they have bad beer (some might but will die quickly) but rather they cannot make their brand relevant to the consumer in such a crowded field.  This lack of differentiation and branding will prevent them from having any meaningful distribution and retail penetration.

The lack of experience in running a full service brewery with a restaurant, attached to a major manufacturing operation, attached to a distribution business, attached to a consumer marketing company will be the downfall of many.   Here at the NRA, the 1000’s of operators can attest to the competitive nature of the restaurant aspect alone.  There are a lot of smart investors in restaurant companies that have leadership teams with deep experience fighting hard for their share of the consumers’ purchasing dollars.  Breweries that want to scale must both run a brew pub that competes with them and figure out how to sell in their beer to a limited number of tap handles available.

 

 

My conclusion as of today: The market can absorb many more breweries and capacity than exists today.  The ones that remain focused on serving their local clientele will have the best chance of success.  The ones that enter the fray of production and distribution will enter one of the most competitive and tough businesses that exist.   Those that do not bring an experienced team, significant capital, creative and compelling branding and distribution to the table will fail.  There is a bubble of inexperienced entrepreneurs combined with inexperienced investors who are entering the market.  I look forward to the shake-out and the opportunities it will create for those prepared. In the meantime, I love capitalism at work and entrepreneurial spirit the craft beer market is demonstrating for all to see.

Real March Madness – Indiana Says No To Leadership & Open Mindedness

Indiana Legislature Tells The NCAA, NFL, NBA, Eli Lilly, GenCon, Amazon, Salesforce, YPO, The Chamber of Commerce and Others to Take a Hike

Really? Is this what we elected a super majority of Republicans to do? Apparently, the leadership decided it made sense to push through the “Religious Freedom Act”. I wrote a piece called “It’s 2015: Where Have All The Leaders Gone?” last week, I had no idea how timely that was. Here is a recent story on the issue.Indiana closed for business

Indiana House OKs controversial religious freedom bill

The basic argument of those in favor of these laws seems to be quite weak. This post discusses the fact that the language is very similar to existing law at the Federal level and in the state. If that is so, why is it needed?

Indiana’s So-Called ‘Right to Discriminate’ Law Appears Very Similar to Existing Federal Law

I have yet to hear or read a strong argument in its favor. This is an issue drummed up by those wanting to drum up issues and make a seemingly principled stand on what other people do in their private lives. The hypotheticals they use like a caterer who does not want to serve a gay wedding are simply dumb. If any business like that really does not want to get someone’s business for any reason, they could simply make their bid not competitive and lose out to others. The idea you need a law to turn away business is the very example of conservatism gone amuck.

One of the more ridiculous arguments for a change in the language put forth was “A House committee last week tried to assuage the concerns of some business interests, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, with an amendment that exempts employers from any lawsuits brought by employees under the legislation.” They completely miss the point.

Have any of these people voting for this considered what this legislation actually permits? What if a Muslim shop owner decided their religion prevented them from serving Christians or Jews? Or Visa versa? Under the language of this legislation, that would be permitted wouldn’t it? How about another example, where a restaurant owner believes adultery is against their religion and refuses to allow people they suspect of committing it to dine in their establishment based on their religious conscience. How about couples living together in sin, unmarried, against the teaching of an owners religion. Who gets to decide? The idea that small government conservatives would put into place a framework for the state to arbitrate these questions strikes me as worse than counter intuitive.

And while I do not agree with much of what passes for journalism on MSNBC, this story was well done on putting this in perspective nationally and why this fight is not only wrong but in the end will cause damage to Indiana and ultimately will fail – Why ‘religious freedom’ laws are doomed

The bottom line is why do we have such an activist state government that feels it necessary to make a law like this? Starting with Governor Daniels and continued under Governor Pence, the state has done a great job of attracting businesses and rebuilding the economy in spite of the ridiculous headwinds from Washington. Indiana has a great track record in this regard, especially relative to its neighbor states of IL and MI. So why risk that momentum and progress now?

Consequences:

The big table top game convention that brings 56,000 people and $50 million to the State and is Indianapolis’ second-largest convention, is threatening to relocate its massive late-summer annual event to another city if Gov. Mike Pence signs the controversial “religious freedom” bill into law added in a letter to the Governor “Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years,” GenCon CEO Adrian Swartout said Monday in a letter to Pence.

GenCon threatens to exit Indy over ‘religious freedom’ measure

The Backlash to the Anti-Gay Backlash: “Religious Freedom” Bills Fail, As More People See What They’re Really About

My question is: how long can an organization like the NCAA or a company like Eli Lilly or Amazon who keeps expanding here stand by and do business as usual in such potentially hostile environment to their employees, customers and constituents. Many of my CEO friends around the world in Young Presidents Organization (YPO is a group of over 22,000 CEOs with a combined $6 trillion in revenue and 15 million employees) have been sending messages to the effect of “REALLY Smoke, what kind of state do you live in?” In the case of Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation when confronted with the uproar of the NFL (and Super Bowl pullout) and the business community. Governor Pence, do you think we are immune to this? Do you think you are standing on principle? If so it is the wrong one.

How long until the NFL pulls the combine? How many NCAA tournaments do you think we will land going forward. Oh and by the way, what great timing Legislature to put Indiana in the national spotlight during March madness.

Conservatives Against Close Mindedness

Yes, one can be a conservative and be completely opposed to this kind of legislation and behavior. In fact, it is the opposite of true conservatism. This is government intervention at its worst. I’m a long time supporter of conservative causes and of many Republicans, who cannot reconcile this. For example, I whole-heartedly supported the Indiana legislative takeover led by Mitch Daniels and others that was mainly about fixing the education system in Indiana. The fact is the Teachers’ Union had a lock on the legislature and a group of like-minded business people and conservatives got together and supported state legislative candidates and made them competitive for the first time. This led to the current makeup of the legislature here. And there are many good things that have come out of that takeover. That said, this is not one of them.

In fact, it makes me want to put a fund together of like-minded people to knock off the knuckleheads who voted this legislation into law.   While I’m glad the Democrats (and 5 brave Republicans) all voted against this, I certainly don’t want to see the teacher’s union back in control preventing all kinds of experimentation and change in our troubled education system, but I also don’t want to see the current crop of “leaders” in place. Is there not a sensible center? How about a group of fiscal conservative, libertarian minded folks who can knock off the current group and create the kind of government that this state and its people deserve?

Who is with me?

Supporting the “Religious Freedom Act”:

Voting Yes:

Republicans: Arnold, Aylsworth, Bacon, Baird, Behning, Borders, Bosma, Braun, Tim Brown, Burton, Carbaugh, Cherry, Cook, Cox, Culver, Davisson, Dermody, DeVon, Fine, Friend, Frizzell, Frye, Gutwein, Hamm, Harman, Heaton, Judy, Karickhoff, Koch, Lehe, Leonard, Lucas, Mahan, Mayfield, McMillin, McNamara, Miller, Morrison, Morris, Negele, Nisly, Ober, Olthoff, Price, Rhoads, Richardson, Schaibley, Slager, Smaltz, Milo Smith, Soliday, Speedy, Steuerwald, Sullivan, Thompson, Torr, Truitt, Ubelhor, VanNatter, Washburne, Wesco, Zent, Ziemke.

Democrats: None.

Voting No:

Republicans: Beumer, Clere, Eberhart, Kirchhofer, Saunders.

Democrats: Austin, Bartlett, Bauer, Charlie Brown, DeLaney, Errington, Forestal, GiaQuinta, Goodin, Hale, Kersey, Klinker, Lawson, Macer, Moed, Moseley, Niezgodski, Pelath, Pierce, Pryor, Riecken, Shackleford, Vernon Smith, Stemler, Summers, Wright.

EXCUSED (not sure why you can be excused from something like this) Dvorak, Harris, Huston, Lehman, Porter, Wolkins.

At the very least, the businesses that choose to not serve Gays or Muslims or Jews or Adulterers or whatever this bills proponents and the supposed beneficiaries of it are really after, should be required to place stickers that get applied to the front door of their establishments and to be put on an easy to find list on the web. Those who think this is some great move to respect individual’s religion don’t get to have it both ways – The ability to discriminate based on your conscience AND the ability to remain anonymous. You may well choose to not serve someone out of your religious conscience under this law, but we don’t need a law to choose not to do business with you.

 

3/29 UPDATE: Well its been quite a week and Indiana has taken a beating on the national and international stage. Based on everything I’ve read including the law itself (here), this explanation in the Weekly Standard and a balanced analysis in the Star (here) and this lawyers blog post (here) among other things, I stand by my remarks above.   One thing I’ll add, the fact that similar laws exist around the country does not mean they are right.  There are so many laws on the books that may have made sense at one time or another, but today make no sense.  The attempt to balance an individuals right to practice their chosen religion with the basic right to not be discriminated against is not difficult in my mind.  No one has the right to discriminate for any reason.   Governor Pence, that was the right answer on today’s  This Week show with George Stephanopoulos.

Aside from that, the shear political ham handedness of the Indiana Republican leadership (who I supported and elected) is breathtaking.  Every lead in to the Final Four this weekend will have this issue front and center (assuming the NCAA does not pull it at the last minute).  The damage being done economically and reputationally to our state will take many years to overcome. And why?  What compelling reason or case was there that drove this?  You who practice politics for a living, have no excuse.   The damage to my business, my friends, and to my state of over 25 years gives me a high level of motivation to work to get you out of office.

 

April 4 Update:  An excellent post #RFRA firestorm overview…@CarlyFiorina ​ has it right. “Creating an Artificial Divide in Indiana

It’s 2015, Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

Slide13

Leadership principles stand the test of time. To me these are defined by integrity, a strong sense of right and wrong, hard work, persistence and resiliency. Finally a commitment to a greater good or cause (helping others) is integral. Letsal20081-206x300(pp_w124_h180)adership is not popularity; good leaders will have times when they are more or less in and out of favor (see Sir. Winston Churchill). Leaders have a strong sense of their core principles from which they don’t depart, regardless of current popular opinion.  Leaders are human beings and by definition are not flawless.  That said, all true leaders have a sense of service – service to their organization or community and to other individuals – from which they strive to lift up organizations and people.  I agree with Robert K. Greenleaf’s view on the topic.

In my travels, I frequently have the opportunity to spend quality time with extraordinary individuals in all walks of life. These include Business CEOs, nonprofit directors, education experts, entertainers, politicians and just ordinary people doing their thing. Many of these individuals are not interested in public leadership, yet in their very day-to-day actions, quietly provide outstanding examples of true leadership.  In a recent interaction with one highly successful CEO, our conversation led to the question of political leadership and the level of vitriol in much of the public dialogue going on. Whether in race relations, economic and entitlement disputes, or combating terrorism, one need only turn on the television and flip channels to hear it on all sides of the political spectrum.

I grew up in a family of teachers and liberals. I was known back then as the “Alex P. Keaton” of my family (Michael J. Fox’s character in Family Ties) by many relatives. In other words, I was a conservative thinking person in a household of liberaFamily tiesls. I grew up debating the issues of the day at the kitchen table. And while at family get togethers even today, we may disagree on approach, inevitably there is agreement on many of the problems in the world and that the status quo is unacceptable. There is no name calling or questioning of each others intentions, but rather a healthy disagreement on solutions. I’m struck by how rare this is in today’s public discourse.

For example, there is widespread agreement that America’s education system is failing our country, our communities and our kids.   Teachers think this. Parents think this. Kids think this. CEOs think this.

See What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?

Why American Education Fails

The Failure of American Schools

The Graph That Shows How Badly U.S. Education is Failing

I view the bureaucracy and the statist entrenched interests as fundamental impediments to change for effective education. One can be quite liberal and agree with that viewpoint. Where there is significant disagreement typically are in the methods and approaches for changing it. Without addressing the solutions here (my point is leadership and constructive discourse not solving education in this post), the level of personal attacks and vitriol around the debate, is often times exacerbated by our public officials. The current fights around Common Core are bringing out some of this (see Who Is Fighting Against Common Core?).   Common Core has brought conservative and liberal groups together in opposition (for very different reasons). In every state and locality, there are the powerful teachers unions who tend to oppose most reforms of any impact. In many cases they have captured the statehouses with members who pledge allegiance to them regardless of position (see Teachers union fights Cuomo’s school reforms).  The debate in most cases is not a debate, but rather, a contest of sound bites to make political points, usually denigrating the opponents.

 

Back to my conversation with the CEO above, we reminisced about leaders in the past who seemed to bronald-reagan-brandenburg-gate-west-berlin-june-12-1987-picturee above the fray and always showed class and respect for their opponents. I mentioned President Ronald Reagan, whom I never had the chance to meet, but admired greatly. I have read and heard from those who knew him, that Reagan treated everyone with respect. He would speak to the gardener, as he would address a world leader. He was also willing to take tough stands regardless of the political winds. His advisors and speechwriters, the State Department and all around him reportedly advised strongly against any mention of the Berlin Wall coming down. When Reagan made his now famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate he overruled them all as he spoke that incredible call to action “Tear Down This Wall”. All agree it was a pivotal moment in the history of cold war, and it would not have come to be had he been willing to say what he thought was right at that moment.  I remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan exhibiting these qualities and being willing to tackle tough issues regardless of the dogma of his party.  He had an ability to reach across the aisle and collaborate with political foes on important issues.

Former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels has this quality as well. Mitch served for a purpose, and it was NOT for the purpose of being in office. These were leaders in the true sense of the word.   Individuals who would stand by their convictions in spite of opposition, but who never seemed to make personal attacks against individuals. They also served in the true sense of the word. I miss that.

Smoke & Mitch Daniels

I’m not saying there are no leaders today who exhibit these characteristics, but it is simply too rare. As long as personal attacks of motives and cult of personality (regardless of how bad the behavior) are accepted and even encouraged, this will remain the case. I fundamentally believe one can disagree on ideas and still have great respect for others. This is true in politics, business and life. As serial entrepreneur, Sir. Richard Branson posted today “The importance of good neighbors is often underappreciated. By fostering a healthy and respectful relationship, everybody stands to gain.”   I have many friends who exhibit these qualities traveling to Melbourne, Australia this week for the Global Leadership Conference (GLC) for the Young Presidents Organization (YPO/WPO).  In business and nonprofits, and community organizations, there are individuals exhibiting great leadership every day. I’d be interested in hearing your examples of people who exhibit the qualities of true leaders in their words and deeds.

Channel Conflict II: Grocery Alcohol Fights Across the Land

Last week I wrote about Channel Conflict in the 3 tier system of alcohol distribution between wholesalers and Anheuser-Busch Inbev and the craft community. I received quite a few interesting comments from my friends on both sides of the issue.   One highly respected industry member commented to me “Very nice job trying to ride the third rail of these issues and explain a complex issue in simple terms.”

Well here goes again with an issue that I get asked about frequently. Another interesting channel conflict is between and among the members of the retail tier. This channel conflict involves questions regarding who (what types of retailers) can sell which types of beverage alcohol and when alcohol can be sold (e.g. Grocery Sales of beer spirits and wine and Sunday Sales). These questions are raging across the country in different states. The conflict pits independent liquor stores (and specialty chain liquor stores depending on the state) against the corporate chains (Costco, Kroger, Publix, Target, Walmart etc). An example of this is the Sunday sales of alcohol at retail in Indiana. After passing out of committee with a “poison pill change” Sunday sales was killed in the Indiana legislature. Sunday Alcohol Sales Meet Familiar Fate.

liquor store sign liquor sales sunday closed

In a closely related question pertaining to which type of retailer can sell which products, in 2014 Tennessee passed a law allowing grocery stores to sell not only beer, which they already could sell, but also wine. Wine in grocery stores passes; what’s next?

In Florida, Walmart and others are pushing legislation for the right to sell spirits within the same store as groceries and not be required to have a separate stand-alone entrance. Publix, another grocer, does not support the change since they already have stand-alone entrances throughout the state. Beer and wine are treated differently in Florida and groceries are able to sell inside a grocery store. Publix opposes, Walmart backs Florida bill to let grocers sell liquor.  Update – More Here: Florida: Spirited Battle Ahead over Florida’s Liquor Separation Law

3/23 Update: Beer bill on tap in Florida House on Tuesday

 

kroger store outside kroger wine shop walmart store shot outside

In some cases, these fights are spilling over into the courts and not just the legislatures. Walmart lawsuit highlights Texas’ surprising alcohol laws. In the case of Texas and Walmart’s litigation, it is about their right to sell products that the specialty retailers currently have a lock on and have created work-arounds for ownership of large-scale chains.  UPDATE:

Costco joins coalition to broaden liquor sales laws in Texas

The reality is there are so many new brands, it is hard to keep up with them all, for people in the industry, let alone consumers. This proliferation of new brands is driven by today’s consumer thirst for new things, literally. Generally speaking, I believe more open markets are better for consumers, but taken to extreme can cause massive consolidation and the independent specialty liquor shops and specialty chains find themselves at a significant disadvantage to the corporate chains. Markets like California and Arizona are examples of wide-open sales of beer, spirits and wine. This has been the case for a long time. In these markets the corporate chains dominate the retail landscape. The independent sector is a much smaller portion of the total business. The large specialty chains have also been very successful in these markets (Bevmo! and Total Wine & More).

Bevmo store shot Bevmo logo

 

The relative advantage of full line retailers (grocery) is what is driving the fights over Sunday  sales. Liquor stores are not open on Sundays, but the grocery chains are. The groceries of course want to be able to sell alcohol, as they are open, fully staffed and have consumers in their stores who would like to purchase it. The liquor stores would have to man their stores with staff and the thinking among many is the incremental sales on Sunday will simply come out of sales during the week they would get anyway. Their worse fear is that the groceries will end up with a greater share of the incremental business with so many consumers already shopping in their stores on Sunday.  The package stores won the recent Indiana fight by taking a quite reasonable position – that all retailers should be under the same sets of laws.  In the end, the groceries could not support losing the significant freedoms they currently have just to get Sunday sales.

Sunday-alcohol-sales-prohibitdotcom

To people (consumers) who live in both more “open” or “closed” states, these fights seem strange indeed.   There has been a long-term trend to more liberalization of alcohol laws on a state-by-state basis. But this liberalization has been gradual and certainly not continuous. As the large grocery/mass retailers have shifted their attention to gaining share of the increasingly important beverage alcohol market and Total Wine continuing their massive expansion around the country, the independent sector will continue to be under pressure and where organized, able to continue to slow the pace of change through state legislatures and regulations. That said, the most strategic of the independents and specialty chains are innovating and investing

in their ability to serve their customers and compete effectively with the other retail sectors. Walmart and most other full service retailers will never have the specialized staff that a focused specialty retailer of alcohol can have (There are exceptions on a store level, but this is true overall). This high level of knowledge and service with customers is what will keep consumers coming back. I think the bigger fear is a large specialty retailer (Total Wine) that has it all – scale ($1.5 million in alcohol sales) and low pricing, product depth (10,000 skus typically) and highly knowledgeable employees. They are very strong.

Total wine logo total wine store shot

The wholesalers and most of the suppliers all try to stay out of these arguments, since both sets of retailers are their customers. DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council Of The United States) though has a long-standing policy to fight against anything that disadvantages spirits to other types of alcohol. They have been quite effective on this front in many markets. The craft (beer, spirits and wine) producers definitely benefit from a thriving independent market as they get more opportunities for their smaller or new brands than in the corporate chains, but they also benefit by having a more open market with multiple channels for consumers to buy alcohol. It’s a tough balance to maintain with many competing interests, but in the end the market will drive it, albeit more slowly than many consumers want with the local legislation and regulations market by market.

I’d love to hear you thoughts on these issues and other examples in your state.

Cheers,
Smoke

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