Tapping the Booze Business

Tapping the Booze Business

May, 2018

Tapping the Booze Business

Hemp, CBD and extraction companies can crack the infused alcoholic beverage market but must navigate a regulatory thicket

By Vicky Uhland

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, small, local brewers and distillers were the first to get back into the alcohol business. Many either grew into national brands or were snapped up by larger companies looking to expand.

Today, the same scenario is occurring with beer, wine and spirits infused with hempseed oil, cannabidiol or cannabis terpenes. Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing, for example, recently unveiled a hemp beer, while California-based Lagunitas Brewing last year offered a brew infused with cannabis terpenes.

“We’re in a unique moment in time. There are no big hemp or CBD alcohol brands yet, so there’s a window – maybe for the next three to five years – to establish a brand,” said Smoke Wallin, chief marketing officer and president of distribution for Vertical, a company in Agoura Hills, California, that is developing a CBD oil that can be infused into alcohol.

Some big companies are wasting no time, especially with Canada poised to legalize recreational marijuana. Last October, New York-based Constellation Brands, which distributes more than 80 wine, beer and spirits brands, paid $190 million (CA$245 million) for a 9.9% stake in Canadian cannabis cultivator Canopy Growth Corp. Wallin and others believe more large beverage companies will follow.

 

Smoke Wallin, former WSWA Chairman and President of Vertical Companies

 

“I’m absolutely certain the Anheuser-Busches, the Bacardis, the Jack Daniel’s are going to get into this, but they will wait until marijuana is fully legal to do it,” said Wallin, who has more than 25 years of experience in the alcoholic beverage business. “Anyone that can get a brand established in the meantime, and show traction, is going to be very attractive to the big players.”

That translates into business opportunities for hemp growers, CBD producers and companies that extract oils such as cannabis terpenes. Those products don’t carry the same stigma in the United States as THC-laden marijuana, but it won’t be a slam dunk.

The marriage of alcohol and cannabis faces unique regulatory and legal hurdles, making it difficult for hemp, CBD and extraction companies to produce their own booze. The simpler option for those companies is to sell their products to alcoholic beverage manufacturers to get a foothold in what could become a lucrative product niche.

Striking a Partnership

That’s what Joe Pimentel did. In 2017, Pimentel, the owner of Luce Farm in Stockbridge, Vermont, decided to start producing CBD-infused honey to set his farm apart from other area hemp growers. He approached Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont, about carrying the honey in the brewery’s restaurant and gift shop.

“The CBD hemp market is so immature, so our strategy is to align with a lot of Vermont brands that are better known than ours,” Pimentel said.
Long Trail decided not only to sell the honey, but also to make a beer with it. “We liked that the hemp gives us new flavors we can’t get anywhere else,” said Head Brewer Ian Harbage. But the honey played havoc with the beer’s consistency, so the brewers opted for Luce’s CBD extract and hemp terpenes instead.

Terpenes are separated out at the beginning of the hemp-extraction process, like an essential oil, and then the CBD extract remains. Pimentel used to do his own extractions, but “nothing we could create in our kitchen had consistent levels of THC,” he said.

He started researching the best extraction techniques and decided on a carbon dioxide method offered by the PhytoScience Institute in Waterbury, Vermont. PhytoScience now handles all of Luce Farm’s hemp extractions, and the terpenes are consistently documented at less than 1 part per million THC.

CBD has more health properties but not as much flavor and aroma as terpenes. “The main terpenoid in cannabis is the main flavor in hops, which makes terpenes and beer a good partnership,” said Andrew Follett, the owner of Philadelphia-based Keystone Canna Products, which was founded in 2014 to help hemp farmers distribute nationally.

Follett also said CBD, which has a slightly nutty flavor, is a better option for wine and spirits manufacturers that don’t want a distinct cannabis taste or smell in their products. But he noted that it takes time, effort and creativity to mix the oily product into beverages, which can deter some brewers and distillers.

Regulatory Headache

Like the cannabis sector, the alcohol industry faces a web of regulations – in this case from both the states and the feds. Consequently, hemp, CBD and extraction companies must be aware of the complicated regulatory process when wading into the alcohol business.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s declaration in December 2016 that CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance – like marijuana and heroin – complicated matters. Last year, a Colorado craft beer producer, Dad & Dude’s Breweria, butted heads with the feds over the brewery’s production of a non-THC, CBD-infused beer. Dad & Dude’s had previously won approval for the brew from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The brewery, which continues to sell the beer on its premises, is for now locked in a legal battle with the DEA as well as the agency.

The TTB, meanwhile, presents other hurdles. Any alcohol company that sells across state lines, for example, must secure approval from the agency. Back in 2000, the agency’s predecessor issued requirements covering formulas, processes and labels for domestic hemp products. The policy requires all alcoholic beverages that contain hemp or a hemp component to submit a lab report stating the amount of THC in the hemp, a move that dovetails with the DEA’s policy.

“It follows the DEA’s rules, and the intent of those rules are to ensure the product is THC-free or has trace amounts,” said Ryan Malkin of Malkin Law, a Miami Beach, Florida, firm that specializes in alcohol law.

In December 2017, Weatherford, Texas-based TVM Wines received TTB approval to manufacture and sell its hemp wine across state lines. The process took two years and 28 different paperwork submissions to the agency, said Elease Hill, TVM co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing.

Hill said the key was to supply the agency with lab tests showing the hempseed oil used in her sweet, citrus-based wines had less than 4 parts per million THC, and that the oil was derived from hemp stalks, roots or stems rather than flowers or resin, which is considered a Schedule I substance by the DEA.

“You have to be careful where you get your hempseed oil from,” Hill said. “I had one that was 3% THC, from mature hemp stalks, and the DEA said that was too high, so the oil must be coming from hemp resin.”

Hill found her suppliers through a list provided by the Texas Hemp Industries Association and by simply Googling hempseed oil companies. She read product reviews and then called the companies to check their references and lab work documentation.

Hill eventually partnered with Keystone Canna Products. Its hemp oil and food brand, Cannagenix, specializes in paper trails and lab testing, according to Follett, the owner.

“There are a lot of hemp and CBD products but not a lot of quality documentation,” he said, noting that growers and CBD companies that can’t produce a regulatory paper trail are likely to be shut out of the alcohol business.

Labeling Semantics

Hill said even though TVM’s wines contain CBD, they’re labeled as “hemp seed oil infused” because the TTB and DEA preferred the word “hemp” to “CBD.”

But, like most cannabis law, this is a gray area. The determining factor appears to be where the beer, wine or spirits are sold. Even if alcohol doesn’t cross state lines, regulations vary from state to state, just as they do with cannabis.

So far, Long Trail’s Medicator beer hasn’t run up against the TTB, even though the can says: “Vermont’s first CBD infused beer.” But the company has made only three small batches and has limited sales to the brewery’s pub.

In California, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing uses cannabis terpenes in its SuperCritical Ale. CannaCraft, a vertically integrated medical cannabis producer and distributor in Santa Rosa, California, extracted terpenes for the beer using a carbon dioxide process.

“There is no THC in the beer, so we simply made the beer and did not ask for permission to do that which we do every day,” said Lagunitas founder and Executive Chairman Tony Magee. “However, the TTB became interested, and we are talking with them about it right now. I’m pretty confident they will understand what we intend to do, and we’re looking forward to making a whole lot more of it.”

 

Cannabis, Crypto — Craft Beverages & DOT.Com Observations

Cannabis, Crypto — Craft Beverages & DOT.Com Observations

[ALSO PUBLISHED ON: LinkedIN, MEDIUM]

I spent a fascinating week learning about two of the hottest investment and business opportunity spaces right now. The block chain, crypto and initial coin offerings (ICOs), and the cannabis industry are literally on fire. Given this, I wanted to get an understanding of what’s really happening. I’ve been following the development of the block chain/coin movement along with the emergence of the legal cannabis business as these both are displaying signs of developments that may cause massive disruption (and therefore potentially big opportunities). Venture capitalist Tim Draper has been an outspoken proponent of the block chain and crypto offerings (see Exclusive: Billionaire investor Draper to participate in blockchain token sale for first time), while Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase has been dismissive (see CNBC).

Constellation Brands (STZ-B) announced recently that it had agreed to take a 9.9% minority stake in the $2 billion Canadian medical marijuana company Canopy Growth. The stake is worth about $191 million, though Constellation will have the option of purchasing additional stakes in the future. This aggressive move marks a significant milestone with the first publicly traded US company making a material investment in the cannabis space. For the industry in which I have spent much of my business career — beverage alcohol (beer, spirits and wine), it’s also a taboo shattering wake up call. The financial community apparently agrees with the financial analysts, giving high marks for Constellation’s vision and the market supported it with a gain of over $1 billion in STZ’s market cap (essentially more than paying for the investment). Visiting Colorado frequently, I’ve seen how quickly the legal use of medical and recreational marijuana has ramped up with the state of CO taking in over $550 million in tax revenue as of July 2017.

To learn more about each of these rapidly developing industries and to test my hypothesis of potential disruption, I attended the StartEngine ICO 2.0 Summitin Santa Monica followed by the MJBizCon in Las Vegas which together gave me an interesting perspective. Here I will share some of my observations.

General Observations

First, I met a number of really smart people pursuing these industries with a wide range of business and investment strategies. I had the good fortune to join up at YPO meeting-in-meetings at both events and, as usual, learned a great deal from these informal gatherings and met some of the people leading the way in both industries. I cannot say enough good things about the YPO network and the ability to quickly get to the movers and shakers in any industry or geography, globally.

The hype around these industries surpasses the craft alcohol craze and matches Dot.com in 1997–2000. I know both of these booms well having participated by investing and starting my own DOT.Com eSkye.com raising over $55 million (Tim Draper’s Dad, Bill Draper, invested see Forbes) and my multiple ventures in the craft beverage space. The bright light inevitably attracts all kinds of people and as in both of these examples, there are a ton of people who have limited or no business skills coupled with business ideas/plans/ventures with little to no chance of scaling to success. The cannabis side has more similarities to craft beverages in that it appears that 95% of businesses currently in or entering the space are really “mom and pop” operations that are more lifestyle businesses than scalable enterprises. However, what is absolutely clear to me is that, this is changing rapidly with the addition of serious investors and business operators.

Block Chain — ICO What is it?

The technology of the block chain is real and big. I’m convinced over time, it will fundamentally change the financial side of all industries. This MIT Sloan article does a pretty good job of discussing the potential. Its potential is hard to overestimate but not without controversy. See John Battelle’s discussion of it here Alien, Dismissible, Dangerous, Greedy, True and the fights going on inside Venture Capital firms here CRYPTOCURRENCY MANIA FUELS HYPE AND FEAR AT VENTURE FIRMS .

For my non-technical friends, I’ll try to define it here in my own way. For my expert friends, let me know what I get wrong as I’m still learning. The best simple explanation I’ve found so far is A Blockchain Explanation Your Parents Could Understand. Essentially, instead of a central party (think a bank) keeping track of everyone’s money and transactions with each other, the record keeping takes place in public (without revealing names) with 1,000s or more independent operators verifying the information and agreeing on its accuracy before securing it. While banking and financial transactions are the first use, there are many other uses being worked on and many more to come.

The ICO “Initial Coin Offering” market is booming with new business ideas for the application of this technology. Over $2.8 billion has been raised using ICOs thus far in 2017. These have been unregulated and range from real businesses to potential frauds. The ICO 2.0 Summit put on by StartEngine was really about bringing the ICO market into the regulated security market in the US. It is clear to me, from the many presentations, that an offering for a coin to fund a venture is an offer for a security, and therefore falls under the SEC. There are many in the crypto world who dislike this and will fight it, but governments are not going to simply sit back and allow investments outside their mandated oversight just because they are called “coins”. Given that, I agree with StartEngine’s CEO Howard Marks that the crowd funding Regulation A and also traditional Regulation D exemptions are the proper way to issue an ICO in the US.

Lou Kerner gave an excellent presentation based on his article, Is Crypto (Like) A Religion? & 6 Other Crypto Thoughts .

He followed this with a very interesting fireside chat with Michael Jones CEO of Science who is serious about the space and currently has an ICO in the works.

We heard from 17 companies planning to do ICOs of some kind. Again, I can’t help but compare this to DOT.Com days as there were clearly real business ideas and teams and others that are simply slapping the ICO label on something that is really not well thought out. What was true back in 1997–2000 in DOT.Com is true today — there are and will be billions of dollars invested in the block chain space, some of it will go into real business ventures and some of it will go into not-so-serious business ventures. Sorting these out will not guarantee your investment is the next Google or Amazon, but is absolutely the key to avoiding almost certain failure.

Cannabis — Marijuana Industry — Where is it now and where is it going?

From a story in Fortune Magazine regarding Constellation’s investment — “The wines and spirits conglomerate has no intention of selling cannabis products in the U.S. until it is legal nationwide. But the company is betting that legalization is just a matter of time, according to the  Journal . However, Constellation may soon sell the marijuana drink product in Canada, where legalization of edible and drinkable cannabis products is expected by 2019.

The move comes amid signs that suggest some consumers are reducing alcohol usage in favor of cannabis . “We believe alcohol could be under pressure for the next decade,” Cowen analysts led by Viven Azer wrote in an April note. “Consumer survey work suggests [about] 80% of consumers reduce their alcohol consumption with cannabis in the mix.”’

Given the above, what is the current state of the legal cannabis industry and where is it going?

The legal industry today is estimated at $5–6 billion and expected to grow to $12–17 billion by 2021. While this is only a fraction of the US alcohol market which stands at $200+ billion today, it could take some of that business (especially in beer in my opinion). So it’s big already and its going to get much bigger quickly. State legalization started with medical use and they are rapidly adding recreational. Cassandra Farrington, CEO and Co-founder of Marijuana Business Daily who put on the conference gave a great presentation on the history of the industry. Basically, the timeline she presented is as follows:

· 1996 California passes first medical marijuana law

· 1998–2008 other states follow

· 2012 Colorado, Washington pass recreational cannabis laws

· 2014 OR, AK add recreational. Canada liberalization takes root.

· 2016 11 legalization ‘wins’ in the US — 4 medical and 4 recreational via ballots and 3 medical via legislative action. Importantly, CA adds recreational in January 2018

Here is a map showing the current state status:

Over ½ the US population lives in states with legal marijuana use — with 30 states + Washington DC allowing legal medical use and 8 states plus Washington DC allowing recreational use. That being said, it is still 100% illegal at the US federal level. This means there are significant risks and hurdles for investors and businesses who enter the space. Banking is very difficult as the national banks cannot conduct business in the space. Anyone contemplating investing in the space needs to be aware of these issues. In spite of these challenges and an uncertain regulatory environment, many investors and business owners are jumping in with both feet.

One of the best presentations I heard was by Patrick Rea, the managing director of Canopy, an early stage fund that has made more than 100 investments in the space. He breaks the business down into four investment buckets:

  1. Public Stocks — these are the Canadian companies like the one Constellation invested in.

2. Real Estate — this is the buildings for dispensaries and the land for farms

3. Touch the Plant — these are the actual growing, processing and selling businesses

4. Ancillary Products & Services — these are all the things around the business from software to equipment to banking to marketing.

Canopy is focused on #4 exclusively but there are certainly opportunities in all of these.

From a branding and stage of industry development perspective this is literally a “green field”. I saw some interesting but nascent offerings given the time businesses have had to think about and try to develop brands. With new entrants, this will of course change, but right now I can’t help but think it is like the days when Sam Bronfman and Lewis Rosenteil were at the cusp of the repeal of Prohibition ready to launch Seagram’s and Shenley’s whiskies into the US respectively.

Where is this headed? It’s hard not to believe there will be continued legalization on a state by state basis. With the overwhelming majority of American’s viewing legal cannabis favorably, and importantly with the amount of tax revenue legal markets are bringing, other states will certainly follow to not get left out. Federally it will likely take longer, but like alcohol and the repeal of Prohibition, it will probably only happen if it is left up to the states to decide how their citizens want to allow cannabis regulation.

What’s clear to me is that there are huge opportunities in both these new industries. What is unclear is who will emerge as the big winners. I know from personal experience what being ahead of the market is like. The next few years will be like settling the wild west and a lot of entrepreneurial ventures will be created to try out different ideas in both cannabis and blockchain. I will come back to these topics as I learn more on both and please share any thoughts you may have. Cheers!

included in this article Howard Marks Tim Draper John Battelle Lou Kerner Patrick Rea StartEngine Constellation Brands Canopy Growth Corporation MJbizwire Jamie Skella WIRED Erin Griffith Phyllis Berman YPO Michael Jones Cassandra Farrington Seagram Fortune Magazine Jamie Dimon

RE: Is There A Craft Beer Bubble?

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.

Channel Conflict II: Grocery Alcohol Fights Across the Land

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

Channel Conflict: 3 Tier Battles Heat Up – Stinging Defeat in KY Raises Questions

Channel Conflict: 3 Tier Battles Heat Up – Stinging Defeat in KY Raises Questions

The headlines and press statements around some of the latest beverage alcohol industry channel conflict are extraordinary and gaining attention across the country.

A new craft brewery is opening up every day, adding to the over 3,000 currently operating in the USA (Brewers Association).   There are 100s of new craft distilleries that have opened up over the past few years with many more in the works (American Distilling Institute). There are more than 7,000 wineries as well (Wines & Vines).

This buds for you

All this growth in new entrants is the result of renewed consumer interest in trying new things. The Millennials have driven much of the new growth and vibrancy. It’s an exciting time in the beverage industry. That said, every large-scale established consumer brand across multiple industries is trying to figure out what to do and how to keep their base, grow it and remain relevant.   Anheuser-Busch Inbev was roundly criticized for their “anti-craft” beer advertisement for Budweise

r during the Super Bowl. As I wrote about, this was them playing the hand they hold and making the best for a giant brand in decline.

These issues are a lot more complex than they appear and have interesting and changing industry alliances. I am constantly asked (last night included) why the laws are the way they are, by consumers and business people who are not from the industry. Here is a brief explanation:

The simple answer is the current legal and regulatory framework in the US is the result of two Constitutional Amendments. The first one was to ban all alcohol aka Prohibition (18th Amendment in 1919). The second one was to repeal Prohibition (21st Amendment 1933). To pass a Constitutional Amendment the Congress must pass it with a 2/3 majority vote in both houses and then it goes to the 50 states and must pass ¾ of the statehouses to become ratified.   A very high bar indeed. Prohibition was a national disaster of epic proportions. However, it was created in response to some significant excesses by the industry and public. A lot of the excesses were blamed on what is known as “Tied-Houses”, whereby the brewers owned the taverns. The drunken excess of many in the public was attributed to the brewers have a direct interest in selling as much beer as possible and controlling the point of consumption. The saying “There is no such thing as a free lunch” came from this era. The brewers would give away free sandwiches at the taverns they owned. Sounds good, but they would salt these sandwiches excessively so that the patrons would drink more beer.

Whether you agree or not that “tied houses” were the root of all evil, this was the majority view when in 1933 the nation’s failed experiment in Prohibition came to an end. Even though it was clear to most that this government intrusion into industry was a disaster, there were still large numbers of anti-alcohol constituents throughout the land. The compromise to get the 21st Amendment passed was to allow each state the absolute right to regulate the sale and distribution of alcohol within its boarders. The 21st Amendment does not have an opinion on tied houses or any other aspect of how the industry does business. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act did spell out specifics on regulations of the industry to insure the revenue and to protect consumers. It did not however, spell out any specifics regarding a “3 tier system”, but rather defers to the 21st Amendment that in turn defers to the states.

IMG_6572

Each state proceeded to set up its own set of laws and regulations.   There are 50 states and 50 sets of laws that while some may resemble each other, none are identical. Layered onto the specific statutes and regulations are the interpretations by alcohol boards or chairmen and the courts.  The most common way in which the states addressed the tied house issue was to legislate a middle tier (wholesaler) to be a buffer between the suppliers and the retailers. This is what is commonly referred to as the 3 tier system. There have always been some states that allowed brewers to own wholesalers, though this was the exception.

In the case of Kentucky’s new law, Anheuser-Busch Inbev has owned distributors there for more than 40 years and had attempted to buy a 3rd. That prompted the wholesalers to attempt to stop them and when other means failed, it ended with this new legislation not only not allowing them to buy the new distributor, but also forcing them to sell their existing businesses. I have no idea of how the courts will view this, but from the sound of it, ABI will not go quietly.

I can’t help but think the latest turn in the 3 tier beverage alcohol industry channel conflict is an example of overreaction that will do nothing but cause further escalation. When one considers all the new brands that have launched and keep launching in beer, spirits and wine and the need for each to find ways to market, it is clear that broad based full line distributors provide a viable route to market for many. All of the main distributors have giant books of brands now, and they serve some very large suppliers and many smaller ones well. In many cases they serve these needs of smaller brands by creating specialty sales divisions. They do not serve every brand well, nor can they. This has created market conditions in most states where a new crop of smaller start up distributors have emerged, primarily handling specialty or craft brands. Where specialty/craft distributors have emerged, they have become a necessary escape valve for small and new brands getting distribution to retail. In markets that allow it, and many states have provisions up to a certain size, craft breweries can self distribute. This is expensive but a necessary option in cases where there are no viable distributors to carry a new brand. Stone Brewery in San Diego and Sun King in Indiana seem to be examples of self-distribution that has been successful. I wonder if this will become more prevalent with spirits as the number of craft distilleries grows.

2015-01-21 11.18.45  IMG_6561The current approach, though ugly at times, has worked to provide a route to market for a thriving craft community.   The pressure to get new brands to market is only going to increase. It is unclear to me where the craft community will end up better off – with strict laws that don’t allow suppliers to own distribution (of any size) or with looser laws that give options. I tend to think most small/new brand will end up supporting a more flexible system, but the bigger brands, that are doing well in the traditional 3 tier system, will support the stricter system.

It may be that there are simply too many competing interests to work out viable solutions to everyone’s satisfaction on these issues. It would certainly be better for the industry if there were agreement as opposed to legal or legislative fights. ABI is a powerful entity as are all the major suppliers. Poking them in the eye with a local legislative win, may end up being a case of winning the battle but losing the war in some ways. It is unclear to me that the KY law actually helps craft brewers or simply hurts ABI or it it even does that. ABI can still control largely the activities of an independent distributor, as they have been able to do, in many other states. What is clear is that this KY battle is not the end to this fight.

It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out. Love to hear your comments or questions. Cheers! Smoke

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Smoke has worked in all 3 tiers of the industry, built beer wine and spirits distributors, owned a craft brewery, a winery, and multiple craft spirits brands.  He built the leading technology for pricing between suppliers, distributors and retailers. He also represented the WSWA as Chairman & President and the Brewers Association on the Government Affairs Committee.

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My 2015 Superbowl Ad Recap

My 2015 Superbowl Ad Recap

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That was a great Super Bowl! Well, as great a game as it could be without the Colts in it. That said, I’m sure many of you joined me watching the actual big game – the commercials. I did not evaluate every one, but the most notable discussions (I posted on Facebook and Twitter as the night went on and had lots of interesting interaction) I recap below.

My comments denoted with @smokewallin. Where others commented or tweeted I list their Twitter handle.

Interesting Comments and Un-categorized:

@smokewallin: Pretty close.. RT @jack_welch: Product Managers….every day try to design a perfect product like NFL

@smokewallin: Really? RT @adage: Whoa RT @LoctiteGlue Hey, @BUDWEISER! Stop bidding on our ad keywords. Love, Loctite

@smokewallin: Wix.com websites.. Farve & Carve… nice ad! Worked

Farve & Carve

NASCAR

@smokewallin: Nice @NASCAR @nbc ad at end… @DISupdates coming soon! #SuperBowl #superbowlcommercials

video-undefined-2541D2B800000578-109_637x358

BUDWEISER:

The horses saving the puppy from wolves was beautifully done.  There was a lot of push back from the craft beer world on the This BUD’S FOR YOU slaming craft beer. My sentiment was ABI (Anheier-Busch Inbev) is simply playing to their strength and their core audience with the through-back ad.   The PacMan ad for Budlight did not work for me though.

@smokewallin:Big Beer fights back Craft beer .. @Budweiser “Let them sip their Pumpkin, Peach Ale we’ll be brewing golden suds” nicely done4 target!

This buds for you This Buds for you horse

@smokewallin: I think @Budweiser bringing back old school works better than Pacman @budlight hard to see how it connects #upforanything #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: Play to your strength? RT @businessinsider: People are slamming Budweiser ad that mocks craft beer http://read.bi/1BR2DGF 

@smokewallin: Play your strength? RT @adage: Look what came back at the #SuperBowl: An old slogan http://trib.al/oYGzM1N 

Here is one example of the craft beer world reaction from the Ashley V Routson aka “BeerWench”

https://twitter.com/TheBeerWench Hazzah ‪#craftbeer! Budweiser has officially admitted to being threatened by us, albeit passive aggressively though a Super Bowl commercial.

Soft Drinks

Coca-Cola a big win with their positive message. Love the reply to negative tweets and see message. Oh and thanks for the retweet Coke! Pepsi with their half time extravaganza with Katy Perry did well. Most seemed to like the show and it was well executed.

@smokewallin: Coca-Cola #makeithappy nice sentiment. #superbowlcommercials

@smokewallin: Thx RT @CocaCola: @SmokeWallin #MakeItHappy is more than a # Reply 2 negative Tweets + see! http://bit.ly/1BgZw8b 

Coke happyimages-4

AUTOS

Fiat had the best ad, hands down. The little blue pill told a whole story in a short spot. Loved it! Liked the Harry Chapin ad (and song), but the message might be mixed up a bit… I expected the kids to leave at end and become a race driver, just as the dad was hanging it up – it would have matched the story of the song. Mercedes-Benz tortoise and the hare was cute and effective.

@smokewallin: The @FIATUSA 500 and the little blue pill… told a whole story.. nicely done! #SuperBowl commercials

fiat images-5 fiat2

Mercedes-Benz USA nice touch on old tortoise and hare fable.. tortoise gets the “girl”.. cute

@smokewallin: Nissan Kid growing up with Racing dad while Harry Chapin Cats In the Cradle plays… worked #superbowlcommercials

nissan racing growing up

@smokewallin: This land was made for you and me.. @Jeep Nice touch making it international! @FIATUSA #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: Ok, Being a Dad… @Toyota USA hits home… Nice.. but did all these companies discuss the Dad theme? #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: concur RT @adage: We’ve reached Peak Dad with that one. #withdad @nissan #SuperBowlads

@smokewallin: the BMW i3 ad with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric flash back to what is the internet was cute. #superbowlcommercials

Fast Company @FastCompany @BMW‘s #SuperBowl ad takes @katiecouric and Bryant Gumbel back in time: http://f-st.co/t3jR3wa  by @jeffcbeer

katie and bryant - BMW electric

The Kia ad with Pierce Bronson was actually pretty good as well.

Insurance

Nationwide was a fail mainly because it was such a serious ad and using a horrible thought like losing a child to an accident did not fit Superbowl. The American Family Insurance ad with Jennifer Hudson was cute, but pretty short and kind of got lost.

@smokewallin: Didn’t like Nationwide Insurance kid who will never grow up- I get it but not really mood of the Superbowl to me. #SuperBowl commercial

 

Medicine and Soap:

Dove was a great feeling ad, but kind of letdown when it got to the product. Jublia did not work and was not cleaver.

Dove

@smokewallin: exactly RT @marcmalkin: That dad’s commercial was good until they showed it was for soap. Kinda killed the emotional buzz #SuperBowl

 Jublia

@smokewallin: Jublia… uhm.. no. #SuperBowl commercials

@smokewallin: My sentiment… ugh RT @adage: Talk about turf toe. @kenwheaton gives Jublia commercial 1.5 stars.

jublia toe

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