“Everything is Different” at Buffalo Wild Wings

Dear Client:

Since Arby’s Restaurant Group purchased Buffalo Wild Wings last year for $3 billion (renaming itself Inspire Brands in the process), it has been overhauling the wings-and-beer concept, from menu to look and brand.

Of course, beverages have been retooled as well. We talked to Beverage Innovation Manager Jason Murphy about what’s hot and what’s changing in beer across their thousands of units, one of the largest draft accounts in the U.S.

“LITERALLY EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT” at the stores — or will be in short order. Since Inspire has taken over, they’ve overhauled the menu, hired a new agency, and debuted a new campaign relaunching the brand, kicked off right before March Madness. “If you watched 5-10 minutes of any of the March Madness games, you were likely to see one of our commercials,” said Jason. That helped boost Q1 same store sales trends.

In the last 8 or 9 months, they’ve also hired a new VP of Food and Beverage, a new CMO, and a new brand president.

If someone were to ask him, “what’s different at your 1,200 stores?” “I’d tell people, ‘everything,'” said Jason.

“Literally everything is different… and a year from now, you’re going to see a different Buffalo Wild Wings.”

THE NEW STRATEGY: MANDATES FOR ALL STATES, AND THE RIGHT MIX OF STYLES. So what’s that new beer strategy? They’re keeping their 30-handle tap wall across stores, but working on better store-specific assortment.

Where they used to have a couple of mandates, now they’ll have many times that, informed by a study of their sales and their competitors.

“It’s pretty evident from sales that our restaurants do not perform as this one-size-fits-all program, as much as we’d like,” said Jason. Prior to this year, they had two sets of national mandates: one set for corporate stores, and one for franchised (which are about equal in number).

That resulted in some brands that were “overreaching a bit, just to kinda fulfill the national mandates.”

So for 2019, “we wrote mandates for all 50 states, and split California into two.” That resulted in some 140 or so different versions of mandates.

That came from “really looking at each state’s sales trends, market trends; what our competitors are doing … making sure we had right mix of local, regional, national brands” and “the right mix of craft import and domestic.”

But also, “most important to me – [making] sure we have the right mix of styles. That we’re not overloading our handles, on a 30-handle system, with 10 pale lagers, 10 IPAs, 5 wheat beers, a stout, a cider a couple ambers and you’re done.”

HANDFUL OF BEERS ACCOUNT FOR 50% OF DRAFT SALES. Naturally, though, they do a lot of volume out of just a handful or two of handles.

Jason says 5-8 beers probably make up about 50% of their draft sales.

What’s at the top? “In all markets, you’re definitely gonna see, Bud Light [their topseller by dollars and volume], Blue Moon, Coors Light, Mich Ultra [which is on fire],” he said. From there, heavy hitters start to fragment by market.

“In Southern California, throw [Firestone Walker] 805 in there; Modelo; Dos Equis … In Ohio, you might throw Busch Light in the mix; in some of the Northeast states, you might start to throw Guinness, Heineken in the mix. That’s how this whole regional strategy came to be.”

BUT — VARIETY STILL VERY IMPORTANT TO BUFFALO WILD WINGS.  Jason concedes that one way they **could** run their business is thus to have “about 20 handles in our restaurant … let those top 5-10 handles just crank volume for us, then we’ll partner with a couple local breweries, and make sure we have a little bit of craft on.”

But: “That’s not the strategy we want,” he said.

“We want to be known as the place that has a good variety of local, regional, craft, import, domestic.”

With craft, they’re trying to better identify those regionally relevant brands.

More tomorrow on how they’re growing domestics.

MILLERCOORS Q1 COLOR: MIX, INNOVATION PUSHES AND MORE

Little more color from yesterday’s Q1 MillerCoors call.

As we reported yesterday, depletions were down 3.8% and shipments down 2.7%, which was better than Q4’s showing (depletions down 5.1%, shipments down 8.9%) but also notably lapped some very easy comps (depletions down 3.8% and shipments down 6.7% in Q1 2018) due the Golden issue [See BBD 05-03-2018].

Molson Coors chief Mark Hunter noted “the increasingly strong performance of Miller Lite” for US results, “which held total beer industry share” and “an improved performance of Coors Light” as well as “strong U.S. retailer placements for our upweighted innovation program.”

Those placements were quantified during the call, with management saying innovations like Cape Line, Saint Archer Gold and Sol Chelada in the U.S. will contribute “to more than 180,000 expected placements for our new and year two products in 2019.”

The company also reported strong double digit growth in the U.S. for Arnold Palmer Spiked, Peroni, Henry’s Hard Sparkling and Sol in the quarter.

TOPLINE? Asked about MillerCoors topline performance and mix effects, MillerCoors chief Gavin Hattersley offered more on price, mix and volume:

“Mix was negative 30 basis points,” the “best showing since 2017,” he said.

“Even more pleasing was that the brand mix of it was actually flat, which is an illustration of our above premium mix starting to come through. Most of the negativity on mix was related to package.”

He said more benefit of their premiumized mix shift will begin around Q2, “as a lot of our innovation comes through,” from media push behind Blue Moon to “a strong push” for Peroni and the Cape Line innovation.

Pressed more specifically on MillerCoors pricing activities, and whether spring pricing initiatives perhaps drove distributor pre-buys:

“We did have strong pricing performance in Q1 and that followed the healthy increases which you talked about in the fall of last year,” said Gavin. But “as far as the spring price increases are concerned, I wouldn’t say [there] has been much pre-buying.”

MORE ON NEW ORDERING SYSTEM BREWERY TRANSITIONS.

“We are converting all our legacy breweries to integrated systems platform, it’s going to get our entire network onto a single tool for ordering. With a project of this “magnitude,” Gavin said, “challenges are expected.”

Since the Golden rollout, they’ve done Trenton, Fort Worth and most recently Milwaukee. All three of the last rollouts “have all been meaningfully better than our Golden rollout,” Gavin said. That’s not to say they “haven’t had challenges,” Gavin said, but Milwaukee issues were “very limited” versus Golden where it was “fairly national” and “our stock tradings are in a much better place than they were a year ago.”

On the rollout in Albany specifically: They recently rescheduled the go-live to after “peak summer selling season… because, we just wanted to make sure that our products completely available for the summer given our learnings from Golden,” said Gavin.

Until tomorrow,

Harry, Jenn, and Jordan

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”

– Henry Winkler

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