Farewell, Bill Hackett

Dear Client:

Constellation Beer kicked off their Gold Network distributor meeting this week in Dallas. We were not there, but as usual our readers are our best reporters, so here are a few highlights.

First, we are sad to report a tearful goodbye to former Constellation Beers chief Bill Hackett. Bill and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, but we always shared a mutual respect for the importance of relationships in this business (borne out, I think, by the disastrous results of ZBB at Kraft Heinz), and a respect for each other’s jobs. “It’s not about being the biggest, it’s about being the best,” he said. Amen.

More than a few distributors expressed their sadness at seeing Bill retire. As one wrote: “His leadership leave a void in our industry I fear nobody can fill.”

[Ed. Note: I regret I was not able to attend to see Bill’s retirement — I was invited to come, but then I wrote some things Constellation/Canopy didn’t like, so I was uninvited. Then I was invited again (by accident), and then uninvited again (on purpose). But hey, the good news is I promise I’ll never bend my coverage or scrappy writing style in exchange for access.]

Besides our dear readers, SVP corporate communications Mike McGrew filled us in on some of the highlights of the show, including a changing of the guard, Corona trends, and a few innovations, which they’ve promised to make a focus going forward.

NEW BRASS BILL NEWLANDS took the stage for the first time as Constellation CEO at GNS.

Many have been wondering: “What’s gonna be different?” under Bill’s reign? Where does beer fall on the list of priorities? His main message: “There is no higher priority for our business – our collective business – than our beer business,” Mike paraphrased him. We’ll see them invest more aggressively than ever before in driving the beer business’s momentum, with new products playing a bigger role going forward (after all, Bill used to be their Chief Growth Officer.)

INNOVATIONS A FOCUS. Innovation will play a bigger role than it probably ever has going forward, Mike said, partially due to the fact that they’ve built out brewing capacity. (And partially due to the fact, no doubt, that everyone in beer has to focus on new products, because the old stalwarts just ain’t growing.)

Some innovations are new-to-world, some are extensions. Some of their totally new bets play to the female consumer: those include Alera, a low alc product testing in markets like San Diego, and Wild(ish), a 4% clean-looking (cans are white) brand that comes in a “Spritz” line, as well as unsweetened tea flavors. (Reminds us a bit of Boston Beer’s new artisanal tea play, 5% Wild Leaf, just now rolling in bottles and slim cans [see BBD 11-12-18].)

Then there’s Western Standard, an American-made lager aged in High West whiskey barrels; Corona Refresca, which is going national; and a Modelo Chelada, Limon y Sal, their first non-tomato based Chelada (it’s lime and salt, for those who “no hablo espanol”).

Expect them to address different trends, some demographic based, some macro; “but some of what we’re trying to do too is diversify our portfolio.” Where they’ve been strong in the imported beer space historically, they haven’t played too much in the red-hot FMB arena, or domestic super premiums; that latter segment should be addressed by both Western Standard and “more to come,” we’re told.

When you see new to world brands like Alera or Wild(ish), it will be in a “very focused and disciplined way,” with a firm grasp of the target demo and tests pilots. (Again, like we’re hearing from every brewer, the goal is to fail fast if need be.)

NEW MODELO PACKAGES. They’ll innovate with new package sizes, too: Last year they tested a 24 oz. can for Modelo Negra, which will now go national. There’s a new 32 oz. quart bottle for Modelo as well.

NEW PACKS FOR CORONA EXTENSIONS. We had to ask about any commentary around Corona, which in some time frames has seen some slowed growth.

The Corona brand family had robust growth, up 8% last year, said Mike. They did see some cannibalization on Corona Extra and Light, mostly anticipated. They’re “trying to evolve to where consumers are going,” so “we’d rather disrupt ourselves than have somebody else do it.”

To that end, they’re rolling out large packs for Corona Premier and Familiar. Premier will see 18-pack bottles and draft. Familiar, the “no. 4 growth driver in the category,” will see 24-pack bottles this year, to support continued growth of that brand. They’re “very happy with way things are trending with those two,” as they’re looking at the overall family growth. “The pie for us overall got bigger.”

FINDING WAYS TO KEEP DRIVING THE HIGH END. Maintaining leadership of high end beer was a prevalent show theme too. Last year, Constellation accounted for 12 of the top 30 high end SKUs from a dollar growth perspective – like 40%. Their business was up $25 million cases.

They’ve talked for years now about the high end driving category growth. Of course, Constellation is a big growth driver in that segment. Some interesting numbers: over the last 3 years, the low end was down 87 million cases, while the high end was up 88 million cases. It’s beginning to compensate for losses in the low end.

ON DISTRIB DYNAMICS. We’d also heard that beer division president Paul Hetterich addressed some distributor realignment concerns from the stage.

They don’t have “any big grand scheme” there, Mike paraphrased Paul. In the case where they moved their wine and spirits brands to Columbia in the Pac Northwest, that was an opportunistic situation where Columbia has done a great job for them; they were already in the wine and spirits space, and had capacity to help there [see BBD 05-04-2018]. (But they don’t necessarily want beer and wine and spirits in the same house.)

As for changes they’ve made in Southern California [like moving from Markstein to Reyes; see BBD 06-06-2018], at the end of the day there are a couple things they’re fairly confident in: Change will continue to brew in the beer industry at all levels; consolidation will occur in the distributor tier; and that’s been happening for a number of years. “This particular situation was an opportunity to align with a strong Gold Network partner that has put plans in place to be able to leverage scale as a strategic advantage” in that particular geography, he said of their California move(s). Still, they are “highly supportive of the three tier system, and our Gold Network partners.”

More tomorrow…..

IMPORTS DOWN 3.3% IN DECEMBER, UP 3.6% FOR ’18

Imports were down 3.3% December, Beer Institute reported yesterday. That’s not the fault of Mexican imports, which were up 4.3%. The next three biggest imports — from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada — were all down for the month: the first two down double digits, and Canada down mid-singles.

Still, imports finished 2018 up 3.6%, which was “well-ahead of domestic beer volume, which finished the year down 2.1%,” per chief economist Michael Uhrich. Sign of the times. Mexican imports were a strong driver here, as the largest imported beer segment. They finished 2018 up a strong 8.6%, “roughly double their growth rate from 2017.”

Other highlights: “Belgium and German imports were jointly down by 10.3% during 2018, after having been up slightly in 2017,” per Michael’s summary. Dutch imports, which had been up 1.7% in 2017, finished 2018 down 6.8%. Non-alcohol beer imports grew by 6.8%, after declining in 2017.

MILLERCOORS POSTPONING ALBANY TRANSITION TO AVOID DISRUPTIONS DURING PEAK SUMMER SELLING SEASON

Yesterday, MillerCoors supply chain brass sent notice to their distributor and other partners that they would postpone the integration of their Albany brewery to the new ordering system. It will now roll sometime in Q3.

It’s a better-safe-than-sorry approach. Basically, they want to avoid disruptions heading into peak summer selling season.
The move was partially motivated to “ensure we can meet high demand this summer, including for innovations such as Saint Archer Gold and new flavors and packs from Henry’s Hard Sparkling,” per Bob McCann, vice president of BP&S, and Brian Erhardt, chief integrated supply chain officer.

“The preparation of the Albany Brewery has gone according to plan, and we are confident that we could implement the conversion in April as originally scheduled,” they wrote. But “the wisest course” right now, they think, is to wait until after the summer crunch to best serve distributor demand and inventory build.

More details forthcoming, but Bob and Brian noted they will “keep the previously agreed credit term extensions through March and we will return to original credit terms in April.” They’ll offer credit terms to Albany orbit distributors “to support pre-build for the rescheduled go-live.”

COORS LIGHT LOOKING FOR NEW AD AGNECY

After a three-and-a-half-year run, Coors Light and its ad agency 72andSunny are cutting ties.

MillerCoors will launch a creative agency review for its largest brand, per recent Ad Age report, marking one of the “first major moves” for new CMO Michelle St. Jacques. 72andSunny will not throw its hat into the ring for the upcoming review.

MillerCoors’ exploration of its roster of agencies comes as the slumping brand looks to “better connect with younger legal drinking age consumers,” per MillerCoors spokesperson.

“Our current mix of agencies have done some incredible work but as we bring Coors Light back to what made it so successful to begin with, we’re seeing some exciting ideas from new places about how that concept can come to life,” Coors VP, Ryan Reis, told Ad Age in a statement.

More as it rolls in.

CROOK & MARKER APPOINTS KEN KURTZ AS PRESIDENT

Crook & Marker, the new spiked & sparkling brand created by Bai Beverage founder Ben Weiss, has found itself a president.

Stepping into the new role will be a Bai veteran actually, Ken Kurtz.

Ken has spent nearly a decade at Bai and served as the company’s president since 2013. Before Bai, Ken served as SVP at Fiji Water and held sales leadership roles with bev alc companies like Boston Beer and E & J Gallo.

As president of Crook & Marker, Ken “will provide strategic direction” for the company by working with Ben and the company’s executive team “to establish aggressive growth targets and develop a world-class team across all business functions,” per announcement.

Recall Crook & Marker plans to take its eight flavors nationally this spring. Stay tuned.

Until tomorrow,

Harry, Jenn, and Jordan

“If at first you don’t succeed, find out if the loser gets anything.”
-Bill Lyon

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