Lion Getting Serious in U.S.

Dear Client:

On Friday, CBD broke news that Simon Thorpe, who has held leadership roles (and M&A expertise) at InBev, Pabst and Duvel Moortgat USA, has taken the newly created position of Managing Director for Lion’s North American craft beer business.

This is significant, folks. Kirin subsidiary Lion has large resources; we’re guessing they’re practically printing money on the Pacific Rim, where they have a — excuse the phrase — Lion’s share of their industries (dairy, wine, beer).  And in the hum of chatter at CBC two weeks ago, Lion seemed to come up quite frequently as a tire kicker.

WHY NOW? We got Simon on the horn briefly to share a little more about direction.  

“Lion is at an important stage of development of their business in the U.S. “And part of the reason I’ve joined is to help accelerate that process in the coming months.”

“YOU CAN’T JUST PUT BREWERIES TOGETHER AND EXPECT TOPLINE TO GROW” He couldn’t get into too many specifics. But we wondered if they’d look to do some sort of rollup, akin to CANarchy? (After all, Brooklyn, in whom Lion parent, Kirin, already has a minority stake, has that sales and marketing platform with 21st Amendment and Funkwerks, and a minority investment in those breweries as part [see CBD 07-26-2017].)

Simon’s careful explanation of it all: “It’s not enough just to do a conventional rollup. The future for craft partnerships lies in a combination of breweries that has very distinctive advantages in terms of, not just back-end improvements, but things like grow[ing] the topline…

So “it’s not enough to just put breweries together and expect the topline to grow. So our focus is on a platform that can enable topline growth going forward, rather than some of the more conventional platforms that we’ve come to be used to in craft.”

And Brooklyn will indeed be an important partner. “Brooklyn is already a very important partner for Lion,” said Simon. “And the platform that Robin and Eric [Ottaway, Brooklyn’s president and CEO, respectively] have already developed with 21A, Funkwerks … is integral to our thinking.”

“Our role in the relationship is to provide support” and “resources to help Robin and Eric develop the platform in the near term. That’s our focus.”  

WHAT ABOUT ALIGNMENT? Would any platform Lion develops seek to stick with a Kirin-aligned distributor footprint?

To that, Simon answered: “Going forward, for all of craft, achieving effective distribution and route to market is one of the key pieces of how we expect the Lion presence in the U.S. to be differentiated,” said Simon. “We know that craft is highly fragmented, and complex, and achieving focus with distribution partners is a critical piece of the puzzle for all craft breweries right now.”  

THE BIGGER PICTURE.  There you have it. If they’re looking to be dynamic, anything is possible.


Last week we shared the news that Burke Distributing Corporation would make the difficult decision to eliminate 72 positions (nearly a quarter of its workforce) next month as a result of the “termination of a major business contract.”

The Massachusetts wholesaler would not share who was behind that termination, but we had a good idea, and after a wave of replies to this Friday’s issue and some further sleuthing we can confirm that the supplier responsible is, naturally, Red Bull.

Apparently, the energy drink company is going to try its hand at self-distribution in the state — a move they’ve executed in other several markets before, usually at the expense of beer wholesalers. (Of course, there are no franchise laws in non-alc.).

Red Bull’s job board for the state of Massachusetts backs this move to self-distribution up too, with a slew of sales, warehouse, merchandising and driver positions added to the board over the past month.

Unfortunately, it would appear Burke is not the only beer distributor in the state that could be affected by Red Bull’s decision to self-distribute. Other beer wholesalers that have been terminated by the non-alc energy brand in Massachusetts, include Atlas Distributing and Williams Distributing.

Stay tuned.


This June, Bud Light is partnering with GLAAD to launch its first-ever rainbow aluminum bottle to celebrate World Pride. They’re quite colorful; check out the brewpic.

The new limited-edition bottles will be available in bars nationwide throughout the month of June. They’ve never done a specialty pack of this magnitude, we’re told.

We’re told there won’t be any TV to support this, but the brand is leveraging experiential, digital and “other above-the-line comms debuting closer to Pride month,” per spokesperson.  

Not familiar with GLAAD? It calls itself a non-governmental media monitoring organization founded by LGBT people in the media.

For every case of rainbow bottles sold from May 27 to June 30, Bud Light will donate $1 to GLAAD, up to $150,000.

The new bottle is the latest effort in a 20-year partnership between Bud Light and GLAAD. The bottles will make their debut at

the upcoming GLAAD Media Awards this weekend in New York City before arriving in bars next month.

In addition to the updated color scheme inspired by the LGBTQ Pride flag, the reimagined Bud Light Pride bottle also swaps out the iconic Bud Light creed, “for words of inclusivity and support.” The rainbow bottle creed reads: “This is the famous Bud Light beer. Brewed for the many who’ve opened eyes and hearts and minds. Who’ve spoken out, stood tall, and loved with pride. And for the many who on this day, in this moment, want the world to hear the truest truth about themselves and see things as they can be; we celebrate.”


While the Kentucky Derby turned into a disaster on Saturday with a disputed winner, one thing we couldn’t help but notice was the near total coverage of ad space before, during, and after the 2.5 minutes of action. This has been a multi-year deal to capture young and boomer affluent. I noticed at my local, several young people in their 20s showed up in Derby gear, big hats and bow ties and all.

BREWPIC: Bud Light Pride bottle.

Until tomorrow,

Harry, Jenn, and Jordan

“To err is human; to admit it, superhuman.” –  Doug Larson

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