When the call came from Jack Robertiello asking if I wanted to cover the National Beer Wholesalers Association Convention held in Orlando, I was intrigued. In addition to covering the event, which would bring a multitude of beer distributors from across the nation to sunny Florida, he said I could “quaff” as much beer as I wanted.
Without hesitation, I accepted the gig – You had me at quaffing, I exclaimed. With that, the deal was sealed and I embarked upon a journey that would take me to the world of hops, barley and all of the other magical ingredients that combine to produce one of my favorite beverages.
Marking its 69th year, the NBWA annual convention is taking place at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort through Wednesday, Sept. 20.
The first day was filled with board meetings and other association business, and understandably light on seminars as the more than 1,420 participants were still trickling in.
However, a panel representing the import industry, retailers, and beverage analysts shared interesting insight into the growing presence of imported beers in the U.S. marketplace. Sponsored by the National Association of Brewers and Importers, the panel discussion was moderated by recognized beer guru Benj Steinman.
In the past decade, the growth rate of imports easily surpasses the 10 percent mark. According to panelist John Figueroa, director of marketing and sales development for Atlanta-based Fado Pubs, consumers are interested in buying an experience and looking for affordable luxuries. Import beers give people the appearance of having good taste and being part of the “in crowd.”
Fellow panelist Don Blaustein of Heineken USA quickly agreed and went a step further to say that based upon the meteoric success of Heineken Premium Light, the imported light beers are here to stay.
Admittedly, all panelists, including Greg Olson, a business manager of Circle K who represented the convenience store outlets, agree that it remains a challenge to introduce new beers, especially imports, to consumers. Domestic beers still dominate the market, and many times retail space dictates what is stocked and available to customers.
The growing and changing demographic populations in the United States will continue to drive the beer industry – and imports are definitely finding a niche.
Increased competition between the domestic and imported factions can only mean better beer. “Competition forces everyone to step it up and produce better-tasting beer,” said Figueroa.
Speaking of better-tasting beer, I realized that I was yet to have my first brew of the day. I followed the crowd to the NBWA’s Welcome Reception and was immediately engulfed by the crowd.
The poolside reception was elbow-to-elbow with beverage-industry executives, prominent distributors, retailers, and a smattering of reporters. It was evident by the way the participants interacted with each other that, though the association boasts a massive membership, those involved in the industry are a close-knit group.
My quest for the evening was to find and taste the new darling of imported light beers – Heineken Premium Light. Unfortunately, there was none to be found among the plethora of beers iced in tubs throughout the premises. Heineken USA director of corporate communications Tamara Moore assured me that a shipment would arrive before the convention ends.
I will prevail.
(Toni Daylor is a reporter based in Orlando, FL)