One of the highlights of the 70th Annual National Beer Wholesalers Association’s Convention, held last month in Las Vegas, was “Mr. Beer Guy,” a short video celebrating the men who deliver the beer to retail stores, bars and restaurants across America. And, I’ve got to say, it’s a great promotional tool for the beer industry. With the foot-tapping music of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) running through the short, we’re treated to scores of scenes of pallets being moved, trucks being loaded and unloaded, and “beer guys” delivering the product, by hand-truck and other means, to their ultimate destination. The final mock heroic scene of a “beer guy” saving the day with an emergency delivery to a pub sums it up: an uplifting, lighthearted, yet noteworthy treatment of a segment of the beer industry that by itself employs more than 90,000 workers across America.
As Betty Buck, the outgoing NBWA chairman of the board, commented, “It makes me want to put on some shorts and climb up on a truck!”
[Thos interested in viewing the video can see it on the home page of the NBWA’s website, www.nbwa.org.]
The enthusiasm of the video carried throughout the convention, marked by a record-setting 3,700 attendees. One of the themes of the convention, “America’s Beer Distributors: Delivering Choice and Value One Beer at a Time,” underlined the focus of the NBWA’s message, which is to emphasize the viability of the middle tier in the beverage alcohol system.
Indeed, the recent gains throughout the beer industry were also a reason for enthusiasm. After uninspiring results for several years, brewers showed a U.S. sales volume increase of 1.7% in 2006, according to Adams Beer Handbook 2007. With the rate of growth of higher-margin craft brews and more flavorful imported beers outpacing that of mainstream domestics, the major producers have increased their product portfolios dramatically to embrace this market dynamic while at the same time not foregoing basic elements of their core business.
Among beer wholesalers, the good news was tempered by a couple of their stated concerns: ongoing consolidation at the retail tier in the direction of major national chains and big box retailers; and the many legal challenges that are attempting to chip away at the foundation of the three-tier system itself (i.e., the Costco case in Washington State, et al).
Still, the organization can take some solace — as can wine and spirits distributors — in the latest legal decision coming out of Maine, in which the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Maine’s alcohol regulation system. In its ruling, the court stated, “This three-tiered system has been justified on multiple grounds: as an efficient means of controlling the distribution of alcoholic beverages, as an effective means of promoting temperance, and as a facilitating means of collecting excise taxes. Its legitimacy has been vouchsafed by no less an authority than the Supreme Court.”