NBWA Spells ‘Change’

” Cha, cha, cha, changes” was the dominant topic among at the annual National Beer Wholesalers Association convention last week in San Francisco.

In just one year, top US beer dog Anheuser-Busch was acquired by Belgian-Brazilian InBev, No. 2 and No. 3 in the U.S. market, Miller and Coors, formed a U.S. joint venture and rumors of a possible sale of No. 4 player, Corona importer Crown Imports began to gain momentum.

“Not since Prohibition was ended 75 years ago has our industry seen so much change,” distributor Dan Henry told convention-goers from a stage designed to look like an upscale bar.

“We are facing new frontiers and new questions,” said the association’s outgoing chairman, Aldo Madrigrano, a Milwaukee-based MillerCoors distributor. “Recent actions by our supplier partners have created real problems for many.”

NBWA President Craig Purser sounded a more defiant tone: “Retailers and suppliers are trying to control our business, and distributor independence could be a casualty. We will not let that happen.”

The big brewers did their best to reassure their important second tier partners. Dave Peacock, A-B’s VP-marketing, attempted to rally the distributors into a collective mission by saying “Wine and liquor are the enemy. We cannot let wine out-romance us and liquor out-fun us.”

Probably the hottest topic was the MillerCoors demands on their distributors as outlined in the new contract recently sent out to most of their wholesalers. That and the obvious rapid deployment of consolidation efforts have kept many Miller and Coors distributors wondering what the next day may bring.

About the only thing that was certain among those who left the convention; another year of dramatic change.