At the 2014 Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), held earlier this month in Denver, Colo., it seemed like most attendees were, at one point or another, immersed in a discussion about the relationship between craft brewers and distributors.
Conversations varied. During structured seminars, some panelists, like alcohol beverage lawyer Marc Sorini, attempted to dissect the impact of franchise law reform and self-distribution restrictions. Other speakers, such as former Ninkasi vice president, Marty Ochs and Dogfish Head’s Adam Lambert, attacked issues of distributor management and best practices.
A springboard for some of the chatter arrived about two weeks before the conference even kicked off, with a well-time op-ed coming from Brooklyn Brewery co-founder Steve Hindy. In the opinion piece, which was published in The New York Times on March 29, Hindy deconstructed franchise laws that, he claims, hurt craft brewers and protect distributors.
“For small brewers, the flexibility to change distributors or distribute their own products is essential to gain access to markets, increase consumer choice, grow and pour money back into the economy,” he wrote.
Hindy’s op-ed sparked a significant amount of dialogue during CBC, in that the ability to change wholesalers is a point of contention amongst brewers and distributors alike. Some distributors are open to the idea, while others want protection.
But for many craft brewery owners, the real issue isn’t whether or not a brewer should be allowed to break a wholesale contract. Instead, many argue that simply having the proper set of distributor selection criteria in place will help business owners avoid an ugly divorce down the road.
“There are going to be a lot of issues on carve-out laws and franchise laws,” Lambert said during the Business Planning 2.0 panel discussion. “We need to face it that, when we get married to our distributor partners, we are married. We need to understand their world, and we need to understand our world.”
Building upon the discussions from CBC, Brewbound asked attendees what the most important considerations are when making new distributor selections. Those responses are included in the latest installment of our video series, published above.