“Death by 1,000 cuts.”
That’s how Deschutes Brewery founder Gary Fish describes craft beer’s current competitive landscape, as more venerable, regional breweries, such as his 30-year-old Bend, Oregon-based company, compete with a cohort of more than 7,500 small craft breweries.
To Fish, the “800 pound gorilla” Deschutes is going up against is no longer Anheuser-Busch InBev, but these thousands of small, local breweries. So how does an established regional player such as Deschutes — the 10th largest craft brewing company in 2018, according to the Brewers Association — stay ahead of the horde?
“The way to compete, from our perspective, is through innovation,” Fish told his company’s wholesalers last month during a national sales meeting in Portland. “It’s getting in front of them. Increasing the amount, the frequency and the volume of our conversations with our consumer, and listening to what they’re providing us, so we can get them the flavors, the concepts, the brands that they truly value.”
For Deschutes, like many other brewers, innovation is taking the company to avenues beyond beer, with plans to launch Modified Theory, a new line of flavored malt beverages inspired by trends in craft cocktails and mixology, next year. Asked if he ever thought Deschutes would morph into a “beverage company,” Fish said he’s never ruled anything out.
“I spent a lot of the last 32 years paralyzed by fear, so the idea that we would morph into this, I never thought negatively about it, but I also never thought that we’d be more than a beer company,” he said. “We make our own cider, we have our own whiskey, we have already become an adult beverage company, much more than just a beer company. So whether or not it was predicted, we’re already there. So the transition to some of these more than beer products seems a very natural one at this point.”
In Episode 3 of the Brewbound Podcast’s second season, editor Justin Kendall leads a panel discussion with Fish, Pacific Northwest general manager Chris Hudson, regional sales director Stacy Denbow and former Columbia Distributing chairman Ed Maletis. They discuss Deschutes’ evolution into a beverage company, how difficult it is to get mindshare and focus in 2019 and giving consumers what they want.
Listen to Episode 3 above, as well as on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, and Soundcloud. New episodes of the Brewbound Podcast are published Thursdays.
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