Constellation Brands’ venture capital arm will invest $100 million in beverage alcohol startups with Black founders over the next decade, the company announced today.
Constellation Brands Ventures’ (CBV) “Focus on Minority Founders” program follows the template the beer, wine and spirits company used to create Focus on Female Founders in late 2018. Since that initiative’s launch, female-owned businesses in CBV’s portfolio mix have increased from 20% to 50%.
“This reinforces there is a real need for these programs, and they can drive measurable improvement in minority representation for our industry,” Constellation Brands CEO Bill Newlands said in the release.
Of companies that received venture capital backing between 2013 and 2017 nationwide, just 1% had Black founders, according to a diversity study by Rate My Investor. The study also found that 77.1% of founders are white and 90.8% are male.
In the beer industry, 1% of brewery owners are Black, according to the Brewers Association’s Brewery Operations Benchmarking Survey. Slightly more than half (52.3%) of breweries are 100% male-owned, and 31% have 50-50, male-female ownership, usually husband-and-wife teams. Just 2% of breweries are female-owned.
In addition to investment funding, companies in the Focus on Minority Founders initiative will receive support in the form of “sales, marketing, operations, and finance expertise” from Constellation executives, as do companies in the Focus on Female Founders pipeline.
In its first year, Focus on Female Founders connected hard seltzer maker Vivify with more than 150 wholesalers and guided Austin Cocktails through a packaging redesign, according to a post from CBV vice president Jen Evans.
In January, Constellation Brands acquired a minority ownership stake in Press Premium Alcohol Seltzer, a company in the Focus on Female Founders program. Two months after Constellation made a minority investment in Press, the company’s chief commercial officer for its beer division, Bruce Jacobson, left to join the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based hard seltzer maker.
Constellation will also work internally to “create greater equity for African American/Black colleagues,” it said in the release. This entails a review of recruitment, hiring and talent development processes to challenge unconscious bias internally.
Externally, Constellation will review its sponsorships, advertising policies and brand activations to ensure they “are aligned to brand and company values.”
Newlands has also signed onto CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a business commitment to advance corporate diversity. Other beverage alcohol CEOs who have taken the organization’s pledge include Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito, Beam Suntory CEO Albert Baladi, Brown-Forman CEO Lawson Whiting, Diageo North America president Deirdre Mahlan, Molson Coors CEO Gavin Hattersley, New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer, and Standard Beverage president Darrell Swank.
Constellation will also donate $1 million to and begin a multi-year partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, which “is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment.”
“We categorically denounce bigotry, racism, and social injustice,” Newlands said in the release. “They are clearly inconsistent with our company values and our commitment to embracing diversity and creating an inclusive environment where all employees feel safe, respected, and valued. We stand in solidarity with the Black community and we are committed to achieving meaningful and lasting change.”