Craft Brew Alliance Plans to Reduce SKUs, Increase Marketing Investment in 2014

To kick off Craft Brew Alliance’s first-ever national distributor meeting, CBA-Con, held today in Las Vegas, president Andy Thomas asked the company’s roughly 500 Anheuser-Busch wholesale partners a question.

“Is poker a game of skill or a game of luck,” he said. “Some of the best players will tell you that it is 100 percent skill and it is 100 percent luck. Sounds a lot like business doesn’t it?”

Thomas posed the question after showing the audience a clip from the 2006 James Bond flick, Casino Royale, in which Bond misreads his opponent, Le Chiffre, during a high stakes poker game. Bond loses the hand, but learns from his mistake and actually learns how to tell when Le Chiffre is bluffing. Later in the scene, he uses his newfound knowledge to take all of his opponent’s money in an “all-in” situation.

The metaphor, while cheeky, actually helped to shape CBA’s new mantra of being “all-in.” Thomas and a host of CBA brand managers and executives shared a glimpse of next year’s plan for their wholesalers.

The company plans to increase its marketing investment by 40 percent to help promote its five brands: Kona Brewing, Redhook, Widmer Brothers, Omission and Square Mile Cider. Most of that, Thomas said, will be directed at growing a Kona brand that in the latest four-week IRI scans is up 33 percent in multi-channel outlets including grocery, drug and convenience. In fact, the company claims that during the last four weeks, the brand is growing five times faster than Blue Moon and three times faster than Sierra Nevada.

CBA also plans to cut its SKUs by 27 percent; eliminating some Redhook seasonals and Widmer Brothers line extensions. The hope, Thomas told Brewbound, is that by streamlining the focus on its “lucky 7” brands — Kona’s Longboard Lager and Big Wave Golden Ale; Omission Pale Ale/Lager; Redhook’s Long Hammer IPA and Audible Ale; Widmer’s Alchemy Ale and new IPA Upheaval — CBA can increase its share of mind with key retailers and distributors.

Much of that renewed focus on core brands will be executed through retailer specific programming that is based on addressing consumer needs and creating “executable solutions” at the company’s top performing chain accounts: Walmart, Publix, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Rite Aid and Buffalo Wild Wings. Together, those seven accounts currently comprise 25 percent of CBA’s business and total 40 percent of its growth this year.

A more in-depth follow-up story on CBA’s specific brand plans in 2014 will follow tomorrow.

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