Deschutes VP of Marketing Neal Stewart Takes on VP of Sales Role

Deschutes Brewery has named vice president of marketing Neal Stewart as its next vice president of sales.

Stewart’s promotion to VP of sales and marketing was announced Friday during a quarterly “co-owners meeting” of the employee-owned company’s workforce. Deschutes had been searching for a VP of sales since June 2019 when Andrew Tysler exited the company after nearly eight years.

The additional title and responsibilities come less than a year after Stewart joined Deschutes as VP of marketing, supplanting Jeff Billingsley, after five years as VP of marketing for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Stewart’s resume includes stints at some of the largest breweries in the U.S., including Pabst Brewing Company, Flying Dog Brewery, Mark Anthony Brands’ Mike’s Hard line and MillerCoors.

After several months of the VP of sales role sitting vacant, Stewart said he floated the possibility of a dual role to Deschutes founder Gary Fish and CEO Michael LaLonde. After going through the interview process, the company began to see the benefits of linking sales and marketing with Stewart at the helm.

LaLonde told Brewbound that Stewart was the right fit to lead both sales and marketing due to having “great vision” and energy, as well as the relationships that he’s built with the company’s sales team and wholesalers.

“He’s had an immediate impact on our business,” LaLonde said, adding that Stewart could be most effective executing the company’s vision by leading both sales and marketing.

Additionally, Deschutes has tapped Bump Williams Consulting to help with its retail chain sell-in, sales training and wholesaler management, LaLonde said. Stewart will serve as “the focal point” between the brewery and the firm.

“It made a whole lot of sense on a number of different levels to put him in that role,” LaLonde said.

Moving forward, Stewart told Brewbound that he will turn his focus to sales.

“Most of my time is going to be spent working with the sales team,” he said. “In the short-term, it’s really about getting to know our team on a deeper level, obviously reaching out to distributors and working with them, understanding how we can help them build their business.”

In order to allow that shift, Deschutes promoted Stacey Payne to the role of marketing director in January. Payne, who has worked as a marketing manager at Deschutes for four years, will report to Stewart.

In addition to Stewart’s and Payne’s promotions, Deschutes has hired Steve Malcomson as director of national accounts, and he will replace Dennis Kamper, who is retiring in mid-March.

Malcomson, who will be based in Southern California and brings 20 years of alcoholic beverage industry experience to the role, worked for nearly a decade at Lagunitas Brewing Company as director of key accounts in the west and vice president of national accounts. He started with Deschutes last week.

With Malcomson on board, the plan now is to invest in Deschutes’ sales team, including hiring someone to oversee on-premise national accounts, as well as other national accounts team roles. The company is also increasing its marketing budget by about 30% in 2020.

“It’s really focused on finding opportunities that sell beer now and finding opportunities that are measurable and can drive a result,” he said. “The way I think of that is we’re taking our mindset and putting it side-by-side with how distributors think about the business. They want to know what’s driving results now, and that’s how we’re thinking about it.”

Those moves come after a decline in volume for Deschutes in 2019, to around 289,000 barrels after finishing 2018 at 313,510 barrels, according to the Brewers Association.

According to Stewart, the first order of business is winning the critical summer selling season. That starts with Deschutes’ “Fresh Family” of IPAs, Fresh Squeezed, Fresh Haze and Lil’ Squeezy.

“To us, the biggest opportunity that we have is Fresh Haze, by far,” he said of the juicy IPA. “If we can close the gap of distribution from where Fresh Haze is to Fresh Squeezed, that’s a massive volume opportunity for us.”

Fresh Haze currently has half the distribution of Fresh Squeezed, he explained. Closing that gap is important because when the two brands are on the shelf together, they “sell at a rate that’s about 35% higher than they do when they’re by themselves.”

“If we could get that to 75% [of the distribution of Fresh Squeezed], it’s a great opportunity not only for us, but also for our distributors to sell more beer, and our retailers to make more margin without cannibalizing our current sales,” he added.

In June, Deschutes will add Biggie Fresh, 9% imperial IPA, to its Fresh portfolio as a year-round brand available in 6-pack bottles and on draft. Stewart called Biggie Fresh “a very modern imperial IPA” but not a hazy.

“It doesn’t have the overly malty backbone,” he said. “It’s definitely hop-forward and citrusy, which is obviously what consumers are really looking for these days.”

Adding a fourth beer to the Fresh Family doesn’t concern Stewart, who views that portfolio as “the future of Deschutes.”

“That’s where we plan to innovate,” he said. “The Fresh Family is typically a higher price point than our main line brands, which would include Mirror Pond, Obsidian Stout and so forth. We plan on innovating at a higher pricing tier.”

Stewart called Biggie Fresh’s summer release a “softer roll out” with a focus on getting the brand on chain store shelves during the fall resets.

Another priority for Deschutes this summer will be Wowza, the company’s 100-calorie, 4% ABV hazy pale ale. That brand is already outpacing expectations, with distribution about 2.5 times higher than expected through the end of January, and velocity also beating expectations.

At its current pace, Wowza could be a 20,000-barrel brand in Year One, Stewart said.

“And it could be bigger than that,” he added. “I think we’re still being a little conservative with that, but in this day and age of craft beer it’s important to set attainable goals.”

The company will also release 19.2 oz. single-serve cans of Wowza in the spring as a play in convenience stores as well as venues such as the Seattle Seahawks’ home stadium, CenturyLink Field, and The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, among others.

As for Deschutes’ FMB play Modified Theory, which will begin hitting shelves March 1, Stewart is confident the brand’s customizable properties, served alone, on the rocks, or as a mixer, will resonate with consumers.

Two Modified Theory flavors, Tarocco Orange Vanilla and Northwest Berry Lavender, will also be offered in 19.2 oz. cans in the convenience channel, which Stewart called a “massive opportunity.”

In addition to the focus on the Fresh IPA offerings and new products, Deschutes is opening one new market in 2020, with the addition of Oklahoma this week, which will expand the company’s footprint to 32 states and Washington, D.C.

Stewart said there are no plans to add other states beyond Oklahoma this year, although the company may fill in distribution gaps in other recently launched states, such as New Jersey and Indiana.

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