Founders Brewing Co-Founder Discusses Future Following Mahou San Miguel Deal

Following last week’s news that Spanish brewer Mahou San Miguel had agreed to acquire a controlling stake in Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company, co-founder Mike Stevens told Brewbound that his goal of building “America’s next great brewery” remains unchanged.

In fact, Stevens said Mahou’s investment brings that goal closer to reality.

Stevens, who along with co-founder Dave Engbers each retained a 5% stake in the brewery, said Founders now has the resources and knowledge base to build a “legacy brand.”

“We’ve got to stop looking at what next year looks like and really better understand how to build something 10 years out, and that’s exactly what they do,” Stevens said of Mahou. “They’ve been doing it for 130 years — same family — and we’re going to be able to glean that knowledge … and share in those resources and put plans together and go after it.”

As such, Founders will be a more focused and disciplined company as it pivots to more long-term planning and brand building processes, with All Day IPA and Solid Gold lager as the top priorities, Stevens said.

“Craft has been really, really good at creating product,” he said. “We’re probably the best in the beer space, but not the best in building brands. I mean building brands like a Coca-Cola. How do you do that? How do you go to that level?”

For Founders, the answer is deepening its partnership with Mahou, while also maintaining control of its day-to-day operations, said Stevens, who stressed that Mahou is taking a “hands off” approach to the company.

Mahou’s investment in Founders allows the company to break free from craft beer’s cycle of innovation and rotation, which Stevens said doesn’t allow time for brand building.

Stevens pointed to the success of the largest beer companies in building brands. Although those companies are losing volume as consumers turn to wine and spirits, he believes the decline of the big beer companies also presents an opportunity for craft brewers, such as Founders, to attract the 80% of consumers who don’t drink craft beer, as well as younger legal drinkers who aren’t as brand loyal as their parents and grandparents, Stevens said.

To support its long-term brand building strategy, Founders is in the process of interviewing candidates for two key c-level roles: chief strategy officer and a chief marketing officer. Stevens said the company is looking for candidates with experience in building larger brands — inside the beverage industry, and preferably with experience in beverage alcohol — who will fit into the company’s culture. However, he said the company isn’t in a rush to fill those roles.

“If it takes us six months, so be it,” he said. “If it takes us 12 months, so be it. We’re going to get the right people in place so we can make the right decisions for the future.”

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