In a crowded craft beer marketplace, earning share of mind from a wholesaler can be difficult, especially when there are hundreds of brands in a single portfolio.
That’s part of the reason why, for years, Boston’s Harpoon Brewery — best known for its spear-like tap handles and an approachable lineup of craft beers – has distributed its own products throughout the greater Boston area via “Harpoon Distributing Company,” a wholly-owned subsidiary of the beer manufacturer.
Next week, however, Harpoon will officially expand its wholesale operations when it begins distributing San Francisco’s Speakeasy Ales & Lagers. The company would like to add more brands to its portfolio throughout 2015 as well.
Harpoon president Charlie Storey told Brewound that it had the room in its warehouse and the space on the company’s delivery trucks to enable the company to explore a more fully-developed distribution division.
“As we were looking at 2015, we had unused capacity and the bandwidth to handle other brands,” he said. “We had been having a conversation with Speakeasy for about 12 months and, when it eventually turned to distribution opportunities in Boston, we felt that the brands would be somewhat complementary.”
The hope, Storey said, is that a broader portfolio of craft offerings will give Harpoon an opportunity to deepen its retail base.
“We want to be able to provide ‘best in class’ service and a laser-like focus to the metropolitan Boston retail accounts,” he said. “We think that we can stay true to that goal by adding additional brands.”
Storey described the decision to expand as “tactical.”
“We do have these assets – warehouse space, trucks, entry systems. They are all built,” he said. “Our existing asset base can take on more. We have trucks that are not completely full. Why not put some more good beer on them?”
In 2013, Harpoon Brewery opened a satellite warehouse in Woburn, Mass., a space that is currently used as a shipping center for all Harpoon beer sold outside of its distributing company’s footprint. Within the territory (which extends north to Stoneham and South to Weymouth), Harpoon Distributing delivered about 20 percent of the 200,000 barrels the brewery produced in 2014, Storey said. That inventory, as well as product from the company’s new craft brands, is stored at Harpoon’s brewing facility in the seaport district of Boston.
Harpoon Distributing currently employees about two dozen people, Storey said, and additional investments in personnel and infrastructure are not currently expected.
And while specific volume goals have not been determined, Storey said the company will look to sign agreements with as many as five craft beer companies this year.
“We are the unconventional option,” he said. “Everyone knows that the Harpoon Distributing Company is deeply associated with the Harpoon brand. However, while the Harpoon brand has a great fit with a lot of consumers and retailers in Boston, it doesn’t fit with everyone.”
Harpoon Distributing will primarily target new-to-Boston brands, Storey said, adding, “if a brand became available that seemed to be the right fit, that would be a possibility as well.”
“Even though we are under-gunned when it comes to the logistical horsepower that other guys might have, we view ourselves as a small, entrepreneurial company that is passionate about what we do,” he added. “We pay attention to the retailers and the brands in our portfolio and if that works for another craft brewer, great.”
It’s not the first time Harpoon Distributing has tried selling beers made by other breweries. In the mid-2000s, the company sold products from Hofbräuhaus America, the U.S. division of Staatliches Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany.
Harpoon Distributing will officially launch the Speakeasy brand on March 2, establishing the brand on-premise before opening up sales to off-premise retailers throughout metro Boston.