New Dogfish Head COO and president George Pastrana has only been on the job for about three weeks, but he said brewery founders Sam and Mariah Calagione have already welcomed him into the business as a “co-leader.”
“I appreciate that they’re already embracing me as a partner in the business,” he said. “It’s a company with such great enthusiasm and passion and real ambition. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
When Pastrana’s hiring was announced in early January, Sam Calagione told Brewbound that he would be “the leader of our leaders,” noting that the company’s vice presidents would now report to Pastrana, instead of Calagione.
In a recent conversation with Brewbound, Pastrana said he is bringing more than two decades of business operational experience to the growing Delaware-headquartered craft brewery.
“As a company we are making a transition from this scrappy entrepreneurial company that I’ve come to learn operates a very complex operation on spreadsheets and hand-written notes to starting to do grown-up company-type things,” he said. “It’s not that something is broken, but we’re striving to become better as we have ambitions for accelerated growth.”
Pastrana, who was hired from a pool of more than 800 applicants after a year-long search, replaces Nick Benz, who served as COO and CEO before departing the company at the end of 2016. He joins the organization a year after Dogfish Head’s portfolio-wide sales increased by nearly 20 percent. He said three factors attracted him to the job: the Dogfish Head brand, the idea of working with Sam Calagione and the opportunity to help lead the business.
“Working on really cool brands has always been the focus of my career, and so that was probably the biggest draw,” he said. “I thought it’d be really cool to work with a personality such as [Calagione’s] his because he’s so proactive and positive and wanting to build up an entire industry over the past 20-some-odd years of his career.”
Pastrana is a marketing and executive-level veteran. In 2010, he served as the president and general manager of the Americas for SSL International, a global consumer products company whose divisions include the Durex Sexual Wellbeing brand and Scholl foot-care products. More recently, he spent six years as the chief marketing officer and VP of marketing and innovation for ACH Food Companies, whose portfolio includes the Mazola, Fleischmann’s Yeast and Argo brands, among others.
During his time with ACH, Pastrana said he helped reposition the company — and its brands — as “more culinary oriented,” something he believes will translate to Dogfish Head’s offerings.
“I’m a foodie at heart,” he said. “That was another thing that attracted me to Dogfish Head was they have this culinary-inspiration approach to new product development and you see the way we approach ingredients in our products and our brands.”
Pastrana pointed to the release of In Your Mace, a coffee milk stout brewed with chili oils, an active ingredient in the Mace pepper spray brand, as an example of Dogfish Head’s thirst for innovation.
Nevertheless, the company’s primary focus in 2018 will be on its core products — 60 Minute IPA, SeaQuench Ale, Namaste White, Flesh & Blood IPA and Liquid Truth Serum IPA. Pastrana said those five brands are “well-positioned” to reach consumers who are seeking products with either more flavor or lower alcohol content.
“We’re promoting them very aggressively this year,” he said. “We think that combination in our portfolio are going to continue to be rock stars in the category based on the ability to expand through distribution and maintain high levels of velocity of turns.”
Expanded distribution to seven new states was an important component of Dogfish Head’s success in 2017, as new markets accounted for about 30 percent of the the company’s new growth. And market expansion will continue to play a role in the company’s growth strategy in 2018.
Dogfish recently began shipping beer to Louisiana, the 38th state in its footprint, and Pastrana said the company plans to announce the addition of Arkansas in the coming weeks. He said that more markets would be added later in the year, adding that the company wouldn’t overreach on using new distribution to stoke growth.
“We’ll probably start seeing diminishing returns at 44, 45 [states],” he said, adding that many of the remaining markets are low-population territories where it would be difficult to ship beer.