Stone Brewing’s Growing Interest in Grocery

While a visit to the supermarket even for the most discerning beer aficionado might be routine, a journey down the beer aisle isn’t always part of the trip.

At least one large craft brewery is trying to change that.

“I think the ‘beer geek’ overlooks the beer in their grocery store,” said Brian Dewey, Stone Brewing’s new senior national account manager.

Dewey — who recently served as the vice president of sales for Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing — spent 10 years with Sierra Nevada Brewing, a stint that also included over one year as a national accounts manager. His assignment at Stone is to increase the variety, and volume, of beer being sold in the grocery, convenience and drug channels.

Dewey’s hiring by Stone is part of the company’s ongoing investment in a larger sales team. Following the April departure of Arlan Arnsten, Stone’s senior vice-president of sales, the company promoted Jason Armstrong to the newly-created position of director of national sales. Dewey said that both he and Armstrong will manage two additional sales executives and report directly to a yet-to-be-named SVP..

“We are actively pursuing new grocery accounts,” Dewey said. He’s focused on accomplishing two objectives: growing the sales of Stone IPA and working more closely with national chains interested in carrying Stone’s specialty offerings like Enjoy By IPA or Russian Imperial Stout.

Because most national supermarket chains are in the habit of skewing their shelf sets towards domestic and import offerings as well as higher-volume craft flagships, Dewey believes many consumers have been forced to find specialty beers elsewhere.

But that’s changing. Sales have been on the rise: in 2009, craft accounted for about 8.3 percent of beer’s overall dollar share in U.S. supermarkets, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Last year, that figure grew to 11.9 percent. Stone was a major beneficiary of the increased interest from grocery retailers. In 2012 alone, Stone’s sales in the channel were up 25 percent, to $17.5 million.

“More mainstream retailers want to participate in the specialty segment,” said Michael Gorman, the vice president of craft and import sales for Columbia Distributing. “The major grocery retailers seem eager to get into that business, and I think you’ll see more chains move in that direction next year.”

Dewey has been tasked with generating even more interest, but he isn’t looking to aggressively push Stone on retailers who aren’t quite ready.

“We understand that putting our beer everywhere as fast as we can is not the approach that we want,” he said. “We love grocery and we think there are opportunities in both the convenience and drug channels but we have to do it our way.”

The “Stone way” means no discounted product. The company is known for their refusal to offer promotional pricing in exchange for shelf space, a long-held business principle laid forth by co-founder Greg Koch.

Demonstrating value without the added benefit of promo pricing is something Gorman — who distributes Stone beers throughout Oregon — thinks will be critical if Stone expects more mainstream success.

“I think you can create value without a coupon or post-off,” he said. “A brewery just needs a compelling message and a well-thought-out category management presentation.”

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