At a time when the partnerships between wholesalers and craft brewers are being scrutinized in the pages of mainstream and trade publications alike, one consulting firm believes the relationships are actually quite healthy and it has the survey results to prove it.
Tamarron Consulting, known for its annual Malt Beverage Supplier Performance Survey, which polls hundreds of U.S. beer distributors and asks them to rate performance and share perceptions of the leading domestic and import brands, recently made its first foray into craft beer with its inaugural Craft Brewer Performance Survey.
Eight craft brewers producing between 50,000 barrels and 200,000 barrels annually — Deschutes Brewery, Dogfish Head, Firestone Walker Brewing, Great Lakes Brewing, Green Flash Brewing, Harpoon Brewery, Odell Brewing and Stone Brewing — took part in the 44-question survey. Distributors graded those brands on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) and answered questions about leadership, distributor management, sales planning, forecasting, packaging and more.
And while the typical rhetoric surrounding distributor and craft brewer relationships might suggest a rift, results of the survey suggest otherwise.
“The scores for craft brewers, in general, were much higher than the scores for suppliers on our main survey,” said Mike McDonnell, the vice president of Tamarron.
But those numbers could be somewhat misleading.
“The fact that there were fewer respondents for the craft survey, we think, had something to do with driving the scores up,” he said. “We think that these distributors look at their national suppliers — companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken — and hold them to a higher level of expectations given the amount of resources they have in the market.”
Nearly 50 percent of the distributors who received the Craft Brewer Performance Survey responded, McDonnell said. That’s compared to about 40 percent participation that the company usually sees for its national Malt Beverage Supplier Performance Survey, which is sent to a larger set of wholesalers, McDonnell said.
Nonetheless, the results describe a view of the rapport between the industry’s top craft suppliers and their distributor partners.
In general, the 219 distributors who responded to Tamarron’s craft survey were satisfied with the current state of their craft brewery partnerships and optimistic that those relationships will improve over the next five years.
46 percent of distributors surveyed believe that the working relationship between wholesalers and craft brewers is “good” while 39 percent believe it is “very good.” And 64 percent of those distributors believe that in five years, those relationships will improve.
Of the eight participating suppliers, Odell Brewing received the highest grades for relationship and performance — 100 percent of its distributors gave Odell an “A” or “B” grade. Deschutes was a close second, with 93 percent of its distributors grading the company as an A or B.
Meanwhile, two San Diego-based breweries — Green Flash and Stone Brewing — ranked the lowest in these areas. 77 percent of Green Flash’s distributors gave the company an A or B grade for relationship and 66 percent of its partners graded the company an A or B in performance. Similarly, 76 percent of Stone’s distributors graded their relationship an A or B and 68 percent gave the company an A or B for performance.
Both Stone and Green Flash also ranked the lowest in overall performance based on the results for all 44 “function-related” questions, while Odell and Deschutes ranked the highest, Tamarron reports.
The survey, which gives brewers and wholesalers insight into the strengths and weaknesses of a partnership, found that craft brewers score highest in areas such as packaging and customer service. Collectively, the eight brewers received an average score above 3.85 (very good) in areas like leadership, packaging, finance and revenue management and customer service.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the eight craft brewers scored the lowest in areas of national account placements, promotions and category management. In the national on-premise and off-premise accounts categories, brewers, on average, scored less than 3 (good).
The results suggest that while craft companies are at a disadvantage when accessing and working effectively with national chains, there is an opportunity for the eight participating breweries to become leaders or validators in the area of craft category management, Tamarron said.
Tamarron hopes to improve involvement in the survey next year and would like to grow the number of craft brewery participants to “about 12 to 14,” McDonnell said.
Tamarron worked in conjunction with Odell Brewing’s director of sales and marketing, Eric Smith, and Dogfish Head’s vice president of sales, Adam Lambert, to develop the questions included in the survey, McDonnell said.