THE BEVERAGE INDUSTRY IS A fluid, ever-morphing entity. What was the standard operating procedure previously is now as antiquated as the Fortran IV computer programming I almost failed in college in 1969. All facets of our business have evolved with new technology, production and formulation efficiencies, not to mention better strategic thinking. Issues like funding, effective routes to market, the aggressive acquisition appetite of the “Big Guys” and the rate of failure for brands have made for a difficult landscape. Nowhere has this been more pronounced than in the distribution arena.
Over the course of the last few years, independent distributors have been swallowed up by the relentless quest for domination by Red, Blue and White. Distributors have spent years nurturing and developing brands only to have them pulled just when they are making their investments pay off. They are then forced to sell, or have to start over with new brands. New marketers have found it difficult to be taken in by houses, and when they are, the terms are often onerous. Going to market has never been harder. Yet, I’m the eternal optimist, and I’ve recently seen two models that give me hope.
In October, I was invited to attend the Coast Brands Group conference in Newport Beach. The venue was spectacular, but what I observed was even better. The premise of the company is to aggregate and bring together dozens of independent distributors from up and down the West Coast and Sun Belt to work in tandem. The Coast team works with non-competing brands to present a portfolio for these 40-plus distributors to take on. They provide the marketing, handle the logistics and even have a national accounts team to go on calls, when needed. It is an incredibly efficient way to go to market. I’ve always felt that united we conquer, divided we fall. When marketers, distributors and retailers work together, it’s the proverbial win-win. The proposition of Coast Brands Group is to bring all the parties in partnership for a common good. I won’t go into any more detail, but their model was exemplary.
The following week, I attended a different venue in Manhattan. For a few years now, I’ve heard tales of the power and prowess of the Northeast Independent Distributors Association, or NIDA. I always wanted to see how it worked, and I was finally invited into the inner sanctum. The members are a compilation of the strongest and best independent distributors on Northeast corridor. Befitting their stature, success and locale, the group members are no shrinking violets. The dynamic is different than the West Coast operation. Efficiency and opportunity are the keys here. Brand marketers are invited to present their wares to the group, a sort of one-stop shop. To brands, this is an opportunity to see the very people who can determine your fate all at once. The decisions are made on an individual basis, but their friendship, mutual respect and great dialogue enable them to critique the brands, see how they fit and act on them. These fiercely independent people have come together to better understand the marketplace and serve their customers better. I like that.
As we head into 2011, I wish all of you a happy, healthy and safe holiday season. There is much to be grateful for.