Here’s one question most of the beer media didn’t touch when reporting on this morning’s $38 million takeout of the Goose Island Beer Co. by Anheuser Busch InBev: what becomes of good old Goose Island Soda?
“We’re going to do everything humanly possible to keep the brand alive within the Goose Island heritage,” said Jim Akers, the head of sales and marketing for WIT Beverage Co., which owns the licensing rights to Goose Island Soda. “But I haven’t had any conversations with Anheuser Busch yet, obviously, so we’ll see what happens.”
The five-SKU line — Root Beer, Orange Cream, Vanilla Cream, Grape, Spicy Ginger — is 100 percent cane sugar sweetened. Under the ownership of WIT, a contract manufacturer that also makes Jelly Belly Soda, among others, sales have grown to a respectable 375,000 or so cases annually, according to Akers — not bad for a craft soda. It’s particularly strong in the Midwest, where the Chicago-based beer also has its most devoted audience.
The problem for WIT is that the license to use the Goose Island name — which the company acquired last year, although it has manufactured the soda since around 2007, when the brewery began to feel pressed for capacity — expires in two years.
“Over the next year or two, we don’t believe it’s going to affect us in any way,” Akers said of the brewery sale. “Beyond that we don’t know.”
AB-InBev itself has a mixed relationship with non-alcoholic properties, and shuttered its 9th Street NA beverage group in 2009; but it still works with several companies, including Monster Energy, and owns brands like Paradise Key teas. One optimistic indicator for WIT: upon completing the buyout of the brewery, AB InBev left the two popular Goose Island Brewpubs with the original owners.
But Akers isn’t holding his breath for AB to offer a buyout for the license, or for a national wave of distribution of the beer to turn the little soda company into a national player. In fact, knowing the license for Goose Island Soda might eventually be lost, Akers said he’s prepared for the worst. Regardless of the name, he said, the brand will always have the right to mention that it began at the Goose Island Brewery.
“Its roots are still coming out of Chicago,” Akers said. “It just gives you the opportunity to tell the story with a different name.”