Expo East, NACS, NBWA and GABF Conference Overview

Following Error, Brewers Association to Change GABF Verification Process

By Chris Furnari

The biggest news from this year’s Great American Beer Festival wasn’t who took home an award, but rather who didn’t.

Hours after the Brewers Association handed out 286 medals to 254 different breweries, festival organizers discovered a critical error: Ohio’s Fat Head’s Brewery, which earlier in the day had been crowned the “Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year,” was actually beat out for the award by Karl Strauss Brewing Company.

The reason? Karl Strauss, based in San Diego, had incorrectly submitted its entries as part of the “Mid-Size Brewpub” category, rather than Mid-Size Brewing Company, and festival organizers neglected to recategorize them. Strauss produced more than 75,000 barrels in 2015; the Mid-Size Brewpub category has a production range of between 750 and 1,500 barrels.

Festival organizers didn’t catch the error until after winners were announced, according to BA chief economist Bart Watson.

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“Unfortunately, this was a mistake by the Brewers Association,” Watson wrote to BevNET. “The BA does review all entries, but regrettably we missed making the needed re-categorization of the Karl Strauss entry prior to announcing the awards. As soon as we realized the error, in the hours immediately following the awards ceremony, we worked to correct it.”

The mixup stemmed, in part, from a complicated set of beer submission criteria that restricts companies with multiple locations or multiple craft brands from entering more than 20 beers into the competition. Products from each brewing location are also scored individually.

As a result of the confusion, Watson said the BA would “implement changes to our processes for brewery category verification before competition judging and awards take place” in 2017, but he didn’t outline what those changes would look like.

GABF 2016 By the Numbers:

  • 60,000 attendees sampled 3,800+ beers from 780 breweries who poured at the festival.
  • 1,752 breweries, from 50 States and Washington D.C. entered the competition
  • 264 judges from 12 different countries sampled 7,227 beers from U.S. breweries.
  • The American-Style India Pale Ale category had the highest number of entries at 312

Beer’s Big Deal

MegaBrew Deal dominates conversation at National Beer Wholesalers Association convention.

By Jeff Cioletti

The rapidly changing distribution landscape has been an ongoing theme at the annual National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) convention for years. But no previous editions have been staged as close to the epicenter of such a seismic shift as the 2016 event

With beer distributors converging on Chicago in late September, just two weeks before Anheuser-Busch InBev closed on its $100 billion-plus acquisition of its closest competitor, SABMiller, the acquisition dominated the conversation.

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“I don’t want to say [the deal] was all-consuming, but it was very consuming for the better part of a year,” NBWA president and CEO Craig Purser told BevNET. “It’s watershed. It’s the biggest deal in the beverage industry ever and probably ever will be.”

One of the biggest unsettled outcomes related to the transaction continues to be how much it will impact the U.S. market. AB InBev has insisted that the acquisition has little to do with the U.S. and much more to do with its presence in the rest of the world, and it divested of SABMiller’s 58 percent share of the MillerCoors joint venture–its entire U.S. business–selling it to the other partner in the JV, Molson Coors.

MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley sought to assure distributors in the audience that everything would be, pretty much, business as usual.

“The face of MillerCoors and our brands will not change,” Hattersley said during an on-stage conversation with Purser.

Hattersley also reaffirmed his support for the three-tier system, noting that “no one knows the local markets better than distributors do.”

But there’s still considerable anxiety related to the AB InBev/SABMiller deal, particularly in the craft segment. On day two of the general session, Purser sat down with Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease, who voiced some of the concerns of his organization’s member companies.

“In a perfect world, we‘d have a respite from these mega-mergers,” Pease said. “Our members are not afraid to compete against ABI in the marketplace, but at the same time, we worry about the structure of the U.S. beer marketplace and U.S. beer industry.”


Expo East 2016 Recap

By Ray Latif

Letting in more attendees than ever before, the Natural Products Expo East trade show was held at the Baltimore Convention Center from Sept. 21-24. The show included over 28,000 attendees and 1,450 exhibiting brands. Beverage executives who spoke with BevNET praised bustling attendance as well as an uptick in distributor and retailer interest as well.

A showcase for emerging and fast-growing beverage trends, Expo East 2016 most prominently demonstrated the continued evolution of cold brew coffee and the swelling ranks of brands participating in the space. Approximately 25 cold brew coffee companies were showing their products at the event, and each attempted, via formulation, packaging, or ingredient sourcing to show a difference from their competitors and from what’s currently on the market.

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Most unlike previous iterations of the natural foods convention, kombucha exhibitors were plentiful at Expo East 2016. Executives from a few of those companies – which include both established brands with national aspirations and regional players that are relatively new to the market – indicated that their presence at the show was reflective of growing demand for kombucha among consumers along the East Coast.

Extending a growing category, some cold-pressed juice brands introduced new products that address various day part and use occasions for both natural and conventional channel consumers. Brand extensions include juice blends made with bleeding-edge and functional ingredients, as well those that are formulated with reduced sugar and calorie counts in mind, including drinking vinegars, juice-infused waters, and shot-based products.


NACS Illustrates C-Store Tradewinds

By Martín Caballero

A wide range of beverage products and exhibitors were on hand at this year’s National Association of Convenience Stores Show, hosted on Oct. 18-21 at the Georgia World Congress in Atlanta, exemplifying the diverse and transitive state of non-alcoholic beverages within the c-store channel.

Tradewinds blowing from the natural and conventional grocery channels continue to push better-for-you products towards c-store shelves. A prominent example was in Nestle’s bottom-up revamp of its Nestea iced tea line, launching in 2017. Responding directly to consumers’ shifting preferences, the new Nestea “slow brew” line features six SKUs – three unsweetened and three fruit flavors sweetened with stevia and cane sugar – along with a new logo and new proprietary bottle.

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Added functionality and convenience were two other consumer demands which brands sought to meet at NACS. Some addressed the former by adding protein to established categories; Nesquik’s new line of protein-boosted milks, with 23 grams per bottle, positions the brand as a healthy lifestyle drink, while High-Brew showcased a new cold brew coffee SKU infused with 12 grams of protein.

Two c-store success stories of recent times – Bai and Body Armor – used NACS to showcase the results of their growth. The former unveiled a new line of sparkling drinks, sweetened with a proprietary blend of erythritol and stevia extract, called Bai Black, and announced that singer/actor Justin Timberlake had joined the company as an investor and “Chief Flavor Officer,” while the latter signaled its intent to continue building within the hydration category with an electrolyte-infused “SuperWater” and a low-calorie SKU called Body Armor Lyte.