NEW GUY IN CHARGE
Stone Hires CEO
After a yearlong search, Stone Brewing Company has finally identified its next chief executive.
The San Diego-based craft brewery named Dominic Engels, who most recently served as the president of POM Wonderful, as its next CEO.
As promised, brewery co-founder Greg Koch will transition into a new role as “executive chairman.” Fellow Stone founder Steve Wagner will remain as president, the company said via a release.
“We interviewed a lot of talented people who were interested in this role,” Wagner said. “I was personally impressed with Dominic’s accomplishments and we connected right off the bat. He has a great skill set for the role and he is by far the best ‘cultural fit’ of anyone we talked to.”
Engels held numerous positions at The Wonderful Company during the last 11 years, previously serving as the company’s managing director in Europe as well as the vice president of Wonderful Pistachios & Almonds in the U.S.
Engels’ career also included stints with Spalding Sporting Goods and The Gap, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“Dominic’s experience guiding companies through periods of growth, on a global scale, have us really excited about the future of Stone,” Koch added via the release.
DOJ Closes Bud Investigation
The U.S. Department of Justice has officially closed its investigation into Anheuser-Busch InBev’s acquisition of Devils Backbone Brewing Company, according to a statement issued today by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Juan Arteaga.
Citing conditions in a previously agreed upon settlement between A-B InBev and the DOJ — one that permits the world’s largest beer company to proceed with its acquisition of SABMiller — Arteaga said the “competitive implications of ABI’s acquisition of Devils Backbone are too uncertain at this time to warrant further investigation.”
The decision also pointed to “distribution relief” agreements negotiated during the July MegaBrew settlement as proof that the DOJ is looking out for independent craft brewers, even as A-B InBev acquires smaller beer companies across the U.S. and abroad.
“The division will be carefully monitoring ABI’s compliance with its distribution obligations under this settlement,” Arteaga wrote, adding that the DOJ would also “carefully scrutinize any future craft acquisitions by ABI.”
“The ABI/SABMiller settlement provides the division the opportunity to review certain of ABI’s future craft acquisitions – including acquisitions that may fall below the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act’s reporting thresholds,” he wrote.
So what would an investigation into any future ABI craft acquisitions look like?
“The division will consider whether these transactions, either singularly or collectively, are likely to harm competition by, among other things, giving ABI the ability to prevent its craft rivals from effectively getting their products to the market or the ability to increase high-end beer prices which, in turn, would enhance ABI’s ability to raise prices in the premium and sub-premium beer segments,” Arteaga wrote.
And if the DOJ ever found that A-B InBev was using its acquired craft breweries to unfairly stifle competition within the craft and high-end beer segments, it would “consider all its enforcement options — including re-opening its investigation of ABI’s acquisition of Devils Backbone – and all appropriate relief.”
Litchfield’s Genius Investment
The Litchfield Fund, a family owned and operated investment fund, has added organic coconut smoothie brand Genius to its portfolio.
Tom Malengo, chief business officer at The Litchfield Fund, said he was impressed by Genius’ recent brand revamp and gains in distribution and founder Alex Bayer’s vision for the company. Malengo declined to disclose the amount of the investment.
“There are so many great ideas and great products but what it comes down to is execution,” said Malengo. “We figured out very quickly Alex knew what this business was, what he was doing with it, and where he was he going to go with it. We were really impressed.”
Malengo added that he expects the company’s two new SKUs – coffee and vanilla protein – will help build the brand’s presence on shelves in the coming months.
“Flavor distinction is very key on store shelves, especially since we [now] have more than one SKU,” Bayer said at the time.
The investment follows a handful of notable happenings at the Torrance, California-based brand, most visibly a packaging revamp that saw it change its name from Genius Juice to simply Genius. Bayer indicated the switch came out of consumer confusion over having both “juice” and “smoothie” on its labels.
There have also been changes to Genius’ production process, switching from high pressure processing (HPP) to traditional pasteurization in response to recent issues surrounding HPP’s ability to control bacterial spores in low acid products.
The company recently experienced a spike in placements, securing national distribution with UNFI and KeHe and entering retailers including Whole Foods’ Rocky Mountain region, Natural Grocers, Central Market, Akin’s and Chamberlin’s, Royal Blue Grocery and all 36 Earth Fare grocery stores.