Beer Buzz: Right Beer, Right Account

Beer marketers are becoming more strategic in placing their brands at retail.

With so much choice facing today’s beer drinkers, deciding how and where to distribute imported brews and craft offerings in new markets is a matter of careful research, analysis and strategy.
With so much choice facing today’s beer drinkers, deciding how and where to distribute imported brews and craft offerings in new markets is a matter of careful research, analysis and strategy.

When Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Co. rolled out distribution in Iowa this summer, retailers jumped at the opportunity to offer any of its near-dozen year-round brews, not to mention roughly two dozen seasonal and limited-release beers. But at Hy-Vee—one of Iowa’s largest retail chains, with more than 100 units in the state—listing decisions were carefully cultivated. “Some of our stores opted to take on the whole portfolio, while others may have selected just three packages,” says vice president of wine and spirits Jay Wilson. “We give our stores the autonomy to put the right product on their shelves.” These decisions are based on the venue’s customer base, size and overall beer selection.

David Reny, vice president of sales at MillerCoors’ Tenth and Blake division, recalls recommending Pilsner Urquell for a “great craft-centric venue in San Francisco with a customer base that is knowledgeable about beer styles and provenance.” The account was a great fit even though it sells mostly American crafts and never touches imports. “Pilsner Urquell interacts with the craft beer segment more than any other leading import,” Reny explains. “The retailer took our advice, and now it’s one of the top independent on-premise accounts for Pilsner Urquell in the country.”

Indeed, beer professionals agree that in a category with an ever-expanding number of brands and SKUs, placing the right beer at the right location is more important than ever. “No one size fits all,” says Joe Menetre, vice president of sales at New Belgium Brewing Co.

Thanks to data and analytical tools, marketers and distributors not only advise retailers on beers and packages that are ideal for their locations, but sometimes also recommend against stocking some of their products. “Retailers sometimes think we’re crazy because we might say ‘no’ when they ask for a brand that doesn’t fit their account,” Reny says. Rather, Tenth and Blake employs an account segmentation model that allows the company to differentiate accounts by the types of customers they attract and then partners with its distributors to determine the kind of venues where each brand will perform best. Reny points to Peroni Nastro Azzurro as an example. He says the Italian brew does extraordinarily well in upscale on-premise accounts in urban areas with strong spirits and wine programs. But in a neighborhood sports bar in a rural area, the brew “won’t sell at nearly the same velocity,” Reny notes.

When making assortment recommendations to retailers, Anheuser-Busch InBev uses an account segmentation model that “looks at account type, demographics and overall experience,” says Josh Halpern, vice president of national retail sales in the on-premise. “We’re able to use this segmentation to ensure we’re targeting the right portfolio of offerings to each retailer to match their customers and occasions.” However, rather than a “right brand, right account” model, the company advocates a “balanced portfolio” approach designed to grow a store’s traffic, frequency and check size, Halpern says. “The two types of beer that drive the most volume on-premise are premium lights and wheats,” he explains. “So we encourage all retailers to have one or two of each.” Other beers, such as IPAs, bocks and ciders, are then recommended to build incremental sales.

New Belgium, meanwhile, does significant research on the local retail market when expanding distribution into new states. The Colorado brewer and its distributors identify “target” accounts, including high-volume sports bars or music venues where New Belgium’s Fat Tire amber ale would thrive. Accounts that attract “beer geeks” and serve more esoteric beers, such as those from the brewer’s Lips of Faith series, are also a good fit.

While major beer brands are largely omnipresent at venues like supermarkets, Hy-Vee’s Wilson says identifying the right mainstream brews for his stores is more about managing SKUs. “You have to have Bud Light at every store,” he explains. “The question may come down to what packages you need. One store may carry every Bud Light package available while another may find that it’s better to stock package A over package B.”

Big brand or small, beer marketers agree that identifying the right products for a store or bar is best achieved via collaboration. “The best results happen when brewers, distributors and retailers decide together on the right products for a store,” Menetre says.