Green Flash Brewing Co. surprised the alcohol beverage industry in early 2018 when it announced plans to streamline its distribution channels and focus its sales and marketing efforts on core regions with the greatest access to its San Diego and Virginia Beach breweries. The company said it will pull Green Flash Brewing distribution from 33 states, reducing its wholesale business by 18%. This refocus also results in a loss of 33 Green Flash layoffs in 2018 so far, or 15% of the company’s total workforce. The move comes during the beer industry decline, as it faces a decline in sales and subsequent brewery layoffs in 2018.
Over the last 15 years, Green Flash’s distribution channel had grown to include all 50 states, but the popularity of craft breweries (there are over 100 breweries in San Diego County alone) and consolidation of the biggest breweries started to cut into the company’s bottom line, forcing it to change its strategy.
“Really, it was a matter of focusing our resources behind packages that are growing and reducing the number of SKUs to something manageable,” said Mike Hinkley, co-founder of Green Flash Brewing Co. “Our business had gotten a little unwieldy with the number of SKUs, the number of states. Our business became really complex for our size.”
For now, Green Flash’s downsizing will leave its products available in only 17 states. The company believes that concentrating its sales and marketing on a more focused geographic footprint will help increase sales and inventory turnover, and mean more than 90% of all shipped beer will arrive on the same day it is shipped.
“I am greatly saddened by folks having to leave the company,” Hinkley said. “We simply could not compete effectively with such broad geographic reach. We will soon discontinue shipments to distributors that currently constitute about 18% of our wholesale trade revenue. With that reduction in revenue, we have to reduce expenses accordingly.”
He added that despite Green Flash’s layoffs in 2018 and subsequent streamlining, the overall business remains healthy and that 2017 revenue was flat compared to 2016.
“This isn’t an indication that Green Flash is going to be shook out. It’s just making sure we’re strong for the long haul,” Hinkley said.
Even with the consolidation and layoffs, Hinkely is looking forward to the future. Part of Green Flash’s long-term strategy includes opening small brewpubs in earlier stage markets like Lincoln, Nebraska. Green Flash expects to open the Green Flash Brewhouse & Eatery in Lincoln in the first quarter of 2018.
“If that’s successful, that’ll be the model for how to go to another city,” Hinkley explained. “And then the 100-year plan is maybe there’ll be 10 Lincolns over the next 20 years of my life. But who knows?”
Green Flash’s Previous Layoffs in 2017
There were also Green Flash layoffs in 2017, the company cutting 25 positions from its accounting, marketing, events, and brewing operations departments in January of last year.
Interestingly, when contacted, Green Flash did not deny reports about the layoffs, but only provided a prepared statement. “We do not make statements about specific personnel changes. Green Flash is not reducing the number of employees. In fact, we will continue to increase the number of employees,” it read.
In November, Hinkley said Green Flash employed around 250 people. A loss of 25 jobs translates into a 10% reduction in the company’s workforce. Optimistically, Hinkley stated the company would employ as many as 300 by the spring following Green Flash’s restructuring plan.
Having just laid off another 33 jobs and with spring 2018 just two months away, for Green Flash to hit the 300 employee target, it will need to hire 108 people, or increase its workforce by 56%
Beer Consumption Saw Biggest Decline as Alcohol Consumption Dropped for Second Consecutive Year
While alcohol consumption continues to decline, depending on who you talk to, beer consumption specifically is either rising or falling. According to the International Wines and Spirits Record, total U.S. alcohol consumption declined for a second straight year in 2017 by -0.2%. This is more than double the loss reported in 2016.
Consumption of spirits was up 2.3% and wine by 1.3%, but beer volume tumbled -0.5%, weighing down the performance of the entire industry. That’s because beer accounts for 79% of the total alcohol beverage market.
Some believe the beer consumption decline is related to the very slow trend of drinking in moderation, or not at all.
Another study shows that Americans bought 210.5 million barrels of beer in 2016, up two percent from a half decade ago. In 2016, beer generated $350.0 billion in economic output, or two percent of total gross domestic product (GDP).
But not all beer is created equal, and some is selling better than others, with consumer tastes shifting from big brands like “Budweiser,” “Bud Light,” and “Miller High Life,” to craft beers, imports, cocktails, and wine.
Between 2011 and 2016, demand for “Bud Light Lime” tumbled 35.5%, “Keystone Light” sales were down 26.2%, “Miller High Life” revenues retreated 24.1%, “Natural Light” sales fizzled 23%, and sales of Budweiser, the so-called “King of Beers,” were down 22.2%.
Beer is still the alcoholic beverage of choice in America, capturing the vast majority of sales. But consumer tastes have changed and will continue to change. As a result, the market will continue to get saturated with brands. As we have seen, in some instances, there isn’t enough room for every brand to thrive. This will result in brand consolidations and layoffs, as well as some breweries shuttering their doors.
“Green Flash Pulls Distribution From 33 States, Eliminates 15 Percent of Workforce,” Brewbound, January 15, 2018.
“Green Flash Brewing Lays Off 25 Employees,” The Full Pint Craft Beer News, January 17, 2017.
“U.S. beverage alcohol volumes decline again in 2017, IWSR reports,” Craft Brewing Business, January, 11, 2018.
“Beers Americans no longer drink,” USA Today, December 27, 2017.