For 805, There’s More Runway Beyond Craft
How big a brand is Firestone Walker Brewing’s 805 Blonde Ale in California?
As big as craft comes. The brand, born in 2013, is now the no. 1 craft brand in California.
But, “we intentionally position it to be the anti-craft in a sense,” says Firestone Walker’s VP sales and marketing, Dave Macon. Still: “we’re a craft beer company. And so we’re compared to craft.”
But this brand goes beyond craft. “It is nudging up against some very big beers,” said Dave, citing Nielsen 26 week trends in California. “We passed Lagunitas and Sierra, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.”
Does it still have runway? “Yeah,” says Dave. “Look above 805.” You know, beyond craft. “That’s all runway. Our job is to continue to position it… [to source] volume not from craft. It’s sourcing volume from imports and domestics.”
It’s 70% of Firestone’s sales.
“It’s growing in every market,” says Dave, though he concedes that ” the volumetric gains are harder in the non-California states.”
“California has 50,000 liquor licenses, and 45 million(ish) people. It’s the no. 1 beer market in the world. So yes, we’re going to focus on California,” said Dave. “If we don’t win in California, Arizona and Nevada (their base), we don’t win.”
“That’s not to say outside states don’t get our focus. They absolutely do. But they’re going to come along at their own pace.”
It took time to build 805 to the juggernaut it is now in The Golden State.
“I personally feel that it just takes time, and you have to really grind more than you ever had to before.”
UNION JACK REDESIGN. Despite 805 cranking for them, it’s not their only focus brand, of course. For example, Union Jack is something of a calling card for the brewer.
“For us, it’s a very big brand,” said Dave, though Union Jack, their number three overall (suddenly bumped from 2 by runaway success, Mind Haze), can get lost in the current sea of IPAs.
So they’re currently giving the brand a redesign, which will launch in about 45 days. They’re “completely repositioning the brand,” said Dave. “We have to re-invest.”
The theme? “More or less, ‘long live IPA.'”
THE OTHER MAJOR SURPRISE: MIND HAZE. The other major surprise this year for them, says Dave, has been Mind Haze hazy IPA.
They started shipping in December, and it’s already a 100,000 case brand. It helped that they got a first-to-market deal in Kroger.
Now, where last year their top volume producers were 805, Union Jack, and Luponic Distortion (a rotator IPA pack), in that order; now it’s 805, Mind Haze, Union Jack, Luponic.
Luponic has done well for them, and it’s a new package, but it’s almost flattish now.
“Not long ago you could get 3-7 years outta a brand,” mused Dave. Now, sometimes, “you [only] get a year.” That’s of course not the case with 805.
BARRELS, MARKETS. With some strong growth brands, the brewer projects 480,000 barrels this year, up from 445,000 in 2018.
They’re not opening many new markets. But they are opening Pittsburg (with Frank B. Fuhrer), having already been in Pennsylvania. That’s “more of a chain play.” They’re also opening Utah with Union Jack and 805 as well.
READER RESPONSE TO BOSTON “RAH RAH”: GET REAL
At least one reader bristled about our earnings call coverage yesterday, of Boston management’s attempts to turn the Sam Adams franchise around.
“Can we get a little objective reporting on the Sam Adams franchise and not just the company line from Jim and Dave? Ask any Sam wholesaler and they’ll tell you summer ale gets tweaked every year, they wait expectantly every spring to try the new stuff. Ask any retailer and they’ll give you the thumbs down on the new packaging, you can’t tell the difference between Summer and Porch Rocker. And please explain to me how a brand as big as summer ale can have 70% of its base change every year, that’s mathematically impossible! And Rebel is not a shock to anyone who did the rate of sale math last year, it was not good, only reason it was a top brand was the shear relative size of their ACV. Boston Beer is a billion dollar company and should get the same level of reporting scrutiny as the other billionaires, not the pom pom waving that should be reserved for our 10k barrel brewery heroes.”
Jenn, Jordan, and Harry
“May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.” — George Carlin
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