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NBWA address challenges to distribution system, opportunities from craft beer

National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) emphasized the importance of the role the association and its members play in maintaining state-based alcohol regulation during the opening general session of the NBWA’s 73rd Annual Convention in Chicago yesterday.
 
NBWA Chairman of the Board Mitch Watkins, president of Watkins Distributing, Sales & Service, Twin Falls, Idaho, recognized the progress of the goals he outlined at last year’s conference. The goals included increasing education among distributors, increasing owner involvement in the association, improving communication and advancing the distributor-focused agenda.
 
Advancing the distributor-focused agenda is particularly important as the three-tier system and state-based alcohol regulations have faced challenges in many parts of the United States this year, Watkins said. In Washington, retailer CostCo has been joined by fellow retailers Wal-Mart and Safeway in support of a ballot initiative pushing for deregulation of alcohol sales in the state.
 
The NBWA has provided $2.4 million and additional support to educate voters on the initiative. In addition to the NBWA’s support, the campaign in Washington is supported by the Beer Institute and the Brewers Association as well as groups as varied as law enforcement, teachers, organized labor, local government and religious communities, explained NBWA President Craig Purser.
 
One area of opportunity for beer distributors is the growing craft beer industry, which was the focus of education seminar “The Beer Times They Are A’Changin.’” Brewers Association’s Julia Herz and Paul Gatza addressed the growing popularity of the industry, which has shown continued growth despite the economy. Jeff Nowicki of Bump Williams Consulting discussed the opportunities for the category, which include expanded distribution and placement in convenience stores. Nowicki also described the trajectory of the craft beer industry as “the import category reborn.”
 
Craft brewer speakers asked distributors to pay attention to the individuality of the craft breweries. Robin Ottaway of Brooklyn Brewing and Brett Joyce of Rogue Ales encouraged distributors to help craft brewers develop brands and tell their stories, which often is what attracts consumers, they said. Jim Koch of Boston Beer echoed the sentiments and asked the distributors make sure craft beer does not get “wine-ified,” or commoditized based on price or variety.
 
During the general session, NWBA’s Watkins and Purser also presented the association’s annual awards. The Public Affairs Award was given posthumously to Judd Sondreal, owner and president of McKinnon Co. Inc., Grand Forks, N.D., who passed away in August. The 2010 Industry Affairs Award was presented to John Williams of the Beer Industry League of Louisiana. Bill Christoffersen of the Utah Beer Wholesalers Association received the 2010 Industry Service Award. Recognized for political action contributions, the R. Kenneth Kerr Award was presented to John Grizzafi of Stein Distributing Co. Inc. and Howard Hallam of Ben E. Keith Beverage Distributors received the Whitey Littlefield Award. Edwin Pearlstine, who has retired from South Carolina-based Pearlstine Distributors Inc, received the association’s Life Service Award.

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