The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) kicked off its 85th Annual Convention and Product Showcase in Chicago. Taking place annually, the convention brought more than 1,700 attendees together from across the country to hear from industry leaders, attend educational programing and discuss the future of the industry.

NBWA Board Chair Peter Heimark, President of Heimark Distributing in California, reflected on the challenges the industry has faced over the last year.

“In 2022, our resilience and adaptability ― as beer distributors and as the NBWA ― have been tested fully,” Heimark said. “While we still are recovering from the effects of COVID, we also face serious inflation, a spike in fuel costs, supply chain issues and difficulties with worker recruitment and retention. We’ve also seen new entrants to the sector, particularly with big soft drink manufacturers entering both the alcohol beverage and distribution space.”

During his remarks, NBWA President and CEO Craig Purser underscored the need for adaptability, including in recruiting employees.

“You all have adapted to meet this challenge. Some of you have gone to a four day-a-week delivery schedule. Others have made adjustments to the number of routes you run. Some of you have made modification to your fleet adding alternative fuels,” Purser said. “I really believe that people ― quality employees ― are going to be the currency that measures success for organizations going forward. Culture will be king as employees seek a greater purpose and greater flexibility. And we must balance that flexibility with accountability. In short, gone are the days when ‘free beer’ brings them in the door.”

Purser and Heimark jointly announced that Lewis Bear Jr. would be receiving this year’s Life Service Award, the association’s highest honor.

“Lewis has been a titan in the beer industry for generations, running the oldest privately held corporation in Florida and Anheuser-Busch’s oldest continuous distributorship,” Purser said. “His family’s company dates back to 1876 and today they carry more than 300 brands of beer and operate two distribution centers in Northwest Florida.”

During the session, Rebecca Maisel, NBWA secretary and senior vice president and general counsel for Gulf Distributing Holdings LLC announced several developments for the Building Relationships and Empowering Women (BREW) initiative, which was unveiled at last year’s convention. In order to attract, connect and elevate women in the beer and beverage industry, BREW is kicking off a series of new resources to support women’s growth and leadership:

    Launching a leadership academy to give women tools and training to enable career success.

    Conducting monthly webinars and quarterly roundtables to give women support and help them succeed in the beer industry.

    Building a best practices repository to provide readily available information women can access on their own time.

Maisel also announced that Gulf Distributing Holdings would fund five annual scholarships for women in the industry to attend the BREW Leadership Academy.

Additionally, NBWA announced The Frieda G. Maisel Trailblazer Award, which will be given to an organization or person who has pioneered inclusivity in the beer distribution industry.

“I’m honored to say this award will be named after my grandmother,” Maisel said. “Many of you know my grandmother. In 1973, she became the first woman to own a beer distributorship outright, and not through inheritance."

Finally, convention participants had the opportunity to hear from Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth who shared his perspectives on the future of the industry, as well as from political reporter Chris Stirewalt. 

This year, the NBWA product showcase was sold out and boasted 120 exhibitors from across the country. For more information about NBWA’s 85th Annual Convention and Product Showcase, visit our website here.

The 86th Annual Convention and Trade Show will take place Oct. 8-11, 2023, in Las Vegas.