Kris Spaulding, co-owner and president of Grand Rapids-based Brewery Vivant, has long advocated for sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion in the local brewing community. Now she has a larger platform to promote the business values. Earlier this month, Spaulding was voted to serve as a pub brewery representative on the Brewers Association board of directors. The 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association features a membership that includes more than 5,600 U.S.-based breweries. Spaulding is one of the representatives for a segment of breweries that sells at least a quarter of its beer on premise. MiBiz caught up with Spaulding to learn more about what she hopes to accomplish in the new role.
Being named to the Brewers Association’s board of directors gives you somewhat of a national profile within the industry. How would you like to use that position?
I’m looking at this board in a couple of ways. One is in the context of us being more on the restaurant side than maybe some other breweries. There are a lot of different regulatory things that have — no pun intended — been brewing for a while as far as changes to minimum wage and benefits and just the state of employment in general right now.
I think it’s a pretty important time in our industry to have a voice about what makes sense for the industry and what we should be advocating for on the regulatory side with our state and local, but also national, governments. I see that as an important piece. Dovetailing with that, sustainability has always been the biggest part of our identity as far as culture and values, and I’m excited to bring that lens to the board.
Brewery Vivant is a certified B Corporation (B Corp), requiring it to attain high standards for social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. How does that status frame your thinking about some of those diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues?
I would say we’re trying to look at it strategically in terms of how we can change some of the statistics and make sure we’re a welcoming, safe place to all. We definitely don’t have the answers yet. It’s a slow process. We’re learning along the way and using other resources. I’m on the Michigan Brewers Guild’s DEI committee — that’s great to be with a bunch of value-aligned breweries just in Michigan and talking about what each of us are doing. It’s a journey that we’re not all just starting. Having good intent is a nice beginning.
It’s no secret that the craft beer industry continues to have an inclusion problem when it comes to representation of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. How can the Brewers Association drive change or at least acknowledge the problem?
From what I’ve seen with the Association and board talking about it in the last few years, I think they have laid a pretty solid foundation. There is a lot of work that has been done. It’s just a matter of continuing to push for the next step and how we get all of our brewery community members to understand the importance of recognizing why diversity is a good thing and understand what that could look like. I think there are a lot of good intentions right now. The challenge is: What are things that each brewery could be doing to move forward?
How hard has it been to run a business over the last 15 months, especially for someone like you who has young children and works with your husband?
It was a real doozy there for a while. For the first couple of months, no one knew what it would look like long-term before the government came in and created programs to help. That was a time I would never like to relive again. It was emotionally really hard trying to make good decisions that would be as beneficial to as many as possible — our staff, the community and customers. It was really tough. Once some of those programs were rolled out, those were the life-saving rafts that allowed us to operate our businesses with a different mindset. When I look back and reflect, it was super challenging.
With capacity and mask restrictions now lifted, does it feel anywhere close to normal for your business?
I think the biggest factor is the labor shortage. I can’t think of any restaurants that I’ve talked to that feel like they’re fully staffed. Until that dust settles, it will still feel like we’re transitioning. Until we can hire all the people we need to hire, and have our hours be what we want them to be, I think we’ll just continue being in this weird space.
Brewery Vivant continued to invest during the pandemic, including switching to a new canning format to get into more grocery stores and launching spirits production at sister company Broad Leaf Brewery & Spirits. How tough is it to pull the trigger on those capital investments during these uncertain times?
Because everything is in such a state of turmoil, it was almost easier to make those decisions. It was the mindset of, ‘Well, if there was ever a time to try something new, it’s now.’ So we did make a lot of decisions, both with 12-ounce cans and even some internal things in how we wanted to allocate our team members’ time and positions. I think a good thing that came out of such a scary time is that we stepped into being a little more risky with how we were dealing with things. Why not at this point?
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