GRAND RAPIDS — An established West Michigan brewery whose products are available on shelves statewide is taking a novel approach to getting its newest brand out to market.
Starting in early 2020, Grand Rapids-based Brewery Vivant plans to self-distribute beers made by its Broad Leaf Local Beer subsidiary in Kentwood.
CEO Jason Spaulding said the move will allow the company to test the waters for Broad Leaf beers in the greater Grand Rapids area and get real-time feedback from customers, all without having to sign a “lifetime commitment” with a beer wholesaler.
“It’s kind of a fun way to get some beer out there. The trending beers that we’re making here are really expensive to make, so to go through regular wholesale and all that, it makes margins really difficult to make work,” Spaulding told MiBiz.
The Brewery Vivant-branded products will continue to be sold via Alliance Beverage while the company self-distributes its Broad Leaf brands.
Michigan law allows microbreweries to self-distribute beer until they reach a 1,000-barrel annual production threshold.
Impending legislation expected to be introduced in 2020 is likely to address increasing the self-distribution cap, as well as change product registration requirements, as MiBiz previously reported. The move comes as some breweries have decried the 1,000-barrel limit as artificially low compared to other states, limiting their ability to grow.
Spaulding expects to reach the current cap by March or April, since the law aggregates production from both Brewery Vivant and Broad Leaf, which are two brands licensed under the same parent company.
This will be the first time Spaulding has ever made a foray into self-distribution, since the law didn’t exist in 2010 when he co-founded Brewery Vivant with his wife, Kris Spaulding, or back in 1996 when he co-founded New Holland Brewing Co.
“When we first opened, there was no opportunity to do self distribution and to be honest, it wasn’t really in my scope of thinking anyway. Coming from my experience, we always had wholesale partners,” Spaulding said. “There’s a certain value that wholesalers bring — there’s no doubt about it. But in this infancy stage that we’re in (with Broad Leaf), it’s nice to test it a little bit.”
Rather than seeking out precious long-term shelf space for Broad Leaf beers in an ever-crowded retail market, Spaulding just wants the beers to be visible so people can see the beers out in the market and try them, versus having to come to the Broad Leaf location.
“It’s a different strategy of selling beer than we have done with Vivant traditionally, where you’re trying to get on the shelf at Meijer and trying to keep the sales up so you can keep that spot,” he said. “I’m not really interested in that at all with this; I just want to put fresh beer in front of people and have them buy it, drink it, enjoy it.”
Spaulding says he’s open to revisiting a traditional wholesaler agreement with Broad Leaf if the market proves that demand exists for the beers.
“We’ve got a lot of good relationships we’ve built over the years in the industry, and we’re going to see what people think,” Spaulding said. “There is also a lot of beer out there. We don’t know what the reaction will be. I think they’re really good, but we’ll see what people think.”
The Spauldings bill Broad Leaf Local Beer, which brews “trending” and experimental beers styles, as an “alter ego” to Brewery Vivant, which is known for more traditional European styles. Broad Leaf hosted an event on Friday to kick off public voting on which beers it should self-distribute.
For one of the products, Broad Leaf teamed with Grand Rapids-based Koeze Co. to create the Koeze Cream Nut Cluster, a peanut butter chocolate beer inspired by the iconic Koeze Cream-Nut product. Others include a New England-style IPA, a vanilla milkshake IPA, and a rich stout made with 200 pounds of bananas that was blended with bourbon barrel-aged beer.
Spaulding said the Broad Leaf beers show a marked contrast to what the company does under the Brewery Vivant umbrella.
“(Broad Leaf) allows us to participate in these trends that we’re seeing in beer that we didn’t feel comfortable with under Vivant banner because we are more traditional there. Vivant hazy IPA or Vivant peanut butter stout just didn’t seem true to brand,” he said. “We recognize that those are interesting beers and we don’t mind making them, it’s just different than what we set out to do. Rather than tear down our existing brand, it seemed like a good logical opportunity to do something different.”
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