Good Beer Hunting

Founders to Start Distributing to the Pacific Northwest

Founders Brewing has announced plans to begin selling its beers throughout the Pacific Northwest in early 2017, with new distribution in the craft-obsessed states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

“The Pacific Northwest has long been one of the craft industry’s most sacred regions,” says Founders co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens, in a news release. “It was westward that Dave [Engbers, company co-founder] and I traveled in our discovery of craft beers some 25 years ago and we have long anticipated the day that Founders would be sold in this region. Simply put, it’s one of the country’s best craft beer beacons and we are humbled to be able to bring our beer to the consumers of the Pacific Northwest.”

The company has signed on with the Great Artisan Beverage wholesale network for coverage throughout the region.

The Pacific Northwest is a bit of a walled-off market for local beer. In his thoughtful Critical Drinking piece about the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, which was held in his hometown of Portland, Jeff Alworth opined that "Portland is not likely to turn into a great market for Michigan breweries, no matter how much we enjoyed Michigan beer [at CBC] a couple weeks ago." Elsewhere in his piece, a PDX bar owner commented that, "As people try highly coveted non-Oregon beers next to local beers I often see them begin to question why the out-of-state beers are so highly sought after." Indeed, it will be interesting to see how PNW residents react to such a household beer name now that it's attempting to enter their households.

Meanwhile, Founders will have a presence in all 50 states sooner rather than later. It’s clear the company is in the midst of a new-market blitz. It kicked off 2016 launching distribution in South Carolina, followed that by simultaneously announcing new coverage in Michigan, Kansas, and Minnesota, detailed a Maryland launch in May, and tapped West Virginia three months later in August. That’s six new markets in 2016 alone, or one new state every two months. Now, the three new states won’t technically be activated until the start of next year, but still, we’re looking at the launch of nine new states for the company in a little more than a calendar year.

It’s a slight departure from business as usual for Founders. The company launched in 1997, and spent most of its first 15 years in business expanding distribution to new states at a much more gradual pace. As of 2012, a decade-and-a-half after being founded, the company’s beers were only available in 23 states—though much of that expansion likely came at the back end, as production grew from 5,000 barrels to 40,000 from 2007 to 2011. In the interim four years alone, it has very nearly doubled the size of that footprint, as Founders beers will be available in 42 states when the Pacific Northwest officially opens.

None of this is overly surprising, of course. In 2014, as the company was taking on another expansion project, Stevens told MLive, “Obviously, our intention is to be a national brand.” And that was three months before the company sold a 30% stake to Mahou San Miguel of Spain, which no doubt played a considerable role in enabling the company to spread itself out wide in a way it hadn’t before. And given it has also detailed its global ambitions, talking about Founders employing fully-fledged footprint in the states is like filling a 3 oz. taster when there’s a clean pint glass on the shelf. Which is all to say, Founders has come a long way from the brink of bankruptcy.
—Dave Eisenberg