Straight to Ale Brewing will release three beers exclusively to Whole Foods locations in the Southeastern states. Calling it The Rumble Seat Project, the Huntsville, AL beer maker will make an IPA, a Citrus Witte, and an Imperial Red Ale that will only be stocked at the high-end grocery store's locations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee—starting this Labor Day weekend.
WHY IT MATTERS
A retailer working directly with suppliers is nothing new, and Whole Foods has long had a strong relationship with beer—it even has its own brewery in Houston, Texas.
When competition and path to market are paramount for smaller breweries, any local lifeline is hard to turn down, especially when we're talking about guaranteed shelf-space at a major retailer. But as Straight to Ale and others weigh their options, brewers realize there's no free lunch. A dedicated lineup for a retailer comes with serious demands for consistency, price points, and a production schedule that runs like German train lines. That can be a reasonable risk when you need to get over a growth hump, but eventually it can work against the ability to maintain relationships elsewhere and seize new, organic opportunities.
And as in-demand breweries like Cigar City have seen in the past, jumping on one opportunity at the expense of another can create frustration in the market. For its part, Cigar City announced an exclusive relationship with Carnival Cruise lines even as demand for the Jai Alai IPA was still pent up in their local market. Customers staring at empty shelves weren't happy, but it's hard to argue against the long-term value of partnering with such a huge outlet and the marketing opportunity for the business.
There's no easy decisions in growing a craft brewery, and sometimes the only way to find out what works is to try it, adapt, and try it again. For While Food's part, getting exclusive access to a local brewery is a point of differentiation that if it hadn't gone to Straight to Ale, might have gone to a competitor, making it an even more difficult opportunity to pass up.
Straight To Ale Brewing Launches New Brew for Whole Foods Market [Brewbound]
—Matthew Curtis + Micheal Kiser