“We had a history of marketing a few Heineken brands in the past,” Joseph Fisch, president, told Kane’s Beverage News Daily. “Our relationship goes back about 10 years, where we were the importer for Murphy’s Stout and Tiger Beer.”
That’s been a good relationship, he says. “We really have learned a lot from the Heineken people, and they have helped us growing our company competencies, particularly on the marketing side.
“As their identities and strategies developed in the U.S. there came an opportunity to have U.S. Beverage appointed as an incubator of some of their leading brands worldwide that haven’t been in U.S., or have been in the U.S. but in a less serious way,” Fisch explained. “Our discussion started about a year ago. We came to terms with the Heineken Americas Export folks where we have a comfort zone, an array of strategies on brands we are now responsible for, and we’re kicking those off right now.”
It was a nice development for a company marking its 20th anniversary. Before founding U.S. Beverage, Fisch was president of Seagram Beverage Co. “I felt a passion to get into the craft and imported beer business,” he recalls.
“It’s action oriented, it required certain marketing competencies, sales competencies, all of which I’ve been able to acquire and to build our business with a group of suppliers that see the world similarly to U.S. Beverage. We created a very strong relationship with suppliers such as Heineken, Moosehead, Pernod Ricard – we’re introducing their Malibu Beer in test in three markets right now.”
Running a smaller company is a challenge. One has to be nimble because “you’re competing in a land of giants.” Also: The consumer moves very quickly, so one needs “a group of people who are very, very involved with trends and what we need to do with our portfolio to keep them ahead of the competition, to keep them being worked through the distributor network, and to make them new and exciting on a daily basis,” Fisch says.
“We’ve tried to stay ahead of consumer trends. Early on we owned and sold craft beers. But we came to understand that our real strength was working with international brands, bringing them into the U.S. and growing them through a very strong distributor network.”
U.S. Beverage is a family business. Fisch’s son, Justin, has been with the company for 15 years. Before that he was with Ogilvy & Mather. “He learned the beer business at the distributor end, working with one of our distributors in California. He’s worked his way up through the marketing and marketing management side to general manager,” Fisch explains.
We wondered how Fisch recruited people. First, he reminded us, “this is a small industry, and we all know each other and have a book of people we’d like to hire when the opportunity is there.”
Also, Fisch said, “we do encourage summer internships with college students and that has helped with our recruiting as well.” After three months, Fisch’s interns “either leave loving the business, or knowing it’s not for them.
“Our interns work very, very hard,” he explains. “We’ve hired some that understand the passion to be successful in this business, or any business, and we also educated some who, if they wanted to get into marketing, understood it wasn’t for them and we saved them some time and they graduated college and went on with a different career.”
Building international brands locally is a four-step process, he told us:
- “We work very closely with our suppliers, understanding this is their child and we’re not going to do anything to disrupt how they would like their child to grow.
- “Then we identify the markets where their brand – our brand – will get distribution and be growing. What we don’t want to do is sell something that doesn’t have a consumer base that’s looking for their brand. It doesn’t make any sense to have our distributors work on a brand that doesn’t have a chance to sell.
- “We work very, very closely with our distributors identifying a universe in which the brand can sell. So, if I have a Nicaraguan brand, in this case Antonia, where the brand isn’t known through the surfer community or the Nicaraguan brand, we’re not going to place a brand there. So, we’re very, very specific as to where we’re appointing our distributors to sell our product.
- “Once we get our distribution, it’s up to us to make sure our brand is picked up and consumers can sample it, either through the on-trade or off-trade.
When Fisch or one of his staff speaks with a distributor about appointing them to manage our brand, they know it’s going to do very well in their marketplace. That’s because before talking with distributors, Fisch and his team have identified the right markets for the brand.
“All our brands are very different,” Fisch explains. “We don’t bring in brands that will compete against each other. For example, Moosehead Breweries in New Brunswick, Canada, is celebrating 125 years. That’s a brand that deserves nationwide distribution – it’s been marketed in the U.S. for over 30 years, the American consumer knows it, the consumer of Canadian products knows it, so our responsibility to the Brewery is to demand distribution throughout the U.S. through national chains, local chains, through the off-trade and the on-trade as well.”
On the other hand, US Beverage recently acquired SuperBock, from Portugal. “It has its strength in Portuguese communities in the Northeast,” Fisch says. “That is where we will spend our investment and time building the brand. Once we establish our stronghold in that community, we’re able to take it out into other markets we it deserves to be. It’s very important that we do our homework, create a long-term strategy for the brand. U.S. Beverage’s agreements with suppliers usually lasts three to five years.”
There have been times when a distributor in another part of the U.S. has asked for a brand, and Fisch said no because he didn’t think the brand would be appropriate for that market.