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Alt-Distro: A Look at Nontraditional Distribution Models for Small Breweries

Amid wholesaler consolidation and a tightening market, could alternative distribution methods help small breweries achieve their goals?

Courtney Iseman Apr 8, 2024 - 15 min read

Alt-Distro: A Look at Nontraditional Distribution Models for Small Breweries Primary Image

BevPort cofounders Phil Guana, left, and James Williams. Photo: Courtesy BevPort.

Keeping pace with how consumers buy beer—and, therefore, the most efficient ways to get your beer in front of them—has become increasingly challenging in recent years. Draft is down, beer has more competition than ever, and this dicey landscape is only further complicated by the middle tier’s own challenges.

While the number of breweries in the United States has grown to almost 10,000, the number of distributors working to get that beer to market has shrunk—from almost 4,600 in 1980 to about 3,000 in 2020, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association. In recent years, meanwhile, staffing shortages and consolidation via mergers and acquisitions have further affected the segment.

So, as channels are narrowing, what’s the best way forward for small breweries looking for more avenues to sell beer outside their own taprooms? Partnering with distributors remains an option, but that involves investment in more sales reps and packaging formats at a time when resources are tight.

Meanwhile, there are a few alternative distribution methods surfacing, offered by companies interested in partnering with smaller breweries. Are these methods effective for the cost and time involved—and, if so, for whom?

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