Stone Covers the Map

Austin Ray
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By tapping West Virginia this week, Stone Brewing has filled out the map and now sells beer in all 50 states. It's a perhaps surprising achievement in 2017, considering they're increasingly distributing in Europe and Australia already. 

In a news release, CEO Dominic Engels says the company has “conquered a major milestone” in extending distribution throughout the entire country, adding the company’s goal “has always been to deliver bold and fresh, hop-forward beers to as many fans as possible.”

Stone is famous for its “bold” and “hop-forward” beers, of course, but the operative word there is “fresh.” The company says its “aggressive expansion plans” for 2017 were critically supported by the build-out of its massive east coast brewery in Virginia, which solidified Stone, native to San Diego, as a powerful bicoastal operation—a recent goal for many larger craft brewers such as Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium. The latter of which was the most recent craft brewer to color in their last remaining states on the map.

With the addition of West Virginia, the company added distribution to six states in all this year in order to fulfill its quest. Elsewhere, Stone also made moves into Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

“With so many options for high quality craft beer in every state, it’s an honor to see such a demand for our beers across the entire country,” Engels says. “Now that we’re here, our commitment to fans nationwide is to remain truly independent and continue to deliver innovative and fresh Stone beers.”

It's hard to tell what the demand for Stone beers in these remaining states really is, or for any other large national craft brewer for that matter. Typically, these are supply- and sales-driven markets where strong distribution relationships and pricing drive the numbers, not demand. It's easy to confuse the two. As we've seen with AB InBev's strategies, competing on price and leveraging established sales channels goes a long way even in home markets, giving them some of the better grown numbers for established brands. Indeed, this year we covered the apparent pricing and chain retail strategies being employed by Stone Berlin in the UK, where their SKUs are sold in grocery channels far below smaller local breweries, which puts pressure on independent retailers. 

Stone is “truly independent” by the Brewers Association’s measuring stick, something the company is clearly proud of as it frames this news as growing “with unwavering independence.” The company has, however, taken on significant investment from the private equity firm VMG Partners, making it less than totally independent in the eyes of some.

Regardless, in partnering with Mountain State Beverage for coverage in West Virginia, the company has joined a fairly exclusive club in reaching a summit few craft breweries ever see for themselves.

—Dave Eisenberg