Summit Layoffs Cap Challenging Year

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THE GIST
Summit Brewing, the oldest brewery in Minnesota, has reportedly laid off approximately 10% of its 100-person workforce, the first such cuts in the company’s history. Speaking with the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, founder Mark Stutrud suggested the increasingly competitive state of the craft beer industry at large contributed to the company’s move to downsize. Of the restructuring, Stutrud added Summit is “being very proactive, keeping ahead of the curve” as it shifts focus to honing in on its own market and on-premise operations.

WHY IT MATTERS
Stutrud went on to ensure the community that Summit fully plans on sticking around, telling the Pioneer Press, “We’re not going anywhere.” And to that end, the company has an eye toward the future as it’s in the process of streamlining its taproom and diversifying its portfolio of beers. Still, despite the assurances and tangible plans for reinvigorating interest in the brand, it’s hard to view this type of housekeeping removed from the shadow of what seems to have been a challenging year and change for the company.

For instance, as GBH reported this past May, Summit ceased distribution to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, and Michigan amid challenges that, as the company said at the time, “made getting our beer to retailers and to you increasingly difficult.” And that secession of ground came just seven months after it cut coverage elsewhere in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. Meaning, in seven months from the end of 2016 and into 2017, the company effectively cut its U.S. wholesale footprint by half as production waned.

It wasn’t just a loss of ground, however. The same month the company retreated from six states, it was reported by Twin Cities Business that Finnegan’s Beer, which had been producing on contract at Summit since 2003, had entered into a new agreement with the upstart Badger Hill Brewing. In turn, Finnegan’s would be moving away from Summit, creating a second avenue by which the 30-year-old staple lost production.

Of course, both the losses of territory and production pale in comparison to the loss of people, those who helped day-in and day-out build the business. And that comes through in Stutrud’s words on the matter, as he told the Pioneer Press:

“The tough thing about it is that everyone who has left our organization, they’re really great people. We simply assembled a team to make much more beer than we’re making.”

No less, the company has held optimistic, ensuring now, “We’re doing fine.”

—Dave Eisenberg