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CBA Looks to ‘Reawaken’ Widmer Hefe, Introduce New Brands in ‘15

You can always count on the folks at Craft Brew Alliance to put on a good show.

To kick off the their second annual national distributor meeting, CBA-Con, held today in New Orleans in the wake of the NBWA gathering, the company blared the kind of musical mashup that would only make sense to a room full of Bud wholesalers who just happened to spend the previous evening drinking ice chests of Widmer Hefe and dancing to Daft Punk.

The lights dimmed and a piano melody began to play while a sizzle reel rolled on two giant screens. Next thing you know, Sammy Hagar is screaming motivational quotes in your eardrums.


A metaphorical rallying cry, of sorts.

But somewhere between Hagar’s raspy falsetto and an electric guitar solo, the sweet sounds of a synthesizer and Rihanna began to bellow.

“We got right now. So get up right now, because all we got is right now.”

The urgency of the message was no doubt received by all, but for for good measure, CEO Andy Thomas also added in a clip of Robin Williams’ memorable ‘Carpe Diem’ monologue in Dead Poets Society.

So what’s it all mean for CBA in 2015?

For one, the company will make a strong push to “reawaken” dormant Widmer Hefe volumes. Those are down 4.7 percent in U.S. supermarkets year-to-date, according to IRI.

“This is the year that Widmer Hefe is going to come roaring back, so get ready,” said Widmer co-founder Rob Widmer.

To help support Hefe sales, the company will launch a summer seasonal line extension — Hefe Shandy. Also in support of Widmer, Upheavel IPA will get an updated look and Hopside Down India Pale Lager, which was cut out of the portfolio this year, will return as a spring seasonal.

When asked about the constant changes and continued declining sales for the company’s largest volume brand, Thomas agreed that CBA is still trying to find the right combination.

“We are still learning as we go,” Thomas told Brewbound. “We aren’t changing course but we are tacking left and right as we learn.”

Robert Rentsch, CBA’s senior director of brand marketing, echoed those sentiments on stage.

“Great portfolios don’t change drastically over night,” he said.The apple theme continued for CBA’s Redhook brand, with the company responding to consumer shifts via a new “Seedy Blonde” apple ale.

“We are going to reach more crossover drinkers, with the right beers, where they are drinking them the most,” said Karmen Olson, Redhook’s brand manager.

For Redhook, that means a continued focus on the Seattle market and its partnerships with local sports teams and a popular humor blog,

As part of its media/beverage crossover, Thomas said CBA will dedicate more resources to its KCCO brand, which is produced under contract as part of a licensing agreement with the Chive and its Resignation Brewery arm.

KCCO Black Lager will be replaced by KCCO Gold, which will launch in next February. They’ll also focus their selling efforts to Texas, where theChive is based, and will also release KCCO White Wheat for distribution in the state.

“We think this is a unique proposition within craft beer and we are excited to be partnered with them,” said Trent Tokos, the company’s senior director of corporate partnerships.

CBA also plans to invest three times more on advertising Widmer and 20 percent more on Kona Brewing.

According to CBA, Kona’s “Dear Mainland” campaign was one of the most successful beer campaigns ever, even outperforming Dos Equis’ ‘Most Interesting Man’ in early surveys. The ads drove 20 percent more awareness, nine percent more purchase intent and contributed to a 37 percent boost in sales, said Kona brand manager Aaron Marion.

In 2015, Kona will continue to push behind its flagship offerings — Longboard Lager and Big Wave Golden Ale — and will also begin producing seasonal Castaway IPA year-round. Additionally, Marion said the CBA will look to grow sales of its 16 oz. can in convenience stores and push behind a “sticky” Big Wave draft handle.

During the meeting, CBA brass also asked its distributors to find new places to sell gluten-free Omission Beer, sales of which are up 47 percent this year.

“If we continue this momentum and get Omission out there, we can do over 1 million cases next year,” said brand manager Lorin Gelfand.

Gelfand asked his distributors to obtain Omission facings at accounts where Red Bridge, a gluten-free beer made by Anheuser-Busch InBev, is already placed. Omission will also look to establish partnerships with Ironman and CrossFit athletes in 2015, he said.

To close the meeting, Thomas left wholesalers with a final message, indicating CBA’s commitment to working closely with the AB network.

“We are the only beer company, in the U.S., that pays for allied access to the AB distribution system,” he said. “We pay 25 cents per case to Saint Louis so that you can all be here.”

“We are working with our partners in Saint Louis so that they don’t get in your way when it comes to getting behind our brands,” he added.