Boston Beer Is Spending For the Future, But Will It Pay Off?

Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM  ) delivered a first-quarter report that was nearly a carbon copy of its fourth-quarter from 2013. Revenue and volumes again grew at impressive rates. Earnings again fell short. And company executives made no bones about their plans to sacrifice short-term profits and margins as they seek to put the brewer in an even stronger position moving forward.

Before we go further, let's take a quick look at the quarterly results:

  • Revenue came in at $183.8 million, up 35%, year over year.
  • Depletions, which gauge how fast beer moves from distributors to stores, bars, and restaurants, were up by 35%.
  • Volumes were up by 32%, year over year, to 835,000 barrels for the quarter.
  • Earnings per share were up $0.11, to $0.52 for the quarter.
  • Gross margin was down by one percentage point, from 50% to 49%.

On the revenue front, Boston Beer came in ahead of the consensus $176 million analysts were expecting. The earnings front was a different story. Analysts were expecting $0.66 per share.

The weaker-than-expected earnings number might put a dent in Boston Beer shares, but it should not have come as a surprise to investors who have been following the company closely. Simply put, the bottom line is hurting because the top line has grown faster than Boston Beer was prepared for.

Outpacing craft competitors
The U.S. craft beer market grew by 20% in 2013, according to the Brewers Association. So the 34% and 35% figures Boston Beer has hung up in the past two quarters is truly impressive, especially when you consider that Boston Beer is already three times the size as the next-largest craft brewer, Sierra Nevada.  It's growing far faster than competitor Craft Brew Alliance (NASDAQ: BREW  ) , which posted just 6% sales growth in 2013, despite high hopes for a true breakout year for the West Coast brewer. Craft Brew has big plans for its Kona and Redhook labels in 2014 -- as well as the stabilization of its Widmer Brothers label -- but it has a lot of ground to make up, with Boston Beer firing on all cylinders, and megabrewers Anheuser-Busch Inbev and Molson Coors pushing further into the craft space.

Boston Beer's new West Coast-style Rebel IPA has sold well in its nationwide rollout, company executives say. It's already one of the top three best-selling IPAs in America. The Angry Orchard cider line, already the most popular in the U.S., "had an unbelievable 12 months," CEO Martin Roper told analysts Wednesday. What's more, the company's flagship Boston Lager, now 30 years old, has continued to grow, company executives say.

All this, plus the continuing solid performance from Boston Beer's seasonal offerings, has left the company in a tough, but enviable, spot. To keep up with current demand, it needed to invest in its breweries. To keep this momentum going, it needed to invest in its sales force and in marketing its beers, ciders, and teas while interest is on the upswing. It's best to strike while the iron is hot.

Making investments now
On that point, Boston Beer's management has been adamant about the company's strategy. It plans to spend now, a time when it believes its investments will deliver big returns for years to come. Here's CEO Martin Roper in Wednesday's conference call:

Given the opportunities that we see, we expect a continued high level of brand investment and capital investment as we pursue growth and innovation. We are prepared to forsake the earnings that maybe lost as a result of these investments in the short term, as we pursue long-term profitable growth.

So, forsaking earnings remains Boston Beer's plan. Roper did say that the company could consider making efficiency a higher priority, but he quickly noted how hard that is to do at a time when it needs to increase the amount of beer it can produce to meet the existing demand, while also investing to increase that demand moving forward.

The Foolish bottom line
Boston Beer again fell short on earnings estimates while posting impressive revenue growth. This may hurt the share price in the short term, but investors with a long time horizon should welcome the moves that the brewer is making. These investments should continue to pay off for many years to come.

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Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2014, at 10:14 AM, ScoopHoop wrote:

    Well done. Advertising, promotional and selling expense increased by $17.8 million or 41% in the quarter. Earnings in the quarter were $8.3 million. You know if the company had not spent so much on advertising, promotions and increasing its sales force, Boston Beer could have doubled its earnings in the quarter. But long term growth is really what matters here. I applaud the company for its decision to forsake earnings in favor of growing its brands.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2014, at 11:20 AM, TheMonz wrote:

    Agreed, this is a great opportunity to add a bit. As a long term investor, I am happy to see the growth, which should compound itself in the future. Do not kid yourself, beer drinkers are creatures of habit, even in this new craft beer age. If they like something, they will continue to buy it.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2014, at 4:23 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    $SAM is the $AMZN of the craft beer industry except it actually makes money.

  • Report this Comment On May 01, 2014, at 4:24 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    The annual meeting is June 4th. Who's going?

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John-Erik Koslosky

John-Erik Koslosky is a writer, journalism instructor, investor, and all-around Fool. He follows the media and social media industries, and writes about some of their publicly traded companies.

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