Craft Brew Alliance (NASDAQ:BREW) investors and Kona Brewing beer drinkers will get an idea of what the future holds when the third-quarter earnings report comes out on Wednesday, Nov. 13, when management will also give an update on its business.
Shares of the Hawaiian-based brewer collapsed after Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD) opted not to buy out the rest of the company it didn't already own, meaning Craft Brew Alliance would have to chart its own course. But with the craft-beer industry mired in slowing growth as beer drinkers have shifted their tastes toward local beer from microbreweries, let's look at where Craft Brew Alliance might end up.
Beer sales going flat
The trend toward local beer has dented the sales of both mass-produced beer and big craft brewers, with Boston Beer, for example, now producing more hard seltzer than it does actual beer.
It's not any easier for midsize craft brewers like Craft Brew Alliance, which has largely suffered from falling sales at brands not named Kona. But the third quarter could be where this begins to change.
Kona has been a popular domestic beer, but through its international distribution agreement with Anheuser-Busch, which remains in place even after the megabrewer passed up the acquisition opportunity, Craft Brew Alliance has been "seeding" Rio de Janeiro with the beer in anticipation of wider distribution. It's also switched to local production to get the beer closer to the consumer, which should help sales even as it lowers its own production volumes.
Riding Mexican beer's coattails
But there could be a bigger opportunity in its new La Rubia, which it intends to use to capitalize on in the Caribbean Hispanic community as a standalone beer. It launched La Rubia in Puerto Rico earlier this year and said it planned on introducing it on the East Coast in the fall. The early response was highly encouraging, and third-quarter results could see a much bigger uptake of the beer, but Craft Brew Alliance has plans for a larger international expansion.
Mexican beer remains one of the few remaining segments of the beer industry that's experiencing heady growth. Constellation Brands essentially owns that corner of the U.S. market, with its Corona and Modelo family of beers, and the brewer's own third-quarter earnings report showed the Modelo Especial brand generated the most growth for the entire U.S. beer category and enjoyed depletion growth of 15%. (Depletions are sales to distributors and retailers and are considered an industry proxy for consumer demand.)
Similarly, Anheuser-Busch, which owns the Corona and Modelo brands outside the U.S., said the labels were responsible for much of the growth it achieved worldwide, growing at double- and triple-digit rates in many markets.
That makes Craft Brew Alliance's challenge of expanding Kona in international markets harder, and it could represent a hurdle for La Rubia too. But the brewer has also noted that Hispanic drinkers still prefer beer to other alcohol, which gives it a good opportunity to make its own mark.
Lots of questions to be answered
The brewer has said that now that it knows its fate with Anheuser-Busch, many more options are open to it and it has full use of its portfolio to make decisions on how to best grow. While that may include selling itself to someone, and with its beaten-down valuation that's always an option to consider, Craft Brew Alliance has indicated it prefers to remain on its own -- and investors will see just how those plans are playing out.