It almost seems an afterthought at this point that Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) reported its third-quarter earnings. With the buyout offer by Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD 0.53%) grabbing all the headlines, the impact of how much Kona Brewing-brand beer sold in the period seems besides the point.
Yet the acquisition still has a long and perhaps difficult road ahead of it, because it still needs to be approved by investors not affiliated with Anheuser-Busch, and it needs to get past regulatory review. A-B still has its consent decree in place with the Justice Department from when it bought SABMiller, and Federal Trade Commission regulators need to review the deal too.
That could take a lot of time, and authorities might request additional documentation, which could delay any acquisition. While the deal has a closure deadline of Nov. 11, 2020, it can be extended twice to May 11, 2021. And if antitrust regulators don't approve the merger, Anheuser-Busch would have to pay Craft Brew Alliance $15 million.
So the craft brewer is going to have a lot of time on its hands to continue operating before the deal potentially closes, and investors ought to understand how its business is still performing.
Avoiding a wipeout
Craft Brew Alliance continues to ride the wave of its Kona Brewing brand, which remains the only brand that's growing sales and depletions, or sales to distributors, though its recently acquired regional breweries also collectively posted growth.
Kona shipments fell slightly during the quarter as it decreased those of its Hanalei Island IPA and Longboard Lager brands while increasing those of Gold Cliff IPA and its flagship Big Wave Golden Ale brands. Golden Wave, in particular, has proved to be a wildly popular beer -- now a top-10 beer, according to Nielsen data. In the second quarter, Craft Brew Alliance suffered significant out-of-stock issues at retailers because of the heightened demand, depressing year-to-date growth.
That was a lost sales opportunity, however, that can't be recovered, though the brewer has since rebalanced inventories and is looking for the programs it implemented to begin paying off next year. Depletions for Kona, however, were up 7% in the quarter, showing the brand has unique staying power, and it outperformed the craft segment and the beer category overall, which Craft Brew Alliance says fell 3.7% and 2%, respectively. Thanks to Big Wave, domestic depletions soared 17% during the third quarter.
Another positive sign for future growth, which should also help the company minimize dependence on Big Wave, is the successful launch of its Mexican-style La Rubia beer that is being specifically targeted to Hispanic markets in the U.S. ("la rubia" is Spanish for "blonde").
Originally launched in Puerto Rico earlier this year, it has also been successfully introduced in the south Florida market, and Craft Brew Alliance is so encouraged by its reception that it accelerated the rollout and recently introduced La Rubia into Hispanic markets in New York and Connecticut.
The brewer has previously said it sees La Rubia's opportunity as "gigantic" and thinks it can be a global brand in the way Corona and Modelo are for Constellation Brands. Because those Mexican beers currently own the market, the apparent inroads Craft Brew Alliance is making with La Rubia are encouraging for its potential.
Casting a long shadow
As much as Craft Brew Alliance's performance this quarter still matters, it's obvious the Anheuser-Busch buyout will overshadow its operations. Because the megabrewer already owns almost a third of Craft Brew Alliance already, many believe the hurdles to acquisition are shorter than they otherwise would be.
The two brewers will be inextricably linked for several years to come regardless of the merger's outcome because of their existing distribution agreements here and abroad, and Craft Brew Alliance looks like it should be able to keep growing whether as a solo act or as part of Anheuser-Busch.