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Boston Beer Needs More Than a SpaceX Gimmick to Rebound

By Rich Duprey – Nov 10, 2021 at 6:13AM

Key Points

  • The brewer is launching a limited-run beer made with hops that have been sent into space.
  • The gimmick was to help raise money for St. Jude's cancer research.
  • Boston Beer is still adjusting to a dramatic slowdown in sales growth for its Truly hard seltzer.

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The brewer's sales trajectory in the hard seltzer category has become a serious problem.

Boston Beer (SAM -3.78%) is releasing a beer made with hops that traveled into space aboard the SpaceX Inspiration4 rocket in September, the first spaceflight with an all-civilian crew on board.

Although the Space Craft beer was brewed as the result of a clever stunt to raise money for a nonprofit, considering Boston Beer's poor performance this year, its investors might be better served if it focused on finding the next alcoholic beverage trend rather than on gimmicks.

Rocket launch

Image source: Getty Images.

An out-of-this-world experience

The Inspiration4 launch sent its crew more than 360 miles into space (what we consider "space," it's worth noting, technically starts at a mere 62 miles above sea level), about where satellites and the Hubble telescope orbit, and well above where the International Space Station orbits (around 200 to 250 miles).

The flight was funded by the billionaire founder of Shift4 Payments (FOUR -3.14%), Jared Isaacman. Prior to launch, Isaacman tweeted that he was sending 70 pounds of hops -- a key ingredient in making beer -- along for the ride. His plan, he said, was to auction off the hops to a brewery with all the profits going to St. Jude, the children's cancer hospital.

Boston Beer's Samuel Adams Twitter account quickly chimed in with interest.

As a result, the brewer's flagship brand was also named the official beer of the mission.

It's a feel-good story, and the stunt helped a worthy cause, so you really can't fault Boston Beer for jumping on the opportunity. At the same time, the brewer needs to address a lot of earthly problems.

What goes up must come down

Shares of Boston Beer have lost 63% of their value since April, following a sudden and dramatic slowdown in the growth of hard seltzer consumption that caught everyone by surprise.

Its Truly brand has become the second-biggest hard seltzer on the market, and Boston Beer has been investing significant sums of money into expanding its own production capacity so it could avoid the added costs of using third-party contractors to make the alcoholic beverage

Unfortunately, Truly's sales growth trajectory was far weaker than management had expected.

As a result, Boston Beer was left on the hook for payments to its contract brewers and also stuck with an excess of seltzer inventory. Direct costs associated with that market shift in the third quarter totaled $102 million. Chairman Jim Koch said Boston Beer was dumping millions of cases of the beverage down the drain because hard seltzer has a limited shelf life after which its taste suffers, and the company didn't want to risk letting the seltzer sit in the hands of distributors long enough to get stale. That decision alone was a $54 million financial hit.

Beers in space

Boston Beer will be releasing Space Craft, a West Coast-style IPA, on Nov. 16, with a four-pack of 16-ounce cans going for $22.33. The price is a reference to how long the Inspiration4 crew was in space -- 2 days, 23 hours, and 3 minutes. The launch is also timed to coincide with the peak of the Leonid meteor shower, which occurs each year when the Earth travels through the streams of tiny debris left by the passage of the Tempel-Tuttle comet.

The brewer didn't say how much it paid for the hops, but Business Insider calculated the cost of sending one pound of hops into space at around $5,000, meaning the entire hops cargo cost about $361,000 to put in orbit. Boston Beer also said it agreed to donate an additional $100,000 to St. Judes to help Isaacman with his goal of raising $200 million for pediatric cancer research and patient care.

Boston Beer noted it's not the first brewer with a connection to space: Japan's Sapporo used barley grown from seeds flown to the International Space Station to create a limited edition ale, and Ninkasi Brewing Company stowed yeast aboard a commercial suborbital spaceflight that then was used to make Ground Control, an imperial stout. Anheuser-Busch InBev has also sent barley into space.

Buying the hops supported an excellent cause, and the Space Craft beer should prove to be an effective (if brief) marketing gimmick. But now, the brewer needs to quickly move beyond gimmicks and come up with some down-to-earth solutions for its more substantial woes.

Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Boston Beer, and Shift4 Payments, Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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