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Interview: Wirtz Beverage Group EVP Danny Wirtz

December 12, 2014

With a wholesale and brokerage footprint spanning Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, Missouri and Iowa, Wirtz Beverage Group (WBG) currently ranks as the sixth-largest wine and spirits distributor in the U.S. (it’s also present in Canada, where it serves as Diageo’s exclusive broker). For 2014, Impact Newsletter projects that Wirtz will see revenues rise 1.4% to $1.77 billion, representing a 3.4% share of the wine and spirits market’s middle tier. Shanken News Daily senior editor Daniel Marsteller recently interviewed WBG executive vice president Danny Wirtz to get an update on market conditions and see where the company is headed in the new year.

SND: How is the business climate for wine and spirits across your markets as we enter the key holiday season? Which categories are driving growth?

Wirtz: I would say things are slightly better than last year. There remains a more cautious consumer environment with regard to spending, which impacts the on-premise slightly more than retail. That being said, we continue to experience consistent growth across many of our categories, such as whisk(e)y, Tequila, Cognac, craft beer and premium wine—both still and sparkling.

SND: How is the on-premise drinks market faring compared with the off-premise?

Wirtz: Overall from an on-premise perspective, the business is flat to slightly growing in certain pockets, particularly Nevada. We continue to see strong on-premise operators open up new, dynamic concepts across many of our markets, especially in Chicago and Las Vegas, both strong indicators because of their tourism and hospitality hubs. The exciting part about the dining and premium bar sectors is that spirits are receiving a higher degree of focus, with more developed beverage concepts, crafted cocktails with fresh ingredients and premium spirits. No longer is this a small niche part of the market; it’s spreading outside the core metro areas and into neighborhoods (where accounts) want to have a cocktail program on par with their food and wine platforms. Additionally, the off-premise business has shown consistent improvement the past few months, with our strongest trends coming from the Nevada and Wisconsin retail markets. We look forward to a very healthy retail environment this holiday season.

SND: How has your craft beer business evolved recently? Are you finding synergies between craft beer and your core wine and spirits business?

Wirtz: Craft beer has been a very strong, growing piece of our total business. In our traditional wine and spirits markets like Illinois and Wisconsin, our entry into craft beer has allowed us to become more valuable to customers, being a true total beverage consultant and providing them with high-quality brands their consumers are looking for. We are in the early stages of building our craft beer business in Illinois and Wisconsin and have to earn each tap handle or facing in the cold box. But that deeper penetration into accounts has benefited our total portfolio. There is great value in being able to extend the buyer conversation into beer.

SND: Over the past two years you’ve entered Missouri, and have become Diageo’s exclusive broker in Canada. Do you expect to continue expanding your footprint—either domestically or internationally?

Wirtz: Both Missouri and Canada offer great opportunity for the future, albeit they are very different circumstances and models. For Missouri, our family investment into Major Brands (made through Major’s recent acquisition of fellow Missouri wholesaler MoBev, in which WBG held a minority stake) will allow us to grow in the state for many years to come. Both Wirtz Beverage and Major Brands share similar values and are equally committed to growing their local markets. The controlled environment as a sales broker in Canada has been really exciting, hiring 130 new team members, operating in 10 provinces and establishing relationships with major customers and each of the Provincial Liquor Control Boards. For any of our expansion ventures, it’s about leveraging our standards of excellence: in our talent pipeline, technology platforms and commercial capabilities. We’ve worked hard to build a consistent model across all our markets and are always looking for ways to expand our footprint where there are opportunities.

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