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Industry Outlook With Brett VanderKamp of New Holland

Celebrating its 20th year in the American craft beer industry, New Holland Brewing Co. has become a shining example of what craft brewing can be, and how it can be done.

Starting as a small pub in Holland, Michigan, back in 1997, the company has grown into a national entity with more than 400 employees among its brewing, distilling and restaurant operations.

At the heart of New Holland's steady growth lies a determination to "keep it craft" – readers may recall The Beer Connoisseur's previous interview with Fred Bueltmann, New Holland's resident VP of Brand and Lifestyle, aka the "Beervangelist," who strives to live a craft lifestyle in all areas of life.

In its own words, New Holland's company values are "simple, but rooted deeply in craftsmanship and artistry: People, Teams & Collaboration, Artistry, Quality, Profitability and Ambition."

The Beer Connoisseur spoke with New Holland President and Founder Brett VanderKamp to get his take on the state of the industry, where it's headed and where New Holland fits into the picture.

What issues are facing the craft brewing industry heading into 2018?
As we all know, there's been this amazing proliferation of small brewers. The overall success of craft beer as a category has made for too many breweries to keep track of.

If you're a smaller brewery, you're faced with two challenges or paths. You've either got to achieve a national footprint and start to leverage larger chain business, or you're going to have to really hunker down and own a smaller footprint – or retreat. That's what has been happening with a lot of fellow breweries that started around the same time we did – they're having to retrench and pull back.

Could that mean breweries just starting out are essentially too late to the game?
There will always be the breakout star, but in large part, I would agree with that statement. It's so hard to get oxygen to your brand outside of a very small radius, just because there are so many other breweries within 20 or 30 miles that are running the same business plan. They're not differentiating themselves. There are so many pieces of pie, you can't limit yourself to one sliver.

For us, the biggest challenge is continuing to grow nationally with core brands. We still have some gaps to grow into territory-wise, but we've been really fortunate with Dragon's Milk as a flagship. It's great liquid, it's recognized, and the margins keep retailers happy.

What does it take for New Holland to differentiate itself?
2017 was a big transition year for us. We solidified our relationship with Pabst, which in my mind was absolutely necessary to take a national footprint strategy. In a way, finding strong partners has helped differentiate us.

Also, we had to kill some "sacred cow" beers, which was very tough for me, because I was very emotionally attached to them. We had to realize our pipeline of new beers was delayed, so we had to put some beers with pretty good distribution to bed. Maybe we can wake 'em down the line, and we can make them for our pub now and again, but as far as distribution, they're done.

Earlier this year, New Holland inked a pivotal partnership with Pabst Brewing. Unlike most recent deals, New Holland managed to retain complete independence.

For those who don't know, can you explain the terms of New Holland's partnership with Pabst?
It's not an equity deal – we still have a strategic marketing team, we own the brand, all that. They help us get to market through some of their distribution partners, and we get to leverage their sales team. It's a unique partnership that's taken some time to figure out, both parties needed to get to know each other a bit more. That's coming together currently, and we expect some big wins to come out of that in 2018.

How long has the partnership been in effect?
We've only been live with Pabst for nine months or so.

How do you incentivize Pabst to sell your beer over others?
Margins. Obviously, the margins on craft brands, especially one like Dragon's Milk, are solid.

"We've been really fortunate with Dragon's Milk as a flagship. It's great liquid, it's recognized and the margins keep retailers happy." - Brett VanderKamp

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