Reporting Live from the NBWA Convention

The 80th annual National Beer Wholesalers Association Convention kicked off in Las Vegas yesterday, opening with a somber remembrance in honor of the victims of last weekend’s shooting. The event has been held in Las Vegas during odd-numbered years for the past 30 of its 80 years, a milestone the event didn’t overlook. After walking attendees through the long legacy of the NBWA, Chairman of the Board Paul Bertucci spoke about his personal history in Mississippi and how beer distributors are helping in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

President and CEO Craig Purser spoke about the challenges facing the middle tier, and how standing together as independent distributors can help the industry overcome outside pressures. He emphasized the NBWA’s political action committee and some of the legislative changes it’s fought against in recent years, before introducing Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.

Acosta spoke about the booming economy and how low unemployment, decreased regulations and tax reform will improve the beer wholesaling industry.

Later, Tom Fox of CM Profit Group and NBWA Chief Economist Lester Jones discussed industry trends and challenges. Among the top ones were SKU overload, misalignment among the tiers and occasion-stealing from wine and spirits.

Heineken USA President and CEO Ronald den Elzen spoke about the industry’s need to come together with one voice. He said that in recent years Heineken has tried to “go it alone” in turning around the declines in beer sales, but realizes that all suppliers need to work together to reverse falling sales. Among the strategies the company has tried in Europe that it’s promoting for the U.S. market is “Love Beer,” which tries to improve beer’s image as a sophisticated drink that appeals to both men and women.

Finally, former Press Secretary in the George W. Bush administration, Dana Perino, spoke about her experiences working in the White House and at Fox News.

Life Service Award

Joe LaMantia, Jr. was honored with the NBWA’s Life Service Award, in recognition of his lifetime of service to the beer distribution industry and his South Texas community. The award was accepted by his son, who attended the convention with a contingent of family members.
 
LaMantia is general partner of L&F Distributors, a company he purchased in 1978 with one location in McAllen, Texas, and fewer than 20 employees. The company slowly expanded distribution to cities and counties along the Texas-Mexico border, including Harlingen, Alice and Laredo. In 2001, L&F branched out into Corpus Christi and seven years later, had a presence in El Paso and Roswell, NM. Today, the company consists of eight distribution warehouses, services 35 counties throughout Texas and southeastern New Mexico and employs more than 1,200 people. 
 
When L&F started, it focused on selling Anheuser-Busch brands Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob. Today, it represents more than 150 craft and imported breweries.
 
“When I think about beer distributors who have worked their entire life to build a strong, family business and have given back to their community time and time again, there’s nobody who embodies these qualities quite like Joe LaMantia,” said NBWA President & CEO Craig Purser. 
 
“He is so passionate about everything that he does, that he does it 110 percent, and I think that’s only something that comes from doing the things you love,” said Lisa Peisen, LaMantia’s granddaughter, who is involved in the business and serves on NBWA’s Board of Directors. “And he loves the beer industry. He loves his community.” 
 
LaMantia is also passionate about higher education and providing scholarship opportunities for others. He started the Stars Scholarship Fund in 2002, which has raised $25 million in scholarships for more than 12,500 students from South and West Texas.
 
“Joe values hard work, but he’s also known for his passion for politics, compassion for his community and his incredible love of family,” added Purser. “It’s an honor to recognize Joe with this award.”
 
Jeremy Nedelka is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at jnedelka@epgmediallc.com

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