Interview: WSWA’s Craig Wolf on Southern Glazer’s

The companies that formed Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits have long held leadership roles in the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA). This continues in 2018, with EVP Barkley Stuart serving the association’s new chairman of the board for the term that began in May.

To reflect on the past, present and future relationships between WSWA and Southern Glazer’s, I recently spoke with Craig Wolf, who will step down this summer after 18 years as president and CEO of WSWA.

Kyle Swartz: What does Southern Glazer’s mean to the alcohol industry?

Craig Wolf: Right now they are the unquestioned leader of the wholesale tier. They’re the largest member of the WSWA. I think everybody else looks at them and thinks about how to match them in terms of visibility and influence. Being the biggest is obviously a benefit, but it also means that everyone else is trying to come for you.

But they’ve always been so smart about where the industry is going and where they want to get to themselves. That’s been nonstop since both companies first started.

KS: What’s been the impact since the merger of two years ago?

CW: They’ve dramatically grown their geographic scope. Obviously the first time they tried to merge it didn’t work out, so it’s a testament to them both that they continued to work it out until they were successful.

You’ve got two icons of the industry — Harvey Chaplin and Bennett Glazer — bringing together two enormous companies through hard work and smart thinking. And from what I’ve seen the new company has been successful since the merge. It can be difficult when different cultures converge, but they’ve been successful in integrating the companies.

KS: How have they worked with WSWA?

CW: They’ve both been strong supporters of us for a long time. Their members have filled leadership positions in WSWA. They’re actively engaged with moving us forward. They’re the ones who first encouraged us to get involved with the on-demand industry that led to our partnership with Drizly.

KS: How does Southern Glazer’s represent the effectiveness of the three-tier system?

CW: There’s never been more variety and selection on the shelves than right now. The fact is that larger wholesalers have not reduced, but increased, selection at retail. And that’s because wholesalers like Southern Glazer’s are loyal to the consumer, not to one brand or retailer. They constantly look at what’s actually wanted in the marketplace and bring in what consumers want. They’ve got a strong craft vision, but are also supporting the historical brands.

KS: What does the future hold for Southern Glazer’s?

CW: They will face more and more competition. That begins with the merger of Breakthru and RNDC, but also includes a lot of smaller and medium-sized wholesalers.

I don’t think that either of those big, merged companies will stop with the acquisitions or mergers. They’re going to keep growing until they’re in all 50 states. That’ll be a big win for any brands working with those companies: getting into all the states through one wholesaler.

The obvious target is the west coast. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens in New York with Empire. Another one to keep an eye on is Young’s, which was founded in the 1800s and has always remained proudly independent. One of those two merged companies may try to bring Young’s into the fold if possible.

KS: How will WSWA work with Southern Glazer’s moving forward?

CW: They will certainly continue to be part of our leadership in the future. They recognize the value of the association, and the effectiveness of wholesalers big and small working together for the broadest voice possible.

The WSWA right now, after 75 years, is at our highest-ever influence. We’ve never been stronger, and that’s because of all our members of all sizes. No one single industry member can do all the work that we can do together as a group. In the WSWA, all our members have a voice. Everybody is respected here, and Southern Glazer’s has remained a huge proponent of that.

With Barkley, Southern Glazer’s will obviously play a large part of our success in the next couple of years.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz

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