Earlier this week we heard a rumbling that Corwin Beverage, the Pepsi Distributor in Southwest Washington, sold its operations to PepsiCo. As part of this sale, PepsiCo. has made the decision to dissolve the beer distribution arm of the business. Corwin Beverage distributed beer, mainly craft brands, under the Kendall’s Craft Beverage in Southwest Washington and Browar Polska in the Puget Sound and Eastern Washington.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Northbank Brewers Alliance confirmed this sale in a press release that was sent out. The Northbank Brewers Alliance is a 501c6 non-profit that represents nearly 30 breweries located in Southwest Washington.
Below is the statement from the Northbank Brewers Alliance.
RE: KENDALL’S & BROWAR POLSKA DISTRIBUTING DISSOLUTION FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SW WASHINGTON STATE – We are dismayed by the news this week that Corwin Distribution will dissolve Kendall’s and Browar Polska Distribution due to their buyout by Pepsi Co. This consolidation serves to injure the Northbank brands held by Corwin and will echo for years to come in southwest Washington craft beer.
Corwin did not give sufficient notice to the craft brands in their book to be able to pivot in a reasonable manner. This short notice has already led to layoffs at the individual breweries and will most definitely lead to more in the future. This lack of communication about their plans with Pepsi Co will also deprive the craft beer community in Washington State now and for years to come.
The Northbank Brewers Alliance will aide these brands by helping with education in self distributing and we will also be championing our local bars, taprooms, and restaurants that feature local beer from all of our community suppliers.
Supporting local beer is more necessary now than at any other time in our young Alliances history. If you have the means to support our small businesses either at their brewery or at your local taproom, now is the time.
Cheers to drinking local beer and supporting your community pubs!
We reached out to the Presidents of the Northbank Brewers Alliance – Bolt Minister of 54 40 Beer and Brendan Greenen of Grains of Wrath for additional clarification. Their comments are listed below.
“Here is what we know from what we have been verbally told. Still have nothing in writing. Pepsi is acquiring Corwin, and for whatever reason their alcohol distributor brand was not approved in WA. Because of that, they are simply dissolving Kendall’s and Browar.”
The statement continues, “Kendall’s is actively trying to migrate everybody to CSB, but so far, I do not see that happening for the majority. Same with entertaining Columbia or Maletis. There are a handful having conversations with SouthBound, though I do not know current status. Many have voiced that they intend to just re-attain their own rights and go from there.”
On Thursday, we received a press release from Corwin Beverage that is posted below.
CORWIN BEVERAGE CO. EXITING THE BEVERAGE BUSINESS
RIDGEFIELD, Wash. – (March 16, 2023) – Corwin Beverage Company, which started out as Pepsi Cola of Vancouver in 1941, has decided to exit the highly competitive beverage distribution business. The non-alcohol division of Corwin Beverage Company will be acquired by its longtime partner PepsiCo. Concurrently, the company is actively exploring transition options regarding its craft beverage business through assignments to other distributors in accordance with its beverage distribution agreements.
Corwin Beverage Company has been a proud distributor of beverages, including craft beverage distribution through Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska, for more than 81 years. During that time, the Corwin family has had the opportunity to work with many great people and actively engage with the community, which in turn helped Corwin develop and grow as a thriving business and contributor to the region.
Staff, supplier and partner notifications began this week. The transition process is expected to be complete on or before April 30, 2023.
How Did We Get Here
Corwin Beverage spanned 81+ years and four generations with its beginnings in the early 1940s. The distributor was founded by Laura and Kyle Kendall, along with their daughter, Barbara, and her husband, Harold Corwin, acquired the Vancouver Pepsi franchise after selling their beer and Coca-Cola business in Bend, Oregon.
In 2014, the family launched Kendall’s Pioneer Distributing. Two years later in November 2016, Corwin Beverage announced that it was combining its businesses with Kendall’s and integrating the two companies. Then nearly three years later in September 2019, Corwin Beverage acquired the Seattle based Browar Polska that had a large import beer portfolio. Now the family-owned distributor has sold to PepsiCo. and the new corporate ownership decided to abandon the alcohol industry.
A few of the Southwest Washington brands that Kendall’s and Browar Polska distributed include Grains of Wrath, Everybody’s Brewing, Trap Door, Fortside Brewing, 54 40 Beer, and Victor-23 Brewing. Kendall’s also handled a few others including Little Beast, Ex Novo Brewing, Thunder Island Brewing, Caldera Brewing, Terminal Gravity Brewing and the more recently signed Stillwater and Anchorage Brewing.
In addition to these brands, there are quite an array of import brands that the two distributors handled. These brands such as Stiegl, St. Bernardus, Weltenburger Kloster, and Gaffel Kolsch serve many restaurants and bars that feature a heavy European import list.
The future and stability of many of these breweries is up in the air. There are many options and as more news comes out from all parties, it’ll make these options a bit clearer.
These breweries can begin to self-distribute, but this route has its challenges. The brewer will receive higher margins but at the expense of having a truck and driver out on the road. It also hurts their chance at gaining shelf space at larger grocers such as Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Albertsons.
Another option is to sign with one of the existing distributors in the area such as Maletis, Columbia or Craig Stein Beverage. This will work fine for the larger breweries, but the smaller ones may not be welcome of see their brands not fully supported.
There is a newer distributor, SouthBound Distributing, that has taken on a few breweries this year, including Portland’s StormBreaker Brewing that signed in February of this year. SoutBound distributes from Vancouver to Olympia.
It’s also quite possible that a new distributor will form and take on many of these brands. This is a great opportunity for someone looking to expand or enter the beer business.
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 25 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in the archives of Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @hopapalooza.