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Cider producers partner with Pabst

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Posted on December 17, 2015 |
By Evan Johnson



Woodchuck1306.jpg
DAN ROWELL, CEO of Vermont Hard Cider in Middlebury, recently announced a partnership with Pabst Brewing Co. in which the Milwaukee brewer will have exclusive rights to distribute all of Vermont Hard Cider’s brands starting in March. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Hard Cider (VHC), Middlebury-based brewer of the popular Woodchuck cider, has entered a partnership with one of the largest American-owned breweries, the Pabst Brewing Co.

The 15-year agreement, signed this past Friday, gives Pabst exclusive promotions and marketing rights to the sale and distribution of all Vermont Hard Cider brands as well as those of its parent company, Ireland-based C&C Group. The agreement will take effect March 1, 2016.

VHC CEO Dan Rowell said the deal is good news for his company because it gives Vermont Hard Cider access to a sales and marketing force many times larger than its own.

“Both sides are in alignment on making our cider brands grow,” he said. “They bring a lot of clout to their route to market with their marketing team. It’s an exciting opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”

Rowell said Pabst would use its sales force of about 300 people to promote VHC’s brands, which include Woodchuck, Gumption, Wyder’s and Hornsby’s, as well as C&C’s cider brands imported from Ireland and England, including Magner’s and Blackthorn. While VHC’s brands are already distributed to all 50 states, Rowell said Pabst’s sales and marketing team would promote their products more effectively.

“They have a pretty strong system in place for bringing brands to the market, which is something we’ve struggled with,” he said.

With a portfolio of more than 30 beers, Los Angeles-based Pabst Brewing Co. is one of the largest American-owned breweries, with sales of 5.5 million barrels of beer expected in 2015. Its brands include its flagship Pabst Blue Ribbon, and others including Old Milwaukee, Ballantine IPA, Schlitz and Lone Star. The company has some roots in Vermont. Fred Pabst Jr., whose father started the brewery, was a pioneer in early ski lifts and founded the Bromley Mountain Ski Resort in Peru in the 1930s.

Pabst last summer signed a similar agreement with the maker of Not Your Father’s Root Beer.

Pabst CEO Eugene Kashper said in a press release he was pleased with the Vermont Hard Cider partnership.

“We are thrilled to be working with the team in Vermont and I am confident that together we will be able to return these rich heritage brands to growth,” he said.

VHC will retain all rights and assets during the partnership with Pabst, the financial terms of which were not disclosed.

As hard cider has grown in popularity, large beer brewers in the past two years have brought out their own ciders. Boston Beer Co., which makes Samuel Adams beer, introduced Angry Orchard hard cider; and MillerCoors brought out Smith & Forge cider. And the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser and Becks, now sells Johnny Appleseed cider.

Vermont Hard Cider Vice President of Sales Terry Hopper said in a statement that he expects Pabst to “expand the cider category as a whole.”

Under the agreement announced last week, Pabst has an option to buy VHC’s assets including brands and brewing facility from its current owner, C&C Group, which bought VHC for $305 million three years ago. If Pabst does purchase VHC at some point over the course of the 15-year agreement, individuals working in sales and marketing would be employed by Pabst but would stay in Vermont.

Rowell said a purchase would likely mean “business as usual” for VHC’s 100 Vermont employees. While most commercial hard ciders are bottled at breweries producing beer, VHC’s 87,005-square-foot bottling plant in Middlebury is the largest manufacturing facility for brewing cider in the United States. Rowell said the facility, just opened 16 months ago, would help keep production locally based.

“It’s where all of our innovation and quality is,” Rowell said. “One of the things that attracted Pabst to us is they love our brands and understand that cider is different from beer and you need a dedicated facility.”

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