So You Want A Private Brand Beer? Stephanie Grubbs

This week’s CMO Interviews series from the advertising trade magazine AdAge features a conversation with Stephanie Grubbs, the VP of marketing for Northern California-based the influential Winery Exchange a company that focuses on Private Brand beer, wine and spirits.

Meet the Force Behind Private-Label Booze
Ad Age Talks With the Marketing Chief of Winery Exchange

Stephanie Grubbs might have one of the coolest jobs in the alcohol industry. She gets to create brands from scratch. And she develops not just one or two new offerings every few years, like most big brewers or winemakers, but dozens — all the time. Ms. Grubbs is VP-marketing for Northern California-based Winery Exchange, which sources and helps market private label beer, wine and spirits.

While there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of the company — it keeps a low profile, not even disclosing the breweries and wineries they work with — you’ve probably seen its brands, which are increasingly popping up at some of the biggest supermarket chains across the globe, including Supervalu, Kroger, Tesco, Safeway and Costco. Its newest offering is Barrel Trolley beer, debuting this month at Harris Teeter. Whole Foods just tapped the exchange for a new line of craft brands called St. Cloud Belgian White Ale, Four in Hand IPA and Copper Bell Light and Lager. Value brands include Big Flats 1901 for Walgreens and Game Day for 7-Eleven.

All told, the company takes in roughly $100 million in revenue a year, with 65 wine brands, 35 beer brands and 10 spirits brands in the market.

Ms. Grubbs grew up in Napa, pitching in at her family’s independent drug store. Her first job in alcohol was at Robert Mondavi Winery, working part-time “answering the phones and doing bookwork for their summer festival” at a renovated tractor shed in the middle of a vineyard. She was promoted to marketing analyst, “did my time in sales” and eventually became brand manager for coastal wines. After stints at other wineries, she landed at Winery Exchange in 2003 and was promoted to VP in 2005.

These days, much of her focus is on growing the company’s beer business. Private-label beers still command just a tiny fraction of the beer market — but it’s a growing segment, with store-brand sales up 41% in the year ended April 2, compared to the 2.3% drop in branded offerings, according to Nielsen. Much of the growth is fueled by private-label crafts, including at Winery Exchange, where the beer unit, called World Brews, has grown craft brands by 400% so far this year, Beer Business Daily recently reported citing Nielsen.

Ad Age recently talked with Ms. Grubbs about her company and overall alcohol trends.

Ad Age: Explain your business.

Ms. Grubbs: We have nowhere near the marketing dollars and funding that a national brand has. So the marketing initiatives are probably simpler. And we focus a lot more on encouraging the retailer to leverage their in-store advantages. So it all focuses on shelf, pricing [and] display rotation.

Ad Age: How do you break through in a lifestyle category like beer, which is so often fueled by image and big marketing budgets.

Ms. Grubbs: We do, internally as a company, invest pretty substantially in the package and in the design and the actual packaging so that it does stand out and does, we think, stand out above the competition.

Ad Age: How do you break through in a lifestyle category like beer, which is so often fueled by image and big marketing budgets.

Ms. Grubbs: We do, internally as a company, invest pretty substantially in the package and in the design and the actual packaging so that it does stand out and does, we think, stand out above the competition.

Read the entire interview.



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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.