Distribution company’s sale to PepsiCo causes dismay

Grains of Wrath, 54-40 owners say decision will negatively impact their businesses

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A Ridgefield-based beverage distribution company’s decision to dissolve its craft beer distributors will “injure” many local and regional breweries, including Washougal’s 54-40 Brewing Company and Camas’ Grains of Wrath Brewing, “for years to come,” according to a nonprofit organization that represents Southwest Washington beer makers.

Corwin Beverage Company will dissolve Kendall’s Pioneer Distributing and Browar Polska Distribution after being purchased by PepsiCo, according to a news release issued by the Northbank Brewers Alliance.

“We are dismayed by (this) news,” the news release states. “This consolidation serves to injure the Northbank brands held by Corwin and will echo for years to come in southwest Washington craft beer.”

Grains of Wrath and 54-40 partnered with Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska in March 2022 to distribute their products to retail shops, restaurants and taprooms throughout Washington state.

The distributors’ portfolio also included Barrel Mountain Brewing (Battle Ground), Everybody’s Brewing (White Salmon), Trap Door Brewing (Vancouver and Washougal), Fortside Brewing (Vancouver), Thunder Island Brewing (Cascade Locks, Oregon) and many more.

Corwin declined to answer questions from the Post-Record, but issued a news release which confirmed that its non-alcohol division will be acquired by PepsiCo.

“(We have) decided to exit the highly competitive beverage distribution business,” the news release states. “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.”

The beverage company began to notify staff members, suppliers and partners on Monday, March 13, and expects to conclude the “transition process” by Sunday, April 30, according to its news release.

Corwin “did not give sufficient notice to the craft brands in their book to be able to pivot in a reasonable manner,” according to Northbank’s news release.

“This short notice has already led to layoffs at the individual breweries, and will most definitely lead to more in the future,” the Northbank news release states. “This lack of communication about their plans with PepsiCo will also deprive the craft beer community in Washington State now and for years to come.”

54-40 co-owner Bolt Minister told the Post-Record that he reduced his staff to “just three days per week across the board” and laid off one employee as of Friday, March 17.

“We are currently looking at every reasonable opportunity out there for distribution (alternatives),” Minister told the Post-Record. “This includes self-distribution and distribution start-ups.”

Corwin Beverage Company, which started out as Pepsi Cola of Vancouver in 1941, has been a “proud distributor” of beverages, including craft beer through Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska, for more than 81 years, according to its news release.

“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,” the news release states.

The Northbank Brewers Alliance said that it will aid the affected breweries by “helping with education in self distributing and 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 alliance’s history,” the Northbank news release states. “If you have the means to support our small businesses, either at their brewery or at your local taproom, now is the time.”