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Major purchase in beverage industry spells trouble for small Washington breweries

Pepsi Co.'s purchase of Corwin Beverage is a major blow to small craft brewers in Washington.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Small craft brewers are taking a hit following a major purchase in the beverage industry. Pepsi Co. just bought a large Washington beer and cider distributor, which will stop operations that some small Washington breweries rely on.       

Pepsi Co.'s purchase of Corwin Beverage is a major blow to small craft brewers in Washington. That's because it leaves those brewers with no simple way to deliver product to grocery stores, restaurants, and bars.

Two of Corwin's smaller distributors, Kendall's Pioneer and Browar Polska, will likely shut down because of the purchase by Pepsi Co. These closures don't directly impact any Spokane area breweries. But they're especially damaging to those in southwestern Washington.

Ten Pin Brewing in Moses Lake is one of Kendall's Pioneer's clients.

"Hopefully, we can keep our product on the shelf, even though it's coming from a different truck," Ten Pin Brewing CEO Cale Russell said.

Kendall Pioneer isn't Ten Pin's only distributor. Still, Russell is hoping customers won't notice the impacts for very long. 

"It's on us to find a new distributor to make sure that we can still get our product in front of the same customers that have always had it," Russell said. "So, there's a potential for a lag there."

He adds, this trend of big companies consolidating smaller distributors is becoming more common.

"These are powerful companies that have a lot of influence on the beer markets," Russell said. "They seem to either gobble up territory or sort of decide that maybe that territory is not beneficial for their business."

Ten Pin Brewing is established and big enough that Russell said it can keep up with big changes like this. But that's not the case for smaller breweries trying to expand their reach with distributors that continue getting gobbled up. 

"You feel bad for the guys that just got started and putting all of their attention and funds into these distributors, and then it's kind of like the rug is pulled out from under them," Russell said. 

The shutdown of the two southwestern Washington distributors is a concerning trend for the Washington Brewers Guild, non-profit trade association.

It said in a statement:

"The shutdown of Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska is part of a concerning trend of distributor consolidation here in Washington state. As distributors continue to consolidate, there are less options for our local craft breweries to choose from. While this trend impacts all Washington craft brewers, this is particularly harmful to smaller breweries seeking to expand their brand into grocery and retail stores. More options in choosing distributors offer the ability for our Washington craft brewers to find the right fit as they look to grow their business."

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