Constellation Brands’ purchase of Four Corners marks continued consolidation in chaotic craft market

Constellation Brands this week snapped up another craft brewer, adding fast-growing Dallas, Texas-based Four Corners Brewing to its growing portfolio.

While a relatively small pick-up in terms of size, the acquisition marks another volley in the continued consolidation of the slow-growing beer industry, a trend that’s expected to continue in the years ahead as large beer companies look to stay ahead in a rapidly changing environment.

Six-year-old Four Corners, which Constellation said has increased sales “five-fold” since 2014 and more than tripled capacity last year to 25,000 barrels, becomes Constellation’s third craft brand, joining San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing and Florida's Funky Buddha Brewery.

In a note announcing the acquisition, Constellation said Four Corners complements its portfolio, touting its Texas “roots and heritage” and praising it as a “dynamic and bicultural brand.”

For Constellation, the deal comes as the company’s executives continue to talk about building out a larger craft portfolio. The company’s chief operating officer, Bruce Jacobson, made clear in May in a Beer Marketer’s Insights speech that the Corona importer will seek more craft brands, using its first acquisition, Ballast Point, as a platform.

“We will have more craft,” Jacobson said, noting the segment is “one of the fastest-growing” in beer. That aligns with the company’s oft-repeated dictum that consumers will continue “trading up” into more-premium brands. “Every category consumers buy into, they’re trading up. It’s not specific to beer; this is happening across the board.”

The acquisition of Four Corners, which makes six year-round beers including Local Buzz, a honey rye golden ale, and the rooster-branded El Chingón IPA, gives Constellation a craft brewery in each of its top three markets (Texas, California and Florida), which comprise some 44 percent of the company’s total annual volume, Beer Marketer’s Insights reported (subscription required.)

Competitors Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors also have each acquired multiple craft breweries over the past five years.

A-B now owns 12 U.S.-based craft brewers as well as several other international brands.

MillerCoors, meanwhile, has within the last few years purchased or taken on a majority stake in four craft breweries: Granbury, Texas-based Revolver Brewing, Eugene, Ore.-based Hop Valley Brewing, Terrapin Beer Co. of Athens, Ga., and San Diego’s Saint Archer Brewing. (Parent company Molson Coors also has been active in the M&A market, snapping up brands such as Aspall and Clearly Kombucha in recent months.)

Constellation’s move to acquire Four Corners is a continuation of what Pete Marino calls an underlying “chaos” that’s defining craft in 2018, a year so far marked with brewery closures, layoffs and a slowdown in sales.

Marino, president of MillerCoors craft and specialty import division Tenth and Blake, has said the company will continue to vet potential craft acquisition targets, provided their location or beer styles complement the company’s existing portfolio and the valuation is realistic.

The craft segment so far this year has posted volume growth of just 1.1 percent and a sales dollar increase of 2.2 percent, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data through June 30. The most-recent four-week period shows even more weakness: Volume was down 2 percent and sales dollars slipped 0.8 percent.

There also has been a handful of acquisitions, including a recent move by Fireman Capital-backed Canarchy Craft Brewery Collective to purchase Dallas’ Deep Ellum Brewing Company, according to a report by industry publication Brewbound.

This “chaos,” Marino has said, is likely to lead to further shakeout in the segment.