The first beer from TRU Colors, the brewery that employs active gang members in an effort to stop violence through economic opportunity, is hitting shelves this week across North Carolina.
TRULight, an above-premium light lager, will be available this week in nearly 800 on- and off-premise locations across the state. Checking in at 4.2% alcohol by volume, TRULight has 95 calories and 2.6 carbs, mirroring the key stats of segment leader Michelob Ultra.
The beer has been well received by distributors and retailers, says George Taylor, a tech entrepreneur turned brewery CEO and founder, with some accounts even swapping out displays of Michelob Ultra for TRULight.
“They connect with the story and connect with the cause. Then they taste the beer and want to join in,” says Taylor. “If you have a good product and the packaging is good, the price is right, and it tastes good…why would you not want to sell it?”
Wilmington, N.C.-based TRU Colors is the brainchild of Taylor, who, upset at the level of gang violence in the city, sought to create a solution hand-in-hand with local gang leaders.
The result was founding a brewery in 2019 that hires active gang members, giving them economic opportunities and, in turn, leveraging their influence inside gangs to reduce violence.
Today, TRU Colors employs more than 70 active gang members from different factions, who work in every area of the brewery, from production to packaging, sales, HR and beyond.
For Molson Coors Beverage Company, which has a minority stake in TRU Colors, supporting the brewery’s mission is “one of the best examples of putting our money where our mouth is,” says Paul Verdu, president of Tenth & Blake, Molson Coors’ U.S. craft division.
“We are doing a lot internally to increase diversity, equity and inclusion, and we have a lot of initiatives. When this came along, we saw an immense opportunity to do something positive for the community — something no one has ever done before,” Verdu says.
Molson Coors’ involvement has helped establish TRU Colors within its distribution network, giving it a better chance to succeed and make an impact in Wilmington, Verdu says.
“If we can help them be successful in the beer business, the more success they’ll have, and they can take their mission to other cities and states,” he says.
TRU Colors has national ambitions. Taylor says it’s already planning to expand its distribution footprint up the eastern seaboard in the future.
For now, though, TRU Colors is focused on its home state.
TRULight’s release is the culmination of years of planning and preparation, though not everything has gone to plan.
The brewery was forced to delay distribution by several months earlier this summer, and in July, one of its employees, Koredreese Tyson, and another woman were murdered in a gang-related shooting at the home the brewery’s COO, where Tyson had been living. Three people have been charged in their deaths.
Taylor said the shooting has only reinforced the importance of TRU Colors’ mission.
“What happened this summer was tragic, and it’s exactly why it’s important that we push forward and do what we do,” he says.
And it’s strengthened Molson Coors’ resolve, as well, Verdu says.
“It hasn’t made us or them back down. It’s easy for naysayers to say this isn’t working, but it’s made George and his team more resolute in their approach and desire to be effective,” he says. “It’s evidence that something needs to be done.”