Columbia Distributing is big, but it’s not slow moving. It has some 3,500 employees. It services some 20,000 retail customers. Its reach includes more than 135,000 square miles in Oregon, Washington and California. Originally created through a merger between Columbia Distributing of Portland, Mt. Hood Beverage of Portland and Gold River Distributing of Medford, Columbia Distributing was sold to a large private equity firm in 2012 (the Meritage Group). Today, it continues to gobble up distributors through the Pacific Northwest. It’s even partnering with Constellation Brands on a big wine and spirits deal.
It’s also landing big distribution contracts. In fact, a recent Pabst deal with Columbia could cost the distributor more than $20 million in compensations for maybe breaking franchise laws. In contrast: In 2015, Columbia Distributing Co. was nominated as the Beer Wholesaler of the Year by Market Watch (the same year it bought Mesa Brewing Co.), and in 2017 it was named Distributor of the Year by the U.S. Association of Cider Makers. Today it distributes everything from Northwest natives like Backwoods Brewing Co. and North Coast Brewing Co. to global brands from Miller and Red Bull — more than 260 alcoholic brands and over 50 non-alcoholic brands.
In late April, Columbia Distributing announced it completed another set of acquisitions — Oregon City, Ore.-based General Distributors Inc. (GDI) and Marine View Beverage, based in Sumner, Poulsbo, Port Angeles and Tumwater, Wash. More than 200 former GDI and Marine View employees will now work at Columbia. Additionally, Columbia opened a new South Sound Branch, composed of two former Marine View Beverage warehouse locations in Tumwater and Poulsbo. The added warehouses bring Columbia’s total locations to 13 throughout Washington, Oregon and Northern California. We reached out to Lindsi Taylor, corporate communications director with Columbia Distributing, asking about strategy, and she e-mailed us this simple summary:
Columbia’s always looking for opportunities to grow where it makes the most business sense. Wholesaler consolidation is nothing new — it started many years ago in an effort to better serve both customers and suppliers and to survive in an ever-changing and more competitive market. As you’re well aware, competition for the beverage consumer’s attention, especially the Millennial, is at an all-time high. This is a big reason for our announcement into Wine & Spirits last Thursday.
Yep, Columbia announced a huge deal with Constellation Brands’ Wine and Spirits Division for the states of Washington and Oregon. The partnership marks Columbia’s entry into the wine and spirits biz and is an expansion of an already strong relationship between the two companies. Columbia has been a longstanding distributor of Constellation’s beer portfolio. From the press release:
“After careful assessment of our route-to-market strategies, our Wine and Spirits team is pleased to join forces with Columbia Distributing in Washington and Oregon,” said Chris Stenzel, president, Wine & Spirits Division, Constellation Brands. “Columbia has been a great partner for our Beer Division over the years. Their strong channel coverage and distribution capabilities across beer, wine and spirits, along with Constellation’s portfolio of iconic brands such as Kim Crawford, Meiomi, The Prisoner, Svedka Vodka and many others, positions our collective team to provide unique value to retailers in meeting consumers’ needs.”
“Growing our partnership with Constellation is an opportunity to synergize the entirety of our businesses and grow in ways we’ve never grown before,” said Chris Steffanci, Columbia’s president and CEO. “I can’t think of a more well-suited, experienced partner to launch into the wine and spirits world with than Constellation.”
Columbia now adds Constellation’s wine and spirits brands to its beverage and beverage alcohol portfolio, including Kim Crawford, Meiomi, Charles Smith, The Prisoner and High West Whiskey, which all grew double-digits in 2017. The partnership will begin effective June 1, 2018. That’s your update on one of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest wholesalers.
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