Today Vancouver Island Brewing announced that they were being sold. Not to AB-InBev or Molson, nope, but to Bob MacDonald, who also owns Muskoka Brewing. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Slipped in near the bottom of this Press Release was also the announcement that Tim Barnes, until today VP of Sales and Marketing at Central City, will be taking over as President of VIB.
I think this has the potential to be a very positive move for VIB. Read on for why.
As an islander, I know how fiercely loyal to Island-based brands us backwards, woods-dwelling, cousin-marrying, yokels can be. Heck, Lucky Lager still sells by the gallon-lot on the island because people still think it’s produced there. We all know it tastes like slightly-worse Molson, but it’s an island beer (in reality, it was bought by Labatt and production moved to the mainland in 1982—they have contemplated axing it several times, but keep it around because islanders have been reluctant to switch to Labatt other properties).
For islanders demanding something slightly better than Lucky, there was always Vancouver Island Brewing. And boy howdy did we drink it. 12 packs of Piper’s were a staple growing up, and still are the main tenant of any island fridge.
However, that’s slowly been changing. Despite an initial reluctance to accept craft brewing north of Victoria, lonely Tofino Brewing has in recent years been joined by a sudden rash of small scale craft breweries. In particular, the area around Courtenay has seen a huge boom in decent beer, but Nanaimo and Duncan have also seen openings.
This trend indicates islanders are slowly, reluctantly, releasing their iron grip on VIB’s brews in favour of tastier, upscale products that also happen to be produced on the the island. VIB’s sales have suffered hugely in consequence: down 11% year-over-year from 2014 to 2015 (latest numbers available from the LDB).
Tim Barnes is a marketing and sales guy first, and a beer enthusiast second. Even so, he’s very familiar with how the market reacts to a superior product: he witnessed Central City’s explosive growth firsthand, and that cannot but had an impact on how he views beer markets.
The number one job in front of the new ownership and new management at VIB will be to reverse that downwards trend in sales, and given their market I think that can only spell good things for the future of Vancouver Island Brewing.
Time will tell, though.