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Introducing Ron Sarasin; the NBWA's new president discusses the organization and the issues that face it.

Introducing Ron Sarasin

The NBWA's new president discusses the organization and the issues that face it.

Ronald Sarasin entered public life in the late 60s, winning a seat in the Connecticut State Legislature. In 1972 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Connecticut's Fifth District. He served as a member of the Education, Labor, Aging and Welfare Reform Committees, and was vice-chairman of several subcommittees, including those with jurisdiction over the minimum wage, job training and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. After serving three terms, he gave up his seat for an unsuccessful gubernatorial run in Connecticut.

Subsequently he worked with an international management consulting firm before joining the National Restaurant Association as Director of Government Communications. In that capacity he came in contact with alcohol issues, particularly pertaining to the drinking age. "The position of the National Restaurant Association is very close to that of the NBWA on several issues," Ron points out. "They also have a strong interest in what happens with alcohol issues."

MBA: Ron, what do you feel is the greatest challenge facing the industry?

SARASIN: I think some of the misinformation that's being spread around by the neo-prohibitionists can do a lot of harm. They paint a picture of a beer industry that is promoting abuse. That's just plain wrong. No one in this industry is "for" alcohol abuse, but our opponents keep trying to lump us in with the drug dealers. The NBWA must fight that false label, and reaffirm that beer is a legal beverage which--consumed in moderation--is consistent with a healthy lifestyle. It's not like we're selling something that can't be spoken about in polite company.

MBA: Do you think that Surgeon-General Koop's alcohol abuse workshop continue to have an impact on the industry?

SARASIN: The "facts" that workshop produced will be cited for years, because Dr. Koop had very high visibility. At first I thought he was being taken down the garden path, reluctantly, but that wasn't so. I still think he should have pointed out that it was not a strictly objective report. Since the NBWA wasn't ready to parrot their preconceived ideas, we weren't allowed to participate. No one involved in the production, distribution or sale of licensed beverages was allowed to sit at the table. The NBWA had to sue for the opportunity to contribute information that wasn't recorded anyway. The whole thing was a charade.

MBA: How far do you think neo-prohibitionists want to carry their crusade? Are there elements in that movement that actually want a return to Prohibition?

SARASIN: They're not trying for prohibition in law, but prohibition in fact. They want to limit availability of alcohol in the name of preventing abuse. However, the vast majority of people use alcohol responsibly. The neo-prohibitionists are trying to wipe out alcohol beverages not through legislation, but by making it socially unacceptable.

MBA: How can the NBWA most effectively oppose the neo-prohibitionists?

SARASIN: We've joined with other manufacturers and distributors in the National Licensed Beverage Coalition. The coalition is bringing together all the elements of the alcohol beverage industry and will work to develop a strong and positive public relations program. The NBWA will be a financial supporter of this coalition. We are aware that there is a perception problem, and we intend to do something about it.

MBA: Does the conflict of your position on equalization with that of the distillers lead to conflicts in the NLBC?

SARASIN: No, we continue to work with them, the difference in our views hasn't interfered with that. It's like a family, there are a lot of issues we need to work together on and a few where there are conflicts. Equalization happens to be one of the latter. Our position remains that the `a drink is a drink' proposition is wrong. It's just not a correct notion. A shot of whiskey is ingested differently and the effects are different than a glass of beer. That is reflected in medical literature and in the tax rates of most of the industrialized nations. Distilled spirits and beer are taxed differently for temperance reasons.

MBA: Do you think the industry is unified enough to fight the neo-prohibitionist threat?

SARASIN: Well, I think it's important to note at this point that the NBWA itself could be more effective if every wholesaler in the country was involved. We have a situation where about half the wholesalers aren't sharing the burden. There's a lot we could accomplish if the NBWA was supported by every wholesaler.

MBA: Has there continued to be some attrition from the ranks of the NBWA?

SARASIN: Frankly, we have lost some ground, but it's more a result of consolidation than unhappiness with the NBWA. There are just fewer wholesalers out there. In spite of that trend, we've got to work to build our membership. We have to bring those wholesalers who haven't ever joined NBWA into the organization, and bring back some of those who may have left.

MBA: What measures can you take to expand membership?

SARASIN: We've got to make wholesalers realize how important it is that our voice is heard in Washington. The more wholesalers we have in one organization, the louder that voice will be. We can't just ignore what's going on in Washington anymore. Our opponents have realized that it's easier to come to Washington and get something passed once, than to go through 50 different state legislatures.

MBA: How does it benefit a wholesaler to join NBWA?

SARASIN: We have a number of member services, including a competitive business plan, a biennial distributor productivity report, and an employee assistance program which, in addition to aiding workers directly, helps member firms to set up employee substance-abuse policies and drug-testing procedures. We can also serve as a source of industry information, and of course we publish a newsletter every couple of weeks. A more substantive benefit, as I said, is that membership gives every wholesaler a voice in how this association will respond to the enormous pressures facing our industry. Take the ad ban, for example. Our opponents will make their push on that issue here in D.C., and we'll be here to fight it. There is great pressure on the industry, and it's not fair to expect some wholesalers to bear the whole burden.

MBA: How is the NBWA getting on with the state secretaries?

SARASIN: I think the relationship remains strong. In the short time I've been here, I've had the opportunity to meet with and talk to a number of the state executives, and I'm sure our relationships can only get better.

MBA: Have you been able to meet with any of the NBWA membership yet?

SARASIN: Yes, I recently met with our directors in Florida and with several wholesalers in California, and I was very impressed. They are outstanding individuals. If we can get and keep people of that caliber involved in the NBWA, we'll develop incredible grass-roots strength. We've got beer wholesalers in almost every Congressional district, and they are strong contributors to each community as employers and merchants. If they can get the ear of their Congressmen, that will help immeasurably in getting our message across. The only way a Congressman can make intelligent decisions on these issues is if he hears our side of the story, and I've always felt the best lobbyist and the strongest voice is the guy back home.

MBA: Are you starting to get acclimated to the industry?

SARASIN: Yes, pretty rapidly. In the coming months I'll be travelling around to meet as many wholesalers as I can, especially at the multi-state functions. I'll be working to keep members interested in the Association and trying to bring them in if they aren't already.

MBA: If there was one goal that you'd like to achieve during your tenure at NBWA, what would it be?

SARASIN: The best goal for me would be to have every wholesaler signed up as a member of NBWA. I've been very pleased in the short time that I've been here with the resources and people we have here in the nation's capital, and if our membership increased, it would help us accomplish much more. There is a willingness on our part to work for the common interest, and there couldn't be a better time for more wholesalers to get involved. I am optimistic about the future, though. I think it's an exciting time to be in this industry, and we certainly will not lack for challenges.
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Title Annotation:1990 Microbrewery Report; National Beer Wholesalers' Association
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:interview
Date:May 14, 1990
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