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NBWA faces 'Decade of Challenge'.

NBWA faces `Decade of Challenge'

Wholesalers from all over the country recently met in San Francisco for the annual National Beer Wholesalers Assn. convention.

Attendance was reasonably strong, considering the absence of a trade show, with over 300 wholesalers in attendance. Many suppliers hosted hospitality suites and receptions for the attendees. Despite the somewhat reduced scope of this year's convention, many wholesalers found the personal contacts they made invaluable. As one wholesaler put it, "even if you meet just one guy and make one deal it's worth it."

The members of the NBWA Board of Directors met and elected officers for 1990-1991. Winburn E. "Brother" Stewart, president of Bibb Distributing Co., of Macon, GA, acceded to to the post of board chairman, having served as vice chairman over the past year. Kirby M. Lawlis, president of Miller Brands--Milwaukee of Wauwatosa, WI, was elected to succeed Stewart as the association's vice chairman. Kevin B. Forth, chairman and chief executive officer of Straub Distributing Co., Orange, CA, was reelected to the post of NBWA secretary, and William F. Theis, chairman of Wm. F. Theis & Sons Inc., of Ft. Lauderdale, became treasurer.

The keynote speaker for the first session was to have been August Busch III, but the breaking news on the excise tax kept him back East. Busch was present in spirit and visage, however, through the miracle of modern video technology. The assembled wholesalers sat transfixed as Busch's videotaped image came into view on the auditorium's giant screens. "My absence is in our mutual best interests," Busch said, "for we are at a critical juncture in the excise tax battle. I assure you that the fight against the tax increase is not over. We have taken a number of steps to ensure the voices of the industry are heard on this point."

Following the message from Busch, Anheuser-Busch executive vice president Mike Roarty gave an address focused on social problems facing the industry.

"The challenges we face today are as difficult as any in our history," Roarty said, "and it is time to discuss what actions to take to defend our livelihood."

Roarty noted the need for changing widespread public perceptions about the beer industry. "Public opinion about our industry is less favorable than about the food industry," he pointed out. "Polls indicate that 75 percent of the population is in favor of a mandatory health warning message for our advertising, and 42 percent favor an outright ad ban. We need to change the way people feel about the beer industry.

"We are seeing a trend towards reduced tolerance," Roarty continued. "Our opponents want to raise excise taxes and reduce consumption. Not just reduce alcohol abuse, but all consumption. There are attempts to stigmatize alcohol by linking it with illegal drugs, and to attack our relationship with minority communities.

Roarty did hold out some hope for turning things around. "Although we won't change our critics minds," Roarty stated, "we can change public opinion. Beer has been around for thousands of years, and it remains one of the simple pleasures of life. Brewers and wholesalers contribute to our popular culture through sponsorship of sporting events and through innovative advertising, and, in these days of foreign competition, ours is an American industry."

Roarty advocated a pro-active stance in confronting the perception gap. "We in the industry must be part of the solution to problems of alcohol abuse, he said. "Fair-minded Americans with respond favorably when they see the active role we are taking.

"There is some indication that our efforts to improve alcohol awareness are working," Roarty continued. "According to the Department of Transportation, there has been a decrease in drunk driving accidents, with teenage involvement in alcohol-related accidents down by 40 percent between 1982 and 1989. "There is still much work ahead," Roarty observed, "but let me assure you that we are doing everything we can to be heard on the airwaves and in print." Roarty offered encouragement to the attending wholesalers. "Wholesalers are the face of the beer industry in individual communities," he said. "You know the concerns of the community, and you know how to solve them. You are the beer industry. "Develop a plan of action," Roarty said, "just as you would prepare a marketing plan. Budget for materials on responsible drinking and recycling. With your plan in hand, take action. Meet with community groups. Let them know you share their concerns. You might change a mind or two. "Speak up as citizens and beer distributors," Roarty said. "Get involved and stay involved. Some wholesalers say we should concentrate on selling beer and leave the social issues to others. I disagree. We are in a battle for public support, and social issues will be as much a part of business as marketing and selling."
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Title Annotation:National Beer Wholesalers Association convention focuses on public perception of industry
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Oct 15, 1990
Previous Article:Cutbush pushes for alcohol labeling bill.
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