It made me quite proud the other night to flip on the PBS News Hour and see a report about New Belgium Brewing Co.’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Proud not because I have any personal involvement in it, of course, but because the report was presented as an example of a forward-thinking company doing something that is still relatively cutting edge in the business world: sharing its ownership with all of its employees.
I’ve been covering the beverage industry for a while now and the New Belgium coverage got me thinking about just how much this industry has changed since I first started reporting on it back in 2002. It has really gone from being an industry that was more of a follower, to one that is more of a trendsetter, one that is increasingly exciting to younger people because it is innovative. Agree with the New Belgium ESOP or not, it is an example of this industry shift from following to leading, and I think that only bodes well for the future of the industry.
The PBS report interviewed New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan about the plan, along with several employees. Asked why she decided to share ownership of her company with her employees, she told the PBS reporter: “You got this one life, right, and you get to think about what am I going to do that makes me sort of joyful and sing? And this makes me joyful.” Hearing that, I thought to myself, ‘wow, this industry really has changed.’
Such forward-thinking companies were hard to come by when I first started covering the industry. But I’ve watched as what was very much a stolid, kind of tired industry, has been reinvigorated by exciting new trends like the craft beer movement, the explosion in healthful, functional liquid refreshment beverages, and a rise in the number and prominence of beverage incubation companies.
And one of the major results of all this is that the beverage industry has begun attracting an entirely new generation of people into it. The PBS report interviewed several of the employee-owners at New Belgium who could not say enough good things about their company. Said one: “I feel like I have a stake in what happens here and that I play a part in making this awesome place successful.” Wow again.
I think the industry is only at the start of a positive cycle that will only attract more innovation in the coming years. As more beverage companies become innovative, like New Belgium, and new categories continue to emerge, these dual trends are attracting the next generation of young innovative people who want to work in this industry. It feeds on itself. And this will probably continue for a while.
For a long time, it was the tech industry that was attracting all the new young talent. But suddenly it seems like a lot of those younger people are also choosing to enter the beverage arena in droves. Just look at emerging innovative brands like Runa Tea or RawNature5, and the countless craft brewers or distillers, all either founded by or staffed by those in their 20s or 30s.
With such innovation, naturally follows the great, positive media coverage, like the exposé about New Belgium’s ESOP on the PBS News Hour, which really went into detail about the company. And that only gets consumers more excited about the industry. And those consumers may be the beverage innovators of tomorrow.