A recent report by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) cites that the number of brewery permits in the U.S. has skyrocketed to nearly 4,500, up from 3,084 breweries as of July 31, 2014. The backbone behind the grassroots craft brew movement, steadily gaining steam in cities across the country, is not only passionate brewers, but also trusty distributors, such as Pennsylvania-based Ace Distributing (Ace).
Founded in 1948 by Jimmie and Nick Spagnola and acquired by current owners Jeff Reeder and Tim Strickler in 1989, Ace has been connecting craft brewers to customers and the community for 66 years with a diverse portfolio of brands. Based in York and Chambersburg, Pa., Ace brings the best in craft beer to south central Pennsylvania, distributing directly to Lancaster, York, Adams, Franklin Fulton and Cumberland counties.
The company has been recognized nationally for its market strategy, winning both the 2014 and 2013 Craft Beer Distributor of the Year nomination by the Brewer’s Association and National Beer Wholesalers Association, as well as Beverage Trade Network’s 2014 Leading Craft Beer Distributors in the U.S.A.
“There’s no doubt the craft beer industry is growing at a rapid pace,” reveals Nate Fochtman, vice president of craft and specialty for Ace. “Right now, craft beer has a 9 to 10 percent market share in our region. Without exaggeration, in the next three to five years, we expect overall consumption to grow to 25 percent.”
Fochtman says Ace has a much larger market share than its competition because of the company’s diverse portfolio that’s been growing since 1948. “Ace has been growing for decades,” he tells. “They originally employed 18 workers who managed the distribution of Schlitz, Pabst, Pittsburg Brewing and several other products.”
Under the ownership of Reeder and Strickler, the company has made numerous acquisitions of operations, brands and territories and now has 89 employees from customer service to accounting, graphic designers to warehouse operators, CDL drivers, purchasing, sales, merchandising and marketing.
Ace now represents more than 60 brewers, including Miller Coors, Boston Beer, Troegs, Pabst, Heineken and numerous other craft and import brands. “We currently manage a fleet of over 50 vehicles that are utilized for servicing over 800 accounts locally,” adds Fochtman. “Even though we have larger brewery partners, such as Miller Coors, among others, we also distribute Red Bull and select gourmet craft sodas; we are primarily a beer distributor. We’re also an extremely progressive wholesaler, very active in educating consumers on our products.”
Active brand building and community partnerships
Whether it’s through a sampling and tasting, beer dinner events, monthly beer schools, engaging in a range of social media, such as Facebook and Vimeo, or sponsoring events in the community, Ace is actively promoting its products through education and simply sharing a love for great tasting beer.
Fochtman ensures, however, this active approach goes beyond Ace’s interest in driving sales, it’s also part of the company’s strong ties to the community, which inspired the first annual Philanthrobeer Week. From April 14, 2014, through April 20, 2014, Ace gathered all three tiers of the beer industry – brewers, wholesalers and retailers – for a week of events and community-focused fundraising.
Ace was joined in its philanthropic efforts by 10 breweries and over 50 local bars, restaurants, bottle shops and beer distributors to campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Central Pennsylvania. Together, the beer community raised more than $17,300.
“We were extremely happy with the support that our campaign received from our brewery and retail partners,” shares Fochtman. “Breweries and bars have historically been the hub for many community events and activism, so it only makes sense that we all band together for a great cause. Ace plans to make this an annual program with a different nonprofit beneficiary each year. As we are supported daily by our community it only makes sense that we give back in a big way, together.”
The company is also actively involved in sponsoring York City Recreation and Parks adult sports leagues, the York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other local events and causes, such as Movember for Men’s Health, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event.
“We’re often the first phone call these organizations make when they need a partner or sponsorship,” says Fochtman. “We hardly ever turn anyone down, if we believe in their mission to help improve our local community.”
Fochtman says he’s excited to see central Pennsylvania growing again after the recession. “We’re finally seeing a lot of empty storefronts filled and the growth of these communities,” he details. “We’re constantly asking ourselves how we can help and how to satisfy our customers, because we care about their success. If they are not successful than neither are we.”
As the craft beer market continues to brew up more success and a larger market share, distributors, such as Ace Distributing, are a vital part of the movement in connecting communities with the best local products.