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New Holland shifts strategy to market rollouts

Company’s HR plan taps into experienced personnel from other breweries.

January 23, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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New Holland Brett Vanderkamp
Brett VanderKamp said it took very little convincing for him to settle on the west side as the location for New Holland’s project. Courtesy New Holland Brewing Co.

Even with its new west-side Grand Rapids taproom and brewing facility a year away, New Holland Brewing Co. still had a big year in 2014.

The announcement of the new facility in October was just the cap on a year of strategizing for the future at New Holland. Midway through the year, New Holland announced it would shift Fred Bueltmann, partner and vice president of marketing and sales, to vice president of brand and lifestyle.

That move began the process of delineating the marketing and sales departments.

“We came in to set that all up for this year,” said Brett VanderKamp, president of New Holland Brewing Co. “We’re launching 2015 with two separate teams and a restricted sales team.”

That decision follows sizeable growth and diversification in products. When Bueltmann came onboard at New Holland in 2004, the brewery was at about 5,000 barrels annually. Last year, it pushed out more than 33,000.

With a larger overall marketing plan, smaller regional marketing and more products to sell, it made sense to split up the responsibilities, VanderKamp said. Growth in the company’s beer and spirits production also necessitated that each division have its own dedicated sales people.

“Early on, it made sense to have sales and marketing under one person,” VanderKamp said. “Now, we’ve become such a diverse company. Frankly, it’s workload driven.”

To help ease the difficulties of splitting the departments, New Holland brought in two experienced executives from the beer industry: Joel Petersen and Adam Lambert.

Petersen comes to Michigan following several years with Craft Brew Alliance in Oregon and MillerCoors. Prior to that, he worked in West Michigan for Herman Miller and USF Holland. Lambert spent the last six years with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware, helping grow it into a nationally recognized name. Before that, Lambert spent six years at Rogue Ales, which has brewpubs in Oregon, Washington and California.

The search for the pair brought a heap of applications that blew VanderKamp away. Bringing in proven employees from other major brewing companies seemed like a good idea, he said.

“It’s not like New Holland is doing anything so radical that we can’t learn from what other people have had success doing at other places,” he said. “The caliber of people responding on a national level was very flattering. Maybe it’s my Dutch upbringing, but I was shocked.”

To help fill the sales department’s to-do list, VanderKamp said the brewery is looking to expand its distribution footprint. He said the criteria for expansion have changed a bit to allow for new markets.

“We are shifting our strategy on new market rollout,” he said.

Growing the barrel program, specifically Dragon’s Milk, will be a priority. Turning the special release into a year-round beer was a game-changer for New Holland, which has seen Dragon’s Milk turn into one of its best sellers.

This year, New Holland hopes to send Dragon’s Milk regularly into its existing markets and to expand its special releases, including varieties with toasted chiles, raspberries, coffee and chocolate, and a triple mashed bourbon-barrel stout.

“We really are continuing to grow the barrel-aging side of the portfolio; that’s what we’re really getting to be known for,” VanderKamp said. “We’ll increase the reserve series, as the raspberry Dragon’s Milk was one of the most successful releases we’ve ever had.”

One of the brewery’s most successful beers of 2014, the Carhartt Woodsman, will make a return in October. The oak-aged pale ale was the result of a collaboration between the Holland-based brewery and the Dearborn-based clothing manufacturer. It was meant to be a respectful tribute to the nation’s craftsmen, and VanderKamp was adamant the beer should be separate from the barrel program because of the way wood resonates with the word “craftsman.”

“It was an amazing collaboration that seems to really be solidifying,” he said. “We didn’t want to just brew a beer and slap a Carhartt label on it. We wanted to make sure what we were doing was authentic and would speak to their core consumer, as well as ours.”

Growing the portfolio and expanding it to existing and new markets might be near the top of New Holland’s priorities in 2015, but VanderKamp said he’d also like to increase the brewery’s volume sold in Michigan. More than 50 percent of its product is sold within the Mitten State, but VanderKamp believes it can be higher. A large boost toward that goal will come when the Grand Rapids location opens sometime in early 2016.

Plans for the new location went before the planning commission this month and now can move forward with some modifications. VanderKamp is confident Rockford Construction will procure permits, break ground and begin demolition and foundation work quickly. Still, it’s going to be at least a 12-month build-out.

Before opening sometime next year, the company’s infrastructure must be built in preparation for the new operation. New Holland will produce beer and single-malt whiskey at the Grand Rapids facility. VanderKamp said nearly all of the product used at the Grand Rapids facility will be stored offsite until it is ready for production, and the location of that site is still up in the air.

He said the Holland production facility likely will add a fifth brewing vessel this year. The Holland facility also will produce the wash for New Holland’s distillery, an additional 4,000 to 5,000 barrels of liquid.

“We’re expecting a big growth year here (in Holland),” VanderKamp said. “We have to build up some capacity for that facility.”

The new Bridge Street pub is $10 million worth of a $17 million multi-use development and will help New Holland add several thousand barrels annually to its production capacity. The space will include a 20-barrel brewhouse and 40-barrel fermenters, including White Pine horizontal open-top “coolships” — the first of their kind in the area — that allow for natural fermentation.

New Holland expects to add full-time brewers and a distiller in Grand Rapids — likely two shifts’ worth.

As for the possibilities for the new space, VanderKamp said the details aren’t fully flushed out, but the concept will revert to “historical roots of more ‘continental’ roots on producing beer and spirits.”

Food also will follow a more European model. He said the model will complement the likes of the soon-to-open The Black Heron, Harmony Hall and O’Toole’s Public House, all of which have roots in the continental style.

“We want to give Bridge Street its own identity,” VanderKamp said. “We really want to look back, and we think that’s an incredible tie-in to the west side.

“We’ll really try to focus on more traditional methods when it comes to the fermentation side, so it will be different than anything we can do at the Holland pub or production facility.”

Establishing a storefront in Grand Rapids is something VanderKamp has been working on for more than a decade. He believes New Holland has plenty to offer Grand Rapids and that doesn’t mean simply repeating a version of the downtown Holland pub.

“It’s going to be huge for us. I don’t think we can overstate it,” he said. “We want to give the consumers in Holland and Grand Rapids a reason to go there. Certainly there will be some similarities, but we want a different focus that gives people a reason to drive 20 miles both ways.”

Growing too quickly is something VanderKamp wants to avoid.

“We don’t want to grow too fast. It’s something we’re always cognizant of because you can go so fast that you can blow your team out of the liquid,” he said.

“We like to challenge the team and it needs to grow, but at the same time, we want to manage the growth so we can manage each team member’s growth and still have fun.”

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