Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Travel & Tourism

New Holland enjoys resurgence

Brewery expects new brewpub and distillery to be ready in September.

January 15, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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As established breweries across the country are seeing growth slow down — in some cases, rather dramatically — New Holland Brewing Co. is heating up.

Some major brands, such as Dogfish Head Brewery, have seen growth slow to single-digits or even decline for the first time in more than a decade, either due to increased competition, or catching up to production capabilities before capitalizing more.

“There is a lot of panic in the industry right now about how certain brands are flat or single-digit growth,” New Holland President Brett VanderKamp said.

“For us — given our market and who we’re surrounded by — it’s business as usual. We’ve always battled for mindshare because we’re not as high profile as some other West Michigan breweries,” he said.

In 2015, New Holland saw its revenues increase nearly 25 percent, while its production volume was up nearly 20 percent. The growth comes from the brewery’s top-selling brand, Dragon’s Milk.

The bourbon-barrel-aged stout, which sits in barrels for three months, is a year-round seller for the brewery, unlike most other bourbon-barrel beers that often are limited releases.

Last year, the Dragon’s Milk brand saw 50 percent growth.

“It’s become a beast and continues to lead our portfolio, and it’s a high-revenue product,” he said. “Consumers continue to want more of it — and for us, it was really the year of Dragon’s Milk.”

VanderKamp said he’s stopped looking at growth in terms of barrelage — the standard for the brewing industry; he concentrates instead on how to increase revenues and lets the barrel increases follow. He did say New Holland is up to more than 36,000 barrels and has the space to reach 100,000 with current brewhouse capabilities at the production campus in Holland Township.

Dragon’s Milk will have an added focus in 2016 with new quarterly releases of Dragon’s Milk Reserve, including one at the end of the January infused with vanilla chai.

“We want to continue to add excitement to the brand,” VanderKamp said. “Dragon’s Milk is a special bourbon-barrel-aged beer as it is — as we call it ‘the unlimited release.’ We have an incredible amount of energy, traction and enthusiasm behind it, but we want to continue to drive that energy.”

Another New Holland brand was re-energized in 2015 with the redevelopment of the Mad Hatter IPA recipe, one of its original flagships. The brand had gone flat in existing markets, and the company decided to revive it. It shifted to Michigan hops, with an increase in citrus-like hops, and bumped up the alcohol content to better align with what IPA consumers were demanding.

Following the release in May, Mad Hatter’s growth increased to 24 percent on the year and regained its position as the company’s No. 2 brand.

VanderKamp said 2016 looks to be just as solid as 2015.

In terms of distribution, VanderKamp said it’s increasingly important to align with the right wholesale and retail partners to ensure continued growth. The company currently is operating in 28 states, and VanderKamp said there is room to open up several new markets this year.

He also said it will be a priority to look at some of the brewery’s flat-lining seasonal brands to see which can be rejuvenated in similar fashion as Mad Hatter.

Among the top 2016 priorities for New Holland is to get its new Grand Rapids brewpub and distillery facility online by September. The new location has been in the works for nearly a decade, he said, and he is excited about the role it will play.

Aside from opening a storefront in a new market, VanderKamp said the new facility, on Bridge Street and Broadway Avenue NW on the city’s west side,  will serve as a research and development arm for beer and spirits, while still providing production capabilities. It also will provide the flexibility to create products such as vodka and whiskey on the spirits side, and open fermentation, sour styles and lagers on the beer side.

“The idea is to have an offsite R&D pilot facility to have immediate feedback from consumers and fans, while having a large enough supply to also move to Holland,” VanderKamp said. “At the production campus, it’s hard to remain as creative and bring new products into the market, and consumers are demanding it.

“If it works in Grand Rapids, we’ll be able to move it and duplicate it in Holland.”

New Holland has built itself up to a position most breweries envy — with brand recognition, solid barrel output and infrastructure to grow.

VanderKamp said he is aware many of the deals made by large brewing corporations and private equity firms to buy smaller breweries are in the 30,000 to 60,000 barrel output, and he can see the attraction. Still, he said, New Holland is not actively seeking any strategic buyouts.

“I get it, and experiencing it now — those numbers are where things start to turn,” he said. “For our company, we’re at the scale (where) we can grow profitably. We have infrastructure in place, sales team in place, marketing in place. It becomes attractive to potential suitors.”

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