Financial beer-tactics ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

Financial beer-tactics

half full half empty beer funding bar.jpgNormally, you would say that alcohol & money don't mix. But in the world of beer, at least in the Netherlands, there is tangled web that has been woven between financiers and the horeca-industry, which is difficult to unwind, and, some people argue, shouldn't be unwound.

First of all, what is investing all about?
It's all about profit, obviously, but it's also about minimising the risk for investors. Two big risks facing investors are informational.

One the one hand, there's moral hazard—the risk that entrepreneurs take their new assets (money) and misuse it in some way; On the other hand, there's adverse selection—the risk that entrepreneurs are not as capable as they claim to be.

Either of these situations requires a different response and a different type of investor. For moral hazard, the typical response is for investors to mingle in the affairs of their investee's operations and strategy and take equity; the so-called active investor, which includes business angels and venture capitalists.

For adverse selection, the typical response is to restrict the entrepreneurs movement through collateral, restrictive, covenants, and and short maturities, to minimise risk-engaging behaviour. This is the realm of the passive investor, which includes banks.

Financial beer-tactics
When looking at these two investors, you see some differences; Active investors take equity—become part owner of the firm—and they do this because they can't do much else to influence the use of their money. Passive investors prefer to use measures like lend against collateral, e.g. real estate or other tangible assets, which they can claim if the investment were to go wrong.

In the case of horeca-owners, you typically do have some kind of physical asset. You occupy a venue, you have machinery, and inventory. This is much more the realm for passive investors, who can relatively safely lend some money against the existing collateral.

There is one complication, however; Horeca is typically known for high failure-rates. I'm not sure why this is so. I guess that the leisure industry is largely sensitive to seasonal differences and economic downturns. And perhaps, the barriers to entry are low; there could be a lot of low-skilled entrepreneurs out there, who are not as capable of running & growing a business as they think. And finally, growth in itself could be a problem, if the capital requirements are significant.

The way investors get around it in the Netherlands is actually not to invest. Instead, they leave it up to breweries, who, against a right of exclusivity, lend a certain sum to the business, or give it a discount, and provided it with the necessary materials, branded of course.

What's the problem?
From my angle, there isn't one really. If horeca is such a risky business, and other investors are unwilling to invest, then I don't think an entrepreneur should complain about a simple exclusivity-contract. And particularly so, because of three factors.

For one, exclusivity is only valid if the brewery has less than 30% market-share. In the case of someone like Heineken, who also owns a number of other beer-brands, and has more than 30% market-share, you can quit such a contract after two months. Then again, Heineken does its best to provide other value-added services to make sure that this doesn't happen.

And second, there's a lot of consolidation in the alcohol-business. And just because a company has a certain exclusivity, it may have such a large portfolio of brands that there isn't any shortage of choice for customers; neither do I think these exclusivity-contracts are 100% bullet-proof.

The third factor seems to be a problem. By not giving customers a choice, they have learned not to care about brand so much when they enter a pub. They just ask for a beer. So for them, unless they're a beer-fanatic, it doesn't matter much. For producers, on the other hand, their brand has become a commodity, at least where nightlife is concerned.

Who cares, right?
Heineken seems to care, and is all for the liberalisation of Dutch pubs. Ignoring that a. this would disrupt a pretty good funding situation for Dutch pubs, and b. that Heineken owns more than 30% of the beer-market, making their exclusivity-deals vulnerable anyway, I do kind of see their point.

By turning a brand into a commodity, you take away marketing-potential. If you can position your beer-brand above that of regular beer, then you can reap higher profits. That makes 100% sense to me, from the brewery's perspective.

And, from what I understand, British pubs don't actually have such exclusive deals with breweries. The question is then, how they get funded, or whether the failure rate is perhaps lower in the UK? That, for now, is a question unanswered to me, but I'll do my best to find out.

(You can always give it to me in the comments.)

Part of this topic was inspired by a good article (unfortunately not online) in Dutch Marketing Tribune, still my favourite Dutch mag.


Copyright 2006| Blogger Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger Beta by Blogcrowds.
No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.