Visalia Budweiser distributor laying off 68 employees

Bueno Beverage tells the state it will lay off half of its workers on Feb. 14; Mexican, craft beers increase in market share as Budweiser and Coors start to fall off

VISALIA – Bueno Beverage, the Visalia-based Budweiser beer distributor, will lay off 68 workers later this month, according to the state. 

The anticipated layoffs were listed on the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) system on Jan. 25. The WARN notice says the layoffs are permanent and will be effective Feb. 14. Employers with at least 75 full and part-time employees for the last six months are required to file a WARN notice 60 days before the layoff is to take effect if they are laying off at least 50 employees. The California law is intended to provide advance notice to employees and their families to allow them to adjust to the potential loss of employment, time to seek alternative jobs and, if necessary, and time to obtain skills training or retraining to successfully compete in the job market.

The long-time firm employs around 160 at their Visalia Industrial Park facility, according to the company’s website. Bueno Beverage administrators did not return phone calls as of press time. 

The distributor sells both single serving size bottles and cans along with kegs and barrels used in the restaurant /bar industry. They sell both Anheuser-Busch beers and Constellation’s Mexican brands like Corona Extra and Modelo Especial.

In 2005, Dan Bueno and his wife Rose acquired 100% of the company. In 2015, the company changed the name of the firm from Sequoia Beverage to Bueno Beverage Company to avoid any confusion with the Fresno beer restaurant Sequoia Brewing after they opened a location in Visalia. The naming issues created legal action between the two resulting in the beer distributor changing its name.

Although there is no reason given for the planned job reduction, beer sales have lagged in recent years in part due to the COVID-19 shutdown of so many restaurants and bars, the decline in the popularity of major industry brands like Budweiser in favor of craft brews and the decline in market share of beer drinking versus canned cocktails. According to The Distilled Spirits Council, the market share of beer versus cocktails and wine is now 41% – falling from 56% in 1999. Wine market share has not grown either.

As to craft brew competition in Visalia, the number of brew houses has grown over the last decade from one to eight, either in operation or under construction. The city has established a microbrewery district in East Visalia to encourage new craft beer companies to open there. One new project will combine indoor soccer with a brewery. Even the industrial park now has a craft brew spot in Moose Dog Brewing.

One industry history lesson says, “Congress ended the federal restriction on home brewing, leaving large brewers with new competition. Starting in 1981, beer hit its high point in sales, at which time total volume began to turn negative,” reported Silicon Valley Bank in its State of the Wine Industry Report for 2022. “But like premium wine in the US, craft beer emerged as a meaningful growth segment, gaining cult-level popularity in the mid-1990s with younger boomer consumers. Gen X maintained interest in craft beer and propelled its growth through the 2000s, when millennials started adopting the product as their own. Today, craft beer and imports have each grown significantly, with craft beer now responsible for 12.7% of the US beer market by volume and more than 23% of the market by revenue.”

During the past two pandemic-impacted years, the shuttering of restaurants and bars in California led, not surprisingly, to a decline in keg/barrel sales. This category fell from 2 million units in 2019 to 733,000 barrels in 2020, according to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).

In Visalia, once super-popular restaurants and watering holes like The Depot, Jack and Charlie’s and Little Italy have yet to re-open, in part due to the big labor shortage brought on by the pandemic. These locations were all good customers for Bueno Beverage.

Overall, alcohol consumption in summer 2021 found 60% of U.S. adults currently report drinking alcoholic beverages such as liquor, wine or beer, marking a decrease from 65% in 2019 when the measure was last tracked by Gallup Poll. This puts current alcohol consumption on the low end of the range Gallup has recorded over the past two decades, with the percentage imbibing as high as 67% in 2010. 

One piece of good news for the Visalia company, while Bud sales have declined over the decade, Mexican beer popularity has shot higher, from 5.3% of the market to 11.3%, including brands sold by Bueno Beverage.

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