Beer distributor Bueno Beverage says they may have to layoff 43 employees

Editor’s note: This article is a follow up to yesterday’s story regarding Bueno Beverage’s warning to the EDD that they may layoff 50% of their staff (68 employees), refining the number to 43.

Visalia-based Bueno Beverage Company may be forced by one of its suppliers to sell off its Mexican beer brand rights to another wholesaler and take a projected 40% drop in sales

VISALIA – Bueno Beverage, the Visalia-based beer distributor, may have to lay off 43 people later this month if one of its brands forces it to sell off some of its distribution rights to another company. 

President Randy Bueno said his company is the Tulare-Kings wholesaler for Anheuser-Busch, the parent company for domestic beer brands Budweiser and Michelob, and Constellations, known for Mexican beer brands such as Corona and Modelo. He said Constellations, which Bueno Beverage has sold for more than 20 years and has increased its sales of by 6.8% in 2020 and 7.8% in 2021, is forcing Bueno to sell its brand distribution rights to companies that affiliate with Miller/Coors houses and not Anheuser-Busch houses. 

“We received such notice and have since decided to take legal action to stave the course set by Constellations,” Bueno said in a released statement. 

If Constellation is successful, Bueno says his company will have no choice but to lay off 43 people, one-third of its workforces, because Bueno Beverage will lose 40% of its case volume in Tulare and Kings counties by not selling the Mexican beer brands. Bueno said his company was one of just three Anheuser-Busch wholesalers left in California and another in Antioch, Calif. received the forced consolidation notice the same day.

“The last one standing will be in Sacramento and it will only be a matter of time,” Bueno said.

Bueno received word of the forced consolidation last month and notified the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) system on Jan. 25. The WARN notice said Bueno Beverage planned to lay off half of its workforce (68 employees) and that the layoffs were permanent and would 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. Since that time, Bueno has decided to seek legal action and lay off less than the 50 triggering a WARN notice. 

Regardless of the court case or consolidation, Bueno Beverage will remain in business and continue to do business with its largest supplier for top selling brands from Anheuser-Busch. That means retaining 92 employees to move more than 3.5 million cases annually to restaurants and bars in Tulare and Kings counties. 

“Bueno Beverage will remain the only local beer distributor keeping all taxes paid by consumers to stay in Tulare and Kings Counties, helping our local communities prosper,” Bueno wrote in his statement. “Please support your local business by buying locally distributed beers, wines, spirits and energy drinks supplied by your only local distributor, Bueno Beverage Company.”

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.

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.

In summer 2021 60% of U.S. adults reported 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. 

Bueno said the potential layoff has nothing to do with a drop off in beer sales nationwide as beer sales locally remain at record highs. Bueno Beverage reached a record for total beer sales of 5.5 million cases and $122 million in sales revenue annually in 2020 and 2021. The company led the Western Business Unit encompassing 13 states earning it the Gold Crown Award in 2019 and 2021 as well as the National Rising Star award in 2015.

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.

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