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Former Molson Coors CEO joins low ABV brewer Big Drop

Mark Hunter, the former chief executive of American brewing giant Molson Coors, is helping low ABV ‘craft’ beer brand Big Drop Brewing take on the US.

Hunter left Molson Coors at the end of September 2019 , and has since then built a non-executive director portfolio and started to invest in a small portfolio of companies.

The brewing industry veteran reached out to Rob Fink, who launched Big Drop with co-founder James Kindred in 2016, on LinkedIn before finding the low ABV beer specialist’s crowdfunding campaign online, which launched at the end of February.

Hunter has also taken on an “advisory role” at Big Drop, according to Fink.

While the entrepreneur has built up a strong network of retail and on-trade customers in the UK and Europe, Fink hopes Hunter will be able to steer the business in the right direction as it launches in the US and Australia this year.

“We’ve set up a great team in the UK and we have a sales director based in the Netherlands who helps manage our European distribution with a network of fantastic partners in each of our territories,” Fink told the drinks business, but added that Australia and the USA are “clearly different and more challenging.”

Hunter retired from his post just as Molson Coors had posted disappointing quarterly revenues, blaming low demand for its portfolio of lagers and bad weather. Mass market beer makers such as Molson Coors and AB InBev have faced competition in the US from craft brewers in recent years.

Now free from his role at one of the world’s largest breweries, Hunter has developed a taste for low alcohol craft beer.

“Mark’s global experience in beer will be invaluable in helping to understand those territories better and enable us to work with the best people.”

In a note to investors this morning, Fink said the former Molson Coors boss’ investment is “great validation of our business.”

“We’re really excited about the benefits that his 30 years of experience in the beer industry will bring.”

Crowdfunding in the time of coronavirus

Big Drop launched its first crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs at the end of February, but the fate of the UK’s SMEs is now uncertain as the country has gone into an effective lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Fink has so far raised just shy of £340,000 on the platform, but investments have slowed down, since the closure of pubs and bars was announced on Friday 20 March.

“I didn’t find that particularly surprising,” Fink said. “However, we should have a large investment landing next week which will see us overfunded and we can then close as needed.”

As well as being available on-tap and in bottle in a wide range of bars and pubs, including chains such as Mitchells & Butlers, Big Drop is also sold in retailers such as Tesco, Morrisons, Ocado, and Booths, “and we’ll be coming soon to Sainsbury’s,” Fink said. Outside of the UK it is sold in Australian liquor store chain BWS, and in Canada’s Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The beers are also available to buy from sites such as Beer Hawk, and delivery service Milk & More. Fink told be that the wide range of outlets he works with, particularly delivery services “which are providing more and more vital supplies to households”, will help to steady sales while pubs are shut.


Virtual pub quizzes

Big Drop has also spearheaded a new way to stay connected with consumers. The company hosted its first “virtual pub quiz” on Tuesday 24 March. “Quizmasters” read out questions on a live Youtube stream, while those taking part answered in real time. Around 4,500 people signed up for the quiz, and Fink wants to make it a regular event.

“We’ll continue to refine it and we hope to do one every week for a while,” he said, giving credit to his co-founder James Kindred, and marketing executive, Rhian Brown.

“I hope that people see that we’re trying to help in whatever small way we can in these difficult times,” Fink said. Like many breweries and bottle shops in the UK, Big Drop has launched its own online shop within a week, and is also offering a discount to NHS staff for online orders.

“Initiatives like that,” he said, “and the Living Room Pub Quiz are probably the least we can be doing at the moment.”

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