Amid craft beer surge, distributors want laws constant

Tri-Eagle beer distributor freezer in Midway, FL.

The beer business is evolving, and those involved in it would like to see very little change in laws guiding the industry.

Thirty different local and national breweries showcased their suds at a trade show on Wednesday hosted by Tri-Eagle Sales, a leading beverage wholesaler in North and North-Central Florida.

Tri-Eagle President Ken Daley in an interview with Florida Politics shed light on how the industry has changed alongside a rapid increase in demand for craft beers. He also discussed the annual legislative issues facing beer distributors like himself.

Daley said his operation involves more than 200 employees, who service 14 counties from locations in Ocala and Tallahassee. Currently, the two locations hold roughly $7 million in inventory. While he’s in the business of distributing beer to retailers, Daley stressed that it’s more than just “delivery.”

“We’re deeply involved with all of our retailers and how our brands are presented,” Daley explained. Tri-Eagle distributes for just under 90 suppliers, representing more than 2,000 brands in total. 

Because his business is the nexus between retailers and suppliers, Daley is concerned yearly with potential changes to laws and regulations.

Of particular concern this past year: Legislation (HB 775 and SB 822) that would have permitted beer advertisements in theme parks.

The problem, Daley said, is that the proposed law would give larger brands more leverage over retailers, effectively cornering the distribution market.

If one large beer supplier, such as Anheuser-Busch, contributes to theme park advertising, then it could drop the demand for other brands carried by distributors, or result in theme parks only purchasing advertised beer. The move would affect distributors — even Tri-Eagle, which carries Anheuser Busch products — because it would lessen each distributors ability to diversify suppliers. 

Mitchell Rubin, executive director of Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, an advocacy arm for distributors like Daley, painted a hypothetical: “Imagine if you give [theme parks] $100,000 in cooperative advertising,” Rubin said. “I think you’re going to get your beer [sold].”

Fortunately for Daley and others, those bills died this year — but other legislation, like HB 961, which will allow distributors to give out branded glassware, passed the Legislature this year and could create similar problems.

“We feel as though glassware and taps are so intricately connected,” Rubin said. “If you give a retailer glassware, then they’re going to put your beer on tap.”

Rubin said his association was more “vehemently opposed” to the theme-park legislation, and “backed off” of HB 961 after language was modified to lessen its potential negative effects on distributors.

When asked what regulations he’d like to see modified or created in the future, Tri-Eagle’s Daley credited the state’s current laws for allowing the craft beer craze to flourish and said his advocacy manifests as “defense” against harmful new laws. Both he and Rubin are not seeking out beneficial legislation.

“I don’t really look out there and say ‘there’s something that can help,’” Daley said. He said beer distribution is a vibrant business because “the playing field is level” between retailers, distributors and suppliers. 

In essence, Daley wants lawmakers to keep the environment competitive — unlike what’s happened to the soda industry.

“Walk down the soda aisle today, count the brands, it’s basically Coke and Pepsi,” Daley said.

Rubin added: “Walk to the beer aisle, count the number of different brands — there’s 60 or 70 different brewers.”

Danny McAuliffe

Danny is a contributor at He is a graduate of Fordham Law School and Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. Reach him at [email protected].


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