How One Merchant Tapped into Small Breweries Making a Big Difference
By Elizabeth Walker, Walmart Corporate Affairs
To identify the latest trends in their categories, Walmart merchants typically turn to line reviews, trade shows and market visits. But sometimes, they find new suppliers and cool products the way the rest of us do: on social media.
That was the case for Walmart craft beer merchant Adrienne Freeman when she discovered San Antonio-based Weathered Souls Brewing Co.
She first came across Weathered Souls from an Instagram post listing Black-owned companies. As she learned more about Weathered Souls’ amazing selection of products, she realized it had the potential to be a perfect fit for Walmart customers.
Adrienne has been with Walmart for five years and has been buying in the craft beer category for the central U.S. region for just under two years. “My main role is to be an advocate for the customer,” she said. “Every day, I am trying to discover new beers the customers want and what innovations are happening in the industry, all while trying to get customers the best price.”
Adrienne learned Weathered Souls produces high-quality brews of various styles, including Hardwood Classic, a pilsner whose name is a nod to basketball, and a hazy IPA called Who's Got the Juice Now?. What’s more, the brewery had developed an initiative called Black is Beautiful aimed at fighting racial injustice in local communities. Marcus Baskerville Weather Souls Brewery Marcus Baskerville is Weathered Souls’ head brewer and cofounder. He noted the majority of both brewers and consumers of craft beer are white. “A Black man in brewing is an anomaly,” he said. “There are fewer than 70 Black-owned breweries in the U.S.”
Marcus developed the idea for the Black is Beautiful initiative in May 2020 to bring awareness to the injustices that many people of color face daily. He
came up with the recipe for the Black is Beautiful stout, which he says was a natural choice not only for the beer’s hue but because Weathered Souls is known for producing highquality stouts.
Last summer, Weathered Souls committed to donate a portion of the stout’s proceeds to local foundations that supported social justice. Then, they took it a step further. The business published the recipe and the packaging so that other breweries could brew Black is Beautiful, too, as long as they committed to donate a portion of the beer's profits to organizations working to support diversity and fight injustice in their local communities.
“We currently have nearly 1200 breweries in all 50 states and 22 countries participating in this initiative,” Marcus said.
Adrienne knew early on the stout was a good fit for Walmart. She felt confident craft beer drinkers would respond to the rich, malty stout. Moreover, she understood Weathered Souls’ commitment to social justice was in line with Walmart’s values, including the retailer’s commitments to supplier diversity and racial equity. “Weathered Souls not only was able to do something to drive the conversation but also backed it up with a commitment to their community,” Adrienne said.
Up to that point, Black is Beautiful was mainly sold in bars and taprooms. To bring it to the retail market, Adrienne coordinated with Weathered Souls and eight other craft breweries: • 3 Sons Brewing Co. – Dania Beach, Florida • Catawba Brewing Co. – Asheville, North Carolina • Core Brewing Co. – Springdale, Arkansas • Monday Night Brewing – Atlanta, Georgia • Palmetto Brewing Co. – Charleston, South Carolina • Revision Brewing Company – Sparks, Nevada • Solemn Oath Brewery – Naperville, Illinois • Southern Prohibition Brewing – Hattiesburg, Mississippi
The Black is Beautiful stout can be found in roughly 300 Walmart stores around the U.S. from February through March this year (and in 55 Walmart stores year-round in Texas). Weathered Souls and the eight brewers are brewing this beer to support diversity, inclusion and social justice. Walmart will also highlight Black-owned wine and spirits brands, such as Black Girl Magic Wine by the McBride Sisters.
As part of their strategy to provide a strong assortment of discovery items and provide store of the community merchandise, the Walmart adult beverage team has been on a journey to expand their local craft beer business. Over the past two years, they have added over 200 brewers to their portfolio and are set to add another 100 breweries starting in April.
“Innovation isn’t necessarily about finding the latest odd gadget,” Adrienne said. “It’s about finding the gaps in the category, what needs have not been met. Innovation is really about trying to find a solution for the customer.”