Ed Thompkins is the beer buyer for the Heinen's grocery chain in the Cleveland area. He's not just a beer buyer, though. He's also a major beer fan. He can be credited with coming up with the idea for Witless -- the Buckeye Brewing Co. beer that poked fun at LeBron James after he departed the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Thompkins has been with Heinen's for 20 years, spending 15 of those as the wine buyer and five as the beer buyer.
Question: How did you become the beer buyer for the grocery chain?
Answer: Mostly because I love great beer and wine and how well they marry with food. I would certainly be an enthusiastic customer if beer was not my "job" so I feel blessed to be able to really do what I'm passionate about. They say that if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life!
Q: What does a beer buyer do? Your job must consist of just sampling different beers every day, right?
A: As a buyer, you can take two approaches. You can either create your own destiny and identity for the organization or you can let the market drive you and your decisions. I believe that a dynamic and proactive approach is the best strategy because you will always be relevant to your customers. There is quite a bit of sampling involved because there are so many beers available in the market right now, but no I do not sample every night. I take Thursday off…
Q: How has the supermarket beer aisle changed over the years?
A: Night and day would not come close to describe how radical the change has been in the last decade. We are witnessing the Golden Age of beer currently, led by domestic craft producers and augmented by high-quality imports. There's never been a better time to be a beer fan!
Q: Beer lovers surely ask you all the time to carry their favorite beers. Name some of the most requested beers.
A: Sadly many of the requests are beers that either are available in limited or seasonal situations, or beers that are not distributed in our market. The good news is that there are always many other selections that we can recommend that will also deliver a great experience. Since we have added draft beer growlers in six of our stores, many of the requests we are now getting are draft-only beers. For the requested, there's a lot of local -- Great Lakes Brewing, Thirsty Dog, Buckeye but also the really cheeky stuff too from Founders, Epic, Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn.
Q: Yuengling entered the Ohio market last month. How has the consumer responded?
A: Yuengling is in Ohio? Honestly it's been about as expected – which is huge. The key will be to see if the brand has staying power, but right now it's a monster.
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