Jon Albrecht is the beer buyer for the Akron-based grocery chain Acme Fresh Market. The stores stock a substantial amount of craft beer and many offer draft beer, as well. Since taking over the job, he has focused on reaching out to customers through social media to find out which beers they'd like to see in the stores.
Question: How did you become the beer buyer for Acme Fresh Markets?
Answer: Acme has been in my family and in Akron for over 120 years. I worked in the stores through out high school. I graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina and after a few years out of the state, I moved back and began working in the stores again. My brother approached me with the position to work as the beer and wine buyer, as well as a few other categories, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Q: What does a beer buyer for a grocery chain do exactly?
A: We have made a lot of changes over the past few years as new trends have emerged. My job is to be aware of these trends and execute changes at retail. I am in charge of picking what beers are kept cold, what beers we keep warm and I give the stores a general strategy as to what they should be displaying in bulk. I analyze data and meet with different vendors to brainstorm on new ideas and to learn of success stories. I spend a lot of time in the stores talking to associates and customers to see what's selling and to get a feel as to how we are merchandising the product. Plus, I get to sample a lot of product, which is definitely a perk of the job.
Q: How do you decide which beers to stock, since there’s only so much shelf space? I know you've been pretty aggressive using social media to reach out to beer customers.
A: Outside of the craft segment, I look at space to sales, or how frequent we sell a package vs. how much fits on a shelf. Those big brands are easy to sell, as long as you have them in stock and cold. Otherwise, you will lose out on huge sales opportunities.
Craft is a bit more hands on. I really lean on my vendor partners, social media, and popular beer websites to see if a brand or variety has legs. The social media piece has been a lot of fun. I developed a Facebook page, facebook.com/acmewinebeer, to give the community direct access to the beer and wine decision-maker for Acme, me. We update our "What's on Tap" list for our Growler Shop (Yes we sell fresh draft beer at Acme!), introduce new items and inform the group about new seasonal releases, and take requests.
I'm always asking the Facebook group for help with recognizing new items or special one-offs that are out there. It is an extremely knowledgeable group that has really helped develop our beer departments. I want Acme to be THE place to buy beer and the Facebook community is definitely helping steer the ship.
Q: What’s the best-selling beer at Acme and why do you think it’s so popular?
A: Bud Light is the most popular beer. It's a huge brand that has a huge advertising budget! Craft beer is definitely becoming more of a player in the beer world, but brands like Bud Light still pay the bills. Bud Light gets a bad wrap from some craft fans, but I think it's a phenomenal product. To be able to brew that much beer and have it be as consistent as it is each and every time is really quite remarkable.
Q: Which beer – any beer in the world – do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?
A: Thirsty Dog's 12 Dogs of Christmas or Great Lakes' Christmas Ale. Both beers are seasonal and connect to the core with what I think beer drinking should be about: celebration. Both have done so much for craft beer in our community. They have educated consumers to higher alcohol/more flavorful beer. They basically introduced the seasonal beer concept in our community. So many brands have piggy-backed off of their success. This winter when you go in to Acme, you will see Christmas beers from Louisiana to California and from Texas to Michigan. We are able to do this because of the popularity of Great Lakes and Thirsty Dog.