This spring, Whole Foods stores in Washington and Oregon are featuring a curated beer program called “10 and Friends.” The stores feature 10 Northwest microbrews that follow a theme, plus two additional “friends” that are closely related.
The current 10 and Friends program features IPAs and hopped ciders. Here’s the list:
Elysian Space Dust IPA
Breakside Lunch Break ISA
Laurelwood Workhorse IPA
Ninkasi Tricerihops Double IPA
10 Barrel Easy Black IPA
Hale’s Ales Supergoose Double IPA
Pelican Red Lantern IPA
Walking Man Homo Erectus IPA
Backwoods Brewing Logyard IPA
Apple Outlaw Hopped Up Cider
Square Mile Hopped Cider
Erez Klein does libation procurement for Whole Foods Northwest, and that means he oversees purchasing, sales, vendor partnerships, product mix, programs, and projected sales margins of all alcoholic beverages. The 10 and Friends program falls under his scope of responsibility.
“We wanted a way to showcase new local beers, and beers you should try,” he says.
Klein says programs like this keep individual stores tied to their respective communities. “This is not a centralized company. That makes things a little more complicated for us internally, and for vendors and partners, too. But it’s also our virtue, and it’s what allows us to be innovative and to keep things fresh,” he says.
Each store in the region votes and offers input for 10 and Friends. Each store’s beer buyers and team leaders are polled on which breweries and themes they want to feature in the program.
In general, Klein says his stores select beers that have distribution in at least Oregon and Washington, but he does take on between 10 and 15 new breweries that self-distribute each year. These are new breweries that don’t yet have the means to pay a distribution company to get their products to stores. Individual stores have plenty of opportunity to promote those beers, and other artisan local products, at their discretion.
Klein says when breweries first begin to bottle their products, usually in 22 ounce bottles because it’s the most affordable bottling size, that’s when they first approach him to be on Whole Foods’ shelves. But he needs to see some sort of success before they’re accepted at his stores.
“A brewery will open, and they pick a neighborhood they want to exist in. Initial sales come out of the taproom at the brewery,” he says. “I can’t tell you how important that is. If you can’t make it that level, you’re not going to make it unless your financing is so grand that you can enter on a state or regional basis as your first step. But that usually doesn’t happen.”
After the neighborhood taproom is open, it needs to be full all the time. Klein says the brewery should be making noise and gaining a loyal following on social media, and pubs and restaurants should be approaching the brand instead of the the brand always reaching out to them. Then the brewery has a chance with Whole Foods.
10 and Friends isn’t limited to simply having beer and cider on store shelves. Each store will host tasting events through the month. Click here to find more events at Bellevue Whole Foods.