Adrienne Freeman, a merchant at Walmart, went on the hunt to find a craft beer to stock the shelves of the retail super-giant. Like many merchants in her position, she went on Instagram to find potential new products, and came across Marcus Baskerville, co-founder and head brewer at Weathered Souls Brewing Co., a Black-owned craft brewery based out of San Antonio, Texas.
“In a market where there are over 8,000 breweries in the US, yet fewer than 70 of them are Black-owned breweries, this was something that immediately caught my eye,” Freeman told AfroTech. “Their portfolio showcased a brewer who was clear on their brand personality, keen on the types of high growth styles the market is demanding, and had figured out their specialty and gained a strong reputation for it. On top of making good liquid, they mastered the marketing component by creating product names that made you want to stop and check out their lineup. I knew they had all of the elements that Walmart customers would be looking for.”
Like many industries, the craft beer industry is one that is woefully lacking in diversity. As Thrillist correctly pointed out in their 2015 article on the subject, the “why” is rooted in social injustice and racism — or, as food historian Frederick Douglas Opie explains, “as they grow popular, [things] become very hip, yuppie, and white.”
Considering that beer was first invented 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, we are long overdue to dispense the notion that craft beers need to be hip, yuppie, and white.
And that’s a notion, too, that Freeman is looking to change in the Walmart customer’s minds as they stock up on Weathered Souls’ Black is Beautiful beer, which she says will be available at roughly 300 Walmart stores through March and in 55 stores year-round in Texas. She also said that Weathered Souls’ beer will be the first of many Black-owned craft beers available in Walmart stores nationwide.
“When I learned about their Black is Beautiful project, I was inspired by their commitment to making a change in local communities. Our customers care about shopping local brands because of the direct impact it provides to their communities, which is a key reason we’re dedicated to accelerating the growth of our craft beer assortment,” she said. “After learning more about Weathered Souls’ portfolio of products, I knew they’d be a great fit for Walmart. Their commitment to creating diversity in their industry and fighting racial injustice aligns with Walmart’s values. Leveraging our size and scale was a natural tool to bring growth to the Black is Beautiful initiative and introduce new craft beers that our customers care about.”
Freeman also says that this Walmart initiative of diversifying their shelves not only goes above and beyond the craft beer business, but goes past Black History Month. According to her, the retail super-giant sourced nearly $11 billion from diverse suppliers as part of their commitment to elevating small and diverse businesses.
However, she says, there’s a methodology behind what she chooses to buy for Walmart’s shelves, as well.
“Buying products is a blend of art and science. A good merchant leans on historical data (the science) to get a sense of where they’ve been, but they’re also willing to be bold, take risks, and trust their intuition when it comes to making future decisions (the art),” she said. “Retail is one of the most exciting careers you can have and it’s full of possibilities—it can truly be whatever you want it to be. Be hands-on, humble, and here to make a difference.”
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.