The Supply Side: Core Brewery & Distillery gets its beer inside Walmart

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 278 views 

Jesse Core has been on the fast track with his Springdale-based Core Brewery & Distillery. He took the beer-making hobby seriously and has turned it into a thriving business over the past four years. But the Core brand recently made its biggest move when it hit cooler shelves at Walmart Stores.

Core grew up in Fort Smith, played baseball at Westark College (now the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith) before he earned a master’s degree in business from Harding University. He left an analyst job at Tyson Foods to make craft beer in his garage and try his hand at running a local brewery. Core continued to add more retail outlets for its bottled, canned and keg of brews, including a location on Rogers Avenue in downtown Fort Smith. When Wal-Mart came calling the company already built a loyal fan base around it’s pubs.

“We met the craft beer buyer for Wal-Mart at our pub a while back. She and I are both from Rogers and we got to talking about the craft beer business,” said Jonas Dunnaway, director of sales and marketing at Core.

Coincidentally, He had met her boss, the director over adult beverages for Walmart, at a golf tournament two years ago. 

“We were in no way ready to sell to Wal-Mart two years ago,” Dunnaway said.

He said Wal-Mart’s craft beer buyers reached out to them about a possible deal to get the Core brand into a few stores as the retailer continues to expand its craft beer selection.

“We met with the buyer and took them four varieties. We have eight in all, some of those are seasonal. They chose two of the four and we also did an exclusive variety pack of the four flavors as well,” Dunnaway said.

He said getting into the store coolers took about six months from start to finish. The retailer put Core in 64 stores in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Little Rock and southwestern Missouri to Joplin.

“We originally had about 80 stores which included Branson and Springfield, but given the demand in the Natural State, we pulled out of those two markets for now because we are maxed out at capacity,” Dunnaway said.

All of the craft beer sold by Core is done in the company’s Springdale Brewery located at 2470 Lowell Road. The company is running at full capacity to supply the 64 Wal-Mart locations, more than 400 other liquor stores around the state and its three retail locations. A fourth is set to soon open in Fayetteville.

Earlier this year Core opened a pub site in downtown Fort Smith. Dunnaway said that location is “kicking butt” and the company is excited about the reception in Core’s hometown of Fort Smith.

“The pubs are a great marketing venue for our craft beers and they have helped Core to build its brand recognition, and get into Wal-Mart,” Dunnaway said.

The Core beer debuted in Northwest Arkansas Wal-Mart Stores on Sept. 14, and into Fort Smith and Little Rock stores by Sept. 21.

Core beer has sold in Macadoodles and other liquor stores. Dunnaway said adding Walmart and the extra sales demand has forced Core to invest in four more tanks, which will be kept outdoors, as the Springdale brewery site has run out of indoor space.

Jesse Core told The City Wire earlier this year that outdoor tanks would the next expansion move. Core said the infrastructure investment in Springdale exceeds $3 million and the company works with two area banks and investors to fund their expansion needs.

Dunnaway said the four new tanks should be in place by early December and will almost double the company’s brewing capacity. He said until then, the company’s pub expansion in Benton County has been put on hold. He said the distillery also located in the Springdale brewery has mostly been idled as it is taking all hands on deck to keep up with the demand from its growing retail beer sales.

He promised the first spirits for retail will come out of the distillery before the end of the year. Dunnaway said the Hanging Judge Whiskey will likely debut in the Fort Smith pub given it’s named after legendary Federal Judge Isaac Parker. 

Dunnaway said it’s hard to believe how fast and far Core Brewery has come since he joined the company three years ago.

“Lucky for us, that Walmart is focusing on expanding its craft beer lines. It’s pretty cool to think we’ve made it into Walmart. Everyone along the way has been great. There have been lots of spreadsheets to maneuver, and there’s Retail Link to master. I have have some help with that … both of my sisters work for Walmart vendors,” Dunnaway said.

Wal-Mart execs said more than two years ago that they had recognized the craft beer craze and the retailer was picking up market share in the adult beverage category in part because it adjusted prices and added to the mix of private labeled brands and craft brews.