2 February 2021

Research pick: A case of whiskey during covid - "From grain to glass to COVID-19"

A case study of a US whiskey company examines the business operations from grain to glass with particular focus on the company’s downstream supply chain and how the global coronavirus pandemic has affected risks, efficiencies, and modes of distribution.

Angelyn Bidlack, Jenny Fisher, Lascelles Hussey, Alyssa Rudner, and Janaina Siegler of the Lacy School of Business at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, explain how the company Midwest Whiskey was established by partners in 2014 who had left their previous day jobs to pursue this new business venture. Their ethos was to create and market a line of inexpensive, whiskeys produced entirely within Indiana, from grain to glass. Bourbon whiskey is legally required to be derived from at least 51% corn. Given that Indiana is the fifth biggest corn producer in the USA, it seemed a natural fit.

The company’s success brought challenges for the majority shareholder Casey Dixon as did grain storage and efforts to expand into bigger wholesale markets with the requisite state and federal laws. At the start of 2020, the company, nevertheless was poised for bigger and better things. New staff had been taken on, aging barrels acquired. Then Covid-19 emerged, rocking almost every industry worldwide. The team discusses the company’s response to the pandemic and how the environment for growth changed significantly through the course of the year.

One avenue of growth is the premium mixer market for home cocktail makers. While mixers are not the core business, they do open up lateral marketing possibilities as well as help raise brand awareness. Other creative marketing and business approaches are discussed in the case study that may well offer lessons to other companies as well as revealing to business students how companies are forced to adapt in the face of adversity.

At the time of writing, the pandemic is anything but over, a future of bustling, thriving restaurants and tasting rooms can be hoped for, but there is a long way to go before our new normal becomes the old normal once more.

Bidlack, A., Fisher, J., Hussey, L., Rudner, A. and Siegler, J. (2020) ‘From grain to glass to COVID-19’, Int. J. Teaching and Case Studies, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.358–374.

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