What Happened

National prohibition (1920-1933) and  the Great Depression (1929-1938) forced half of the nation’s breweries to shut down. Only 100 of the 1,300 U.S. brewers operating in 1915 survived. The companies who lived on had to diversify and expand their product offerings well beyond beer.

How They Responded

ANHEUSER-BUSCH: To stay alive, the company sold half of its real estate assets and expanded into vehicle production. It launched:  

  • A department that retrofitted cars from Ford, Chevrolet, and other makers into freight vehicles. This led the company to develop the first refrigerated box truck, which it sold to various beverage and food vendors. The innovation also allowed  Anheuser-Busch to start selling ice cream, grape soda and yeast because the company could keep the products cool. 
  • The Lampsteed Kampkar, a camper car, and the Bevo Victory Boat, a vehicle designed for traversing both land and water. The Kampar wasn’t wildly popular, but it was profitable. 
  • Police vans for Prohibition officers to (ironically) capture bootleggers.

PABST BLUE RIBBON: The Wisconsin-based brewer started to make cheese by aging it in the company’s ice cellars. PBR sold its cheese division to Kraft in 1933.

COORS: The Colorado-based brewer used the natural clay deposits around its factory to launch a ceramics business, CoorsTek. During Prohibition, as alcohol sales stopped, the ceramics business, composed mostly of dinnerware, helped to keep the Coors’ family fortune afloat. Today, CoorsTek is the world’s largest manufacturer of engineered-ceramics, with more than $1.25 billion in sales. CoorsTek supplies parts for brakes, airbags, mirrors and headrests (for Ford), valves (for McDonald’s soda machines) and bulletproof armor (for the Military). 

The Big Questions

Actionable questions that can influence your business. 

  • How can you modify your product offering to serve current consumer needs, while also adjusting for new price sensitivities?
  • What types of businesses can you partner with to produce essential products that are in high demand?
  • If your current business is stagnating because of quarantines, what would a more aggressive pivot look like to ensure you and your team can remain as intact as possible, even if your business model and/or target customers change?