Germany: State-owned Rothaus brewery suffers from declining sales

Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, which was one of Germany's fastest growing breweries at the turn of the century and achieved its sales peak in 2008 with 941,000 hl, suffered last year again from declining sales. In 2017, Rothaus reported sales of only €74.8 million after €75.6 million the year before (-1.1%). Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) amounted to €28.5 million, €1.3 million less (-4.4%) than the year before.

The brewery, which stopped releasing official figures for volume sales and profit a few years ago, is said to have achieved last year sales of about 700,000 hl with 246 people last year. Despite declining sales, the state of Baden-Württemberg owning 100% of the shares of Rothaus, still receives double-digit million dividends every year resulting from profits in the same amount.

When presenting the company’s annual results on Monday, Rothaus CEO Christian Rasch blamed the bad weather for the weak performance last year. He expressed his hope that better weather and the FIFA World Cup in Russia is going to reverse the negative trend this year. However, market observers see a more fundamental problem of the brewery. Rothaus, which had for many years been able to take a unique profit from the positive image of the Black Forest region, sees more and more neighboring private breweries copying the strategy and eating into the sales of the state-owned brewery.

Privatbrauerei Waldhaus does not only share a similar name but is also located only 20 kilometers south of Rothaus. The private-owned brewery achieved in 2017 its eleventh all-time production record in a row. Waldhaus sold last year 93,000 hl (+9.4%) of beer and had a turnover of €11.4 million (+11.8%). The active owner of the brewery, Dieter Schmid, has repositioned his brewery in the last years to become one of the leading craft beer breweries in Germany. Still, nearly 50% of all sales are achieved with Diplom Pils, a product which has gained several titles and awards including World’s Best German-Style Pale Lager 2016 in UK’s World Beer Award , a Gold Award 2017 in the Brussels’ Monde Selection and a SilverMedal in the World Beer Cup 2006 and 2008. In 2013 Waldhaus was awarded a national honorary award by the German Agricultural Society (DLG) and the title Brewery of the Year (together with several other breweries like Maxlrainer, Distelhäuser, Schmucker).

Another local competitor is Familienbrauerei Bauhöfer from Renchen-Ulm, on the western boundaries of the Black Forest. The brewery sells a look-alike product of Rothaus’ 2016 jubilee beer Schwarzwald Maidle called Schwarzwaldmarie. The label of the dry hopped lager, which was presented to the public in September 2016 half a year after the Rothaus’ beer, shows also a girl in the traditional Black Forest costume.

The German Agency to Combat Unfair Competition (Wettbewerbszentrale) brought the product to court not because of the similarity of both products but because of its origin. The agency said the Bauhöfer beer was misleading the consumer because the brewery is located in the Upper Rhine Valley, which is not part of the Black Forest. In June 2017 the court ruled that the brewery is correct because Renchen-Ulm is l is indeed not located in the heart of the Black Forest (like Rothaus) but still within its boundaries. Many people assumed at that time – also it was not confirmed – that Rothaus initiated the claim against Bauhöfer.

Last but not least there is Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu. The brewery , which is led in its fourth generation by managing partner Carl Glauner together with his managing director Markus Schlör, is located in the homonymous town in the Black Forest and sold last year 207,000 hl of beer (+5.0%). Sales reached €25.4 million (+4.9) in 2017. Like its competitors the brewery launched last year a new product called Schwarzwald-Michel, which also serves the classic Black Forest stereotype like Schwarzwald Maidle and Schwarzwaldmarie.  "The move of consumers towards high-quality, regional products brings us further development potential," says Carl Glauner. And this seems to be true for all breweries in the region.

Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, was founded in 1791 and is located in one of the most picturesque areas of Germany in the midst of the southern Black Forest about 1,000 meters above sea level . The brewery belonged to the Benedictine monastery of St. Blasien until 1806 when - in the course of secularization - the brewery was expropriated and became the property of the state of Baden, which later became Baden-Württemberg. During the next 150 years the brewery remained relatively dormant and insignificant, mainly because of its remote location far away from major cities.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the lack of advertising and promotion consumers rediscovered the local brewery in the 1970s and 1980s. Its main product Tannenzäpfle Pils (“little pine cone” in the regional dialect), a beer sold mainly in 0.33 l bottles, which was not very common at that time in the south of Germany, and which had old-fashioned labels that were unchanged for decades became a cult.

When Hans Pfender, who had been CEO since 1966, handed over the business in 1991 to his successor Dr.Norbert Nothhelfer , a former chairman of the regional council of Freiburg, the brewery had already grown to over 300,000 hl. Mr. Nothelfer was able to maintain the momentum and nearly tripled the output within the next 13 years. He was succeeded in 2004 by Thomas Schäuble, Baden- Wuerttemberg’s former Minister of the Interior and brother of long-standing German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

In 2006, when the new brewhouse was inaugurated, the brewery had a turnover of €88.2 million and produced 937,000 hl with about 90 percent of the beer sold in the state of Baden-Württemberg. After being the head of Rothaus Brewery for almost eight years, Thomas Schäuble fell seriously ill in 2012 and deceased in January 2013. Christian Rasch, a former Sales and Marketing Director of local rival Stuttgarter Hofbräu, became Schäuble’s successor in 2013 and is the first non-politician for several decades to lead the brewery.

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