Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Apple and Molson Coors signal differing views on U.S. manufacturing

Article by Bart Taylor January 21, 2018, 09:33 am MST

It's a contrarian view to consider Apple a manufacturer and not a tech company. But as we've argued, how else to describe the world's most valuable brand? Last year Apple spent about $50 billion with U.S.-based suppliers and manufacturers to build its suite of technology products. By any measure, a company that invests $50 billion in the domestic supply-chain is an American OEM.

For its part, Apple has avoided the "manufacturer" label. And who can blame 'em? Keeping its factories offshore has worked in Apple's favor in two big ways: keeping 700,000-plus "employees" outsourced and ensconced in offshore factories keeps labor costs down and working conditions obscured behind an "Asian Wall." It also enables the company to call itself a technology company versus the dirty-and-dying image associated with manufacturing.

We play along with this curious reasoning, because, well, who cares? We love a winner and Apple's certainly that.

But what if Apple had made more of an investment in American manufacturing early on? I quoted Harold Meyerson earlier this year, who wrote, "If those 700,000 were employed directly by Apple, of course, then Apple would be the world's largest manufacturer." What if billions in cash holdings had been invested in training, in apprenticeships, in factories, in resources to develop a more capable supply chain? What if Apple had wrapped itself in America's industrial legacy, instead?

Last week the company signaled plans to do just that.

Yes, a small percentage of Apple's $350 billion repatriation of cash and services will be invested in manufacturing infrastructure. But the company's stated intentions matter to U.S. manufacturing.

Contrast this with news emanating from Molson Coors.

With a blog post titled "Brewery Taproom Visits Dragging Down Sales at the Corner Bar," the company proclaimed, "As the number of local taprooms and brew pubs continues to grow, so does the number of legal-age drinkers bypassing their traditional neighborhood bars."

Further, "Total on-premise traffic fell 3.6 percent in 2017, according to data analyzed by MillerCoors. Even more troublesome: In five major U.S. cities (Denver, San Diego, Seattle, Phoenix, and Detroit), between 79 percent and 82 percent of consumers did not visit a bar following a trip to a tasting room, the data show."

Huh? Today the corner bar is a craft taproom. Where has Molly Ballash, the MillerCoors category development manager for on-premise, been the past few years? "Our bar partners are missing out on high-volume occasions like dinner and happy hour." 

If Molson Coors' bar partners were today the craft breweries dazzling the sector, the company would be leading from the front. Its choice instead has been to diminish the entrepreneurs inspiring a new generation of beer drinkers, work to hamstring craft's tenuous distribution channels, and otherwise act like an out-of-touch legacy brand. 

Like Apple, Molson Coors also has a choice. It could develop the Coors Craft Fund and award one deserving, early-stage brewery cash and resources. It could graciously return compliments from craft operators who admire the consistent excellence of its iconic pilsner, Coors Banquet Beer, and respect its outstanding malting operation and supply chain acumen. 

Apple has decided to take America's shiny new manufacturing sector out for a test drive. Molson Coors could do the same by supporting its worthy beer-making heirs. 

The time is now.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek. Contact him at btaylor@companyweek.com.

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