Cheers all around: Goldsboro’s Jeffreys family inks record beer-industry deal

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The biggest sale of an Anheuser-Busch distributor in U.S. history just occurred in North Carolina.

Goldsboro-based R.A. Jeffreys Distributing Co. LLC, which started distributing A-B beers in 1923, was acquired by three different N.C.-based distributors. The company sold Budweiser and other products to retailers throughout most of eastern North Carolina, including Raleigh, Greenville and Wilmington.

Terms of the deal that took effect Friday weren’t disclosed, but trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights estimated the transaction totaled $350 million to $400 million, Publisher and Editor Benj Steinman says.

Jeffreys’ website notes the company was the fifth-largest A-B wholesaler in the U.S., with operations in 36 N.C. counties. More than 600 people work for the family-owned company that Robert Jeffreys, grandson of the founder, has led as president since 1997. Other owners included his sisters Leigh Jeffreys Fanning, who is vice president, and Ellen Jeffreys Bland.

Anheuser-Busch owner AB InBev has a nearly 30% market share of the world’s beer sales, including about 40% in the U.S. It sells Budweiser, Michelob and dozens of other brands through wholesalers who have exclusive territorial rights.

In the transaction, parts of Jeffreys were acquired by Charlotte-based Adams Beverages of North Carolina LLC, Greensboro-based R.H. Barringer Distributing Co., and Rocky Mount-based Carolina Eagle Distributing Inc. Each of those companies is also family owned.

Barringer is picking up Wake County, becoming the state’s biggest wholesaler. Adams is gaining rights to much of the southeastern part of the state from Anson County in the west to New Hanover and other coastal counties. Carolina Eagle acquired rights to seven eastern N.C. counties, including Pitt, Wilson and Nash.

Jeffreys grew rapidly between 2007-10 when it bought five distributors, making it the state’s biggest A-B wholesaler with about 17  million cases sold annually, Steinman says. “They were a big-time acquirer, so it’s a bit surprising that they decided to sell,” he says.

The company had a setback in 2017 when its plan to merge with two distributors in Georgia and South Carolina was rebuffed by A-B, which retains considerable power over its wholesalers. The Jeffreys would have been partners in the merged company company, but the deal was canceled after A-B sued in federal court, Steinman says.

Last June, N.C. lawmakers passed a bill favored by wholesalers that limited brewers’ ability to block the sale of one distributor to another.

Locally owned craft brews are gaining market share from traditional national and international companies, but Anheuser-Busch has responded effectively by buying about 10 smaller upstarts, Steinman says. While increasingly competitive, beer wholesaling remains a lucrative enterprise, he adds.

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