Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing CEO resigns amid slow growth in craft beer sector
The chief executive of Lagunitas Brewing Co. of Petaluma announced Thursday she’s leaving the company after nearly five years as its Dutch parent company asserts more control over the pioneering and idiosyncratic craft brewery.
Maria Stipp’s last day is Friday and then she’ll be replaced by Dennis Peek, managing director of Heineken Canada and a longtime veteran of the Amsterdam-based company.
The announcement comes after Lagunitas has gone through two spates of layoffs since 2018 under Stipp’s tenure. She’s worked to realign the brewing company amid slowing growth in the U.S. craft beer sector.
“Maria has decided to pursue a different challenge in her career. I would like to thank Maria for her leadership over the past five years,” Marc Busain, president of Heineken Americas, said in a statement.
Stipp and Busain declined to be interviewed for this story, according to a company spokesman.
Heineken International has fully owned Lagunitas since 2017, after founder Tony Magee and the rest of his investors sold the remaining half of the craft brewery to the world’s second-largest brewer. Lagunitas now employs 650 people at its Petaluma plant and in Chicago. Magee had hired Stipp to manage the craft brewer’s exploding growth.
During her tenure, Stipp, 52, a former executive at video game developer Activision, helped lead Lagunitas into different product categories beyond its well-known India pale ales. That included DayTime IPA, which has only 98 calories and 4% alcohol content, to appeal to more health-conscious drinkers. The brewer also produced a cannabis drink by partnering with CannaCraft of Santa Rosa. However, Lagunitas was slower than its rivals such as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico to get into the popular hazy beer craze.
Another big focus for Stipp was on the international market, by leveraging Heineken’s expertise to reach customers overseas where the parent company’s beer is sold in almost 200 countries. Lagunitas had started brewing beer in Wijlre, Netherlands, and opened a taproom in Amsterdam with a goal to get distribution into 50 countries by the end of the year.
The overall U.S. beer sector has undergone dramatic change, particularly as hard seltzer has taken away market share from beer with growth of 250% and sales nearing $1.6 billion last year, according to Nielsen. That has forced beer companies to lay off workers and look for new revenue by canning more beer than bottling it, among other moves.
Brian Hunt, founder of Moonlight Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa in which Lagunitas has a 50% ownership stake, said that Stipp had been under pressure given the challenges of the beer market.
“Things are changing faster than anything today,” said Hunt, who recently had a canning line installed at Moonlight that will boost his annual production of 3,000 ?barrels. “There is no reason that anybody should expect the brewing industry to be any less volatile than the restaurant industry.”
Peek, the new Lagunitas CEO, has been with Heineken since 2001, working in New York and Barcelona. He has led Heineken Canada since August 2016. His first day running Lagunitas is Friday.
“I am incredibly excited to continue the journey for Lagunitas’ success and growth over the next few years,” Peek said in a statement. “Lagunitas is a special company, and I feel extremely energized to be able to work with amazing people and fantastic products.”
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.