On Wednesday night, as DRAFT’s editors were settling into our usual post-work beers, we received a somewhat cryptic email:
“Wanted to give you guys the heads up stone began the process of laying off roughly 50 of their longest tenured employees today. Many have been with the company over 10 years.” tweet
We were befuddled. Stone is currently the ninth-largest craft brewery in the U.S., having produced more than 325,000 barrels of beer last year, according to the Brewers Association, and it’s expanding at a rapid rate—the brewery opened production facilities in Berlin in mid-September and in Richmond, Virginia in March. Another location in Napa, California is slated to open next year. The timing for a mass layoff seemed … off.
But Thursday afternoon, reports of the dismissals—many of them from the former employees themselves—began to roll in. “Feeling shocked and incredibly sad for many of my friends at Stone Brewing Co. How did it come to this?” former Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele said in a Facebook post. “75+ layoffs. Some of the people that were such an integral part of Stone’s culture—a few of them pre-dated me. I can’t believe it.”
Denise Ratfield, Stone’s longtime receptionist, released her own Facebook post after learning she was being downsized:
“It’s a bellwether day, and one that I did not see coming. Today, along with dozens of others, I was laid off from Stone Brewing. Although it will be a challenging transition after 7 years with a legendary brewery, I know that new opportunities lay ahead. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my career and so very lucky that I am in the best beer community on planet earth. Thanks to all the friends and family I made along the way at Stone that I hold in high regard. You made it wonderful. Let the new adventure begin!” tweet
Stone did not answer calls for comment, but the brewery did release the following statement (emphasis theirs):
“Due to an unforeseen slowdown in our consistent growth and changes in the craft beer landscape, we have had to make the difficult decision to restructure our staff. Unfortunately, this comes despite a year that includes the incredible accomplishments of opening two new breweries, which are ultimately expanding the availability of Stone beers and boosting the reputation of American craft beer in Europe. tweet
“More recently however, the larger independent craft segment has developed tremendous pressures. Specifically, the onset of greater pressures from Big Beer as a result of their acquisition strategies, and the further proliferation of small, hyper-local breweries has slowed growth. With business and the market now less predictable, we must restructure to preserve a healthy future for our company. Even given this unfortunate circumstance, we will continue to be fiercely independent and, importantly, Stone remains one of the largest – if not the largest – employers in the craft brewing segment. tweet
“It is crucial to recognize that this decision was made after much careful consideration. Approximately 5% of all team members were affected, and they were offered a substantial notice period and career transition services. The team members no longer with our company are talented, committed individuals who have held important roles in our organization, and we expect that their talents will be in high demand. This reduction was not a reflection of the work they did, but a careful decision made to ensure that our company will remain competitive and profitable. No additional layoffs are expected within Stone’s foreseeable future. tweet
“In summary, we want to emphasize the following points:
– This year, we completed several significant investments that have been in the works for a number of years.
– A recent decline in domestic growth for the category and for Stone has forced us to restructure in order to preserve our independence in an increasingly competitive category.
– Stone remains one of the largest – if not the largest – employer in the craft beer segment and remains dedicated to providing our fans with fresh beer.“ tweet