Kris Spaulding, co-owner and president of the Grand Rapids-based company Living Brewery, has long advocated for sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion in the local brewing community. Now she has a bigger platform to promote company values. Earlier this month, Spaulding was elected to serve as the pub brewery’s representative on the Brewers Association Board of Directors. The 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association has more than 5,600 US-based breweries. Spaulding is one representative of a segment of breweries that sell at least a quarter of their beer locally. MiBiz caught up with Spaulding to find out more about what she hopes to accomplish in her new role.
Being appointed to the Brewers Association Board of Directors gives you a certain national profile within the industry. How would you like to use this position?
I look at this painting in several ways. One is in the context that we’re more on the restaurant side than maybe other breweries. There’s a lot of different regulatory stuff that’s been brewing – no pun intended – for some time in terms of minimum wage and benefits changes and just the state of employment in general right now .
I think this is a pretty important time in our industry to have a voice on what makes sense for the industry and what we should be advocating for on the regulatory side with our state and local governments, but also national . I consider this to be an important element. Along with that, sustainability has always been the biggest part of our identity when it comes to culture and values, and I’m excited to bring that lens to the board.
Brewery Vivant is a certified B Corporation (B Corp), which requires it to achieve high standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. How does this status frame your thinking on some of these diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues?
I would say we’re trying to approach this strategically to change some stats and make sure we’re a welcoming and safe place for everyone. We certainly don’t have the answers yet. It’s a slow process. We learn along the way and use other resources. I’m on the Michigan Brewers Guild DEI committee – it’s great to be with a group of fair value aligned breweries in Michigan and talk about what each of us is doing. It’s a journey that we haven’t all just started. Having good intentions is a good start.
It’s no secret that the craft beer industry continues to have an inclusion problem when it comes to the representation of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. How can the brewers association change or at least recognize the problem?
From what I’ve seen with the Association and the Board talking about it over the past few years, I think they’ve laid a pretty solid foundation. There is a lot of work that has been done. It’s just about continuing to push for the next step and getting everyone in the brewing community to understand the importance of recognizing why diversity is a good thing and understanding what that might look like. I think there are a lot of good intentions right now. The challenge is: What are the things each brewery could do to move forward?
How difficult has it been running a business in the past 15 months, especially for someone like you who has young children and works with your husband?
It was a real doozy there for a while. For the first two months, no one knew what it would look like in the long run until the government stepped in and created programs to help. It was a time I would never want to relive again. It was emotionally very difficult trying to make good decisions that would also benefit the greatest number – our staff, the community and the customers. It was really hard. Once some of these programs were rolled out, they were the life rafts that allowed us to operate our businesses with a different mindset. When I look back and reflect, it was super tough.
With capacity and mask restrictions now lifted, does this sound close to normal for your business?
I think the main factor is the labor shortage. I can’t think of any restaurant I’ve spoken to that feels like it’s fully staffed. Until that dust settles, we will always feel like we are in transition. Until we can hire all the people we need and our hours are what we want them to be, I think we will continue to be in this weird space.
Vivant Brewery has continued to invest during the pandemic, including switching to a new canning format to enter more grocery stores and launching spirits production at sister company Broad Leaf Brewery & Spirits. Is it hard to pull the trigger on those capital investments in these uncertain times?
Because everything is in such a state of turmoil, it was almost easier to make those decisions. It was the mindset of “Well, if there was ever a time to try something new, it’s now.” So we made a lot of decisions, both with 12-ounce cans and even some internal things about how we wanted to allocate our team members’ time and positions. I think a good thing that has come out of such a scary time is that we’ve become a bit riskier with the way we handle things. Why not at this stage?