The new chairman of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association steps into the role at a time of sweeping national change. Gregg Mineo, Director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) in Maine, becomes the newest NABCA Chairman of the Board this May. He follows former Chairman Zander Guy, who guided the organization through the sudden challenges of Covid-19.
But the pandemic is far from over. Many health challenges remain in the (hopefully) final stages of America’s Covid-19 crisis. And the virus still rages horrifically in many other parts of the world.
The pandemic also saw business and consumer trends shift significantly in 2020. Covid touched all parts of our lives, and that included how people produced, bought and sold beverage alcohol products. Ecommerce rocketed ahead. The digital side of the industry advanced many years in a matter of months, as more consumers learned about and became comfortable with buying alcohol online.
Mineo enters his chairmanship facing these new realities. As Covid gradually recedes it leaves behind a dramatically altered landscape. The new chairman will lead NABCA during this time of change by leaning on his lengthy industry experience and his particularly apt theme — Progressive Customer Service.
A Career in Decades
Mineo first joined the beverage alcohol industry 44 years ago. He worked for two liquor suppliers: the former Seagram Company for 24 years, and then Absolut Spirits for eight. In these roles his responsibilities included handling control state accounts.
After leaving Absolut in 2009, he formed his own consulting company, Beviamo Consulting LLC. Mineo worked with small, developing beverage alcohol companies, focusing on strategic planning and business modeling. He also brokered several wine brands. This was a period when Mineo considered himself “semi-retired.”
In 2014, he embarked on his second career. That spring he was selected as the next director of BABLO.
“I was honored to be appointed,” Mineo says. “NABCA was a large factor in me taking the job. I had worked so much with the control states in the past when I was on the other side of the table. The job in Maine was interesting to me because I’d be working so much again with NABCA.”
Mineo has a keen appreciation and understanding of the control state model. Achievements from his time as Director of BABLO include how he helps bring new products to market in Maine.
“There’s this stigma that there’s less availability of products in the control systems,” Mineo says. “But that stigma is flat-out not true.”
He points to his success in Maine, offering consumers ample access to highly allocated and local, new products. “I recommend products for listing every month to our independent commission, and they rarely filter out anything,” Mineo says. “We like to let the trade and the consumer make those decisions.”
“We all have a delisting process, too,” he continues. “It’s not a big deal to delist something if necessary.”
He describes this strategy as a “responsible, orderly path to market. That’s been our hallmark from Day 1. I say it often, and my team uses it and says it.”
For the origin of this mantra, Mineo credits Jeff Anderson, Director of the Idaho State Liquor Division, and the NABCA chairman when Mineo was first appointed in Maine.
“‘Orderly and responsible’, Anderson said to me, and it stuck with me,” Mineo says. “I think so much revolves around that kind of consistency, and being consistent in how we build our businesses.”
“Consistency is something that we want to continue to demonstrate in the drinks industry as control state administrators,” he adds. “We’ve always considered ourselves to be responsible members of the industry. That’s something I would put up against anybody.”
Taking The Helm at NABCA
Mineo began researching the possibility of NABCA chairmanship on the first day of becoming BABLO director. He’s someone who seeks out leadership opportunities, believing he excels in these positions.
Having realized a role he first envisioned six years ago, Mineo now confronts a generational challenge.
“Covid-19 transformed all industries, but the alcohol industry more so than much,” he says. “That’s because we’re tied so heavily into the hospitality industry.”
While many beverage alcohol retailers thrived in the pandemic — named essential businesses, and also benefitting from pantry-stocking early on — on-premise accounts suffered greatly. Mineo applauds the work of “local, state and national governments that all adapted with new legislation that helped ease the burden of the pandemic on these businesses.”
“We see a lot of this legislation staying for the long-term,” he adds. “But it also represents how government agencies can adapt by recognizing the need for interim change without abdicating the government’s role as a regulator.”
Considering current trends, Mineo reflects that, “Covid not so much changed things but accelerated what we already knew was coming.”
This includes rapid growth in the past year for direct-to-consumer alcohol shipping, ecommerce, ready-to-drink cocktails, portable products like cans, lower-alcohol and no-alcohol options.
“All were in the hopper and already coming,” Mineo says. “The pandemic accelerated all these movements.”
With our future increasingly happening today, the new NABCA chairman has chosen for his theme a way through which the industry can handle a rapidly changing world.
Progressive Customer Service
Mineo’s theme as chairman, Progressive Customer Service, is the acknowledgement of a new reality.
“Any organization or industry that cannot recognize the new landscape jeopardizes their own feasibility,” he says. “We’re in a collision course with a new reality, and we need to buckle up.”
Control states face difficulties ahead due to their many constituents. Licensees, purchasers, producers, governmental institutions that rely on alcohol revenue, and citizens that rely on regulators to curb alcohol abuse — all are critical components of the control state system. “We have as many moving parts as anybody else,” Mineo says.
Balancing these numerous segments is not easy.
“I’m always looking for something that moves the needle but also keeps everything in focus from a commercial and responsibility aspect,” Mineo says. “Our communities ask for increased regulation in response to alcohol abuse at the same time that the government wants more tax revenue. That’s our daily dilemma.”
“Control jurisdictions need to be more progressive and efficient in our retail and wholesale operations,” he adds, “more progressive and responsible in our regulatory practices and more progressive and thoughtful in our community outreach programs.”
Mineo is not suggesting that control states currently lack in these areas. Rather, “I’m just asking all NABCA members to keep these things in the forefront and work them into their progressive customer service.”
Goals as Chairman
Mineo’s goals for his term as NABCA chairman include four pillars.
The first began years ago, when Mineo helped NABCA expand its outreach and connection with its international control state partners. These include Canada and Nordic regions like Norway, Finland and Sweden.
While not exact mirrors of the U.S. model, these other countries with control state setups “face the same challenges and issues that we do,” Mineo says. As chairman, he wants to continue strengthening the bonds between these foreign organizations and NABCA.
This past summer, NABCA hosted a virtual conference for all control state industries worldwide. NABCA itself first took part in this annual conference a few years ago, which Mineo attended in Oslo, Norway.
“We had a great conversation with them, very robust,” he recalls. “Their control state systems are very different than how we do it, but common themes run throughout. We have a lot to learn from them, and vice versa.”
The second pillar of his goals is another strengthening of established efforts. As Covid swept across the country this past year, NABCA increased its information gathering and sharing. “We really relied on the NABCA team for that, and they did a tremendous job,” says Mineo. “All the credit in the world belongs to [NABCA President & CEO] Jim Sgueo and his team.”
This informational effort included a website that tracked Covid news, and how jurisdictions nationwide were responding. The site became an invaluable repository for pandemic trends and best practices. It synthesized this information into regular communications that helped control states stay in touch, while also spurring conversations on how best to handle the many challenges.
“I want to continue and expand that to provide the same level of communication services for all levels of NABCA membership,” Mineo says. “I’ve been inspired by the NABCA staff and want to build upon that.”
His third goal taps into a progressive trend that’s taken hold in the country in recent time. Mineo intends to establish a diversity tracking committee. It will discuss how to expand and encourage diversity in the control states.
This goal does not end there. Mineo wants to put into place strategies that can grow and develop all ethnic, gender and religious perspectives in the control state workforces.
“It’s a big challenge, maybe something considered noble, but it’s something that we need to start on,” he says. “I’m especially anxious to support the women who take on leadership roles in our business. And that starts by acknowledging the people who have already stepped up and shown that they can add value in unique ways.”
The Benefit of Control States
The fourth and final pillar of Mineo’s goals is a broader recognition of all the good that control states accomplish. He will seek more ways to tell the industry’s stories effectively.
“I know we’re respected across alcohol industry — I’ve been here 44 years and have always felt that respect — but I also feel like nobody really understands what we do and why,” he says. “It’s time that we find new ways to explain what we do.”
Among these ways is communicating to the public how control states must balance so many stakeholders and constituencies. Important, too, is efficiently and constantly describing what the control state model is about — and why it’s right for the beverage alcohol business.
Mineo wants to make clear how control states help prop up America’s three-tier system. How the control state systems also generate record revenues that flow into state coffers and benefit many parts of public life — including hospitals and public schools. And how this revenue also goes into grants that directly benefit communities across each control state.
And there’s that stigma he plans to fight against: that control states carry worse product selections than their private counterparts. In reality, the opposite is often true, as there’s no inner competition to limit products in the control systems. And if you follow any Facebook whiskey or wine group, the true aficionados know where you’re more likely to track down “white whale” bottles. Selection and consumer opportunities are unbeatable in the control states.
Keeping to his theme of Progressive Customer Service, Mineo believes that innovation is key in the next year ahead.
“What we’re doing now with all of these changes will help carry us out of the pandemic,” he says. “Two years ago, who thought that we’d ever be doing cocktails-to-go? But now we’re doing it and managing it for the right reasons: to bolster and support those private businesses.”
Mineo sees NABCA as “the big tent” propping up the control state system. A place that welcomes new ideas and innovations, bringing together all that valuable information and then disseminating it among members.
Mineo notes the special timing of his tenure: it lines up with the retirement of Sgueo in September. “I’m honored to be the chairman of NABCA when we give our final sendoff to Jim Sgueo,” Mineo says. “He’s someone I know I can always call on after he’s gone.”
“And I have great colleagues that I know I can lean on,” he adds. “It’s a nice balance of seasoned directors and fresh faces that I’m so happy to be working with. I’m just thrilled to have so many people to rely on.”
With these collaborators and ambitious goals — plus plenty of challenges ahead — Mineo is eager to begin.
“It’s a lot,” he says. “I hope 12 months is enough time to do my job and do it to the best of my abilities.”