Atlantic Business Magazine’s 2022 Stewart McKelvey Innovator of the Year, Mitch Cobb
Posted on April 21, 2022 | By Stephen Kimber | 0 Comments
It was early December 2019, and Mitch Cobb was in Santa Monica, California, attending BevNET, “the leading business conference for the beverage industry.”
Cobb is the co-founder and CEO of Upstreet, a Prince Edward Island-based craft brewery that had grown from “a few buds sitting around slugging back homebrew and talking big game of dropping it all to open a brewery of our own,” to a small startup with eight employees and one location in 2015, then 50 employees and three taprooms, including one in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, just four years later.
By 2017, Upstreet had also obtained coveted B Corp certification, an internationally recognized designation that a business is “meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.” That had helped fulfil, and validate, Cobb’s own longstanding personal business ambition: to create a successful company that combined profit with purpose.
And yet, sitting in his Santa Monica Beach Hotel room that day on the edge of winter in 2019, Mitch Cobb couldn’t help but feel he was at a crossroads, one that was both professional and personal.
Upstreet itself appeared to be doing very well. Early on, the company had discovered profit margins were better when it sold its beer directly to customers instead of through retailers, so Upstreet had opened its own taprooms. The Craft Beer Corner in downtown Charlottetown begat Barbecue BrewHouse with Chef Bill Pratt in Dartmouth, which begat what seemed like an obvious model for continued business expansion and growth.
And yet, when Cobb and his co-founder, Mike Hogan, sat down earlier in 2019 to discuss expansion options, “we took a look at what our core competencies were and recognized that they weren’t in restaurant management or hospitality. We were doing it, but it wasn’t where our skill sets were.”
Cobb describes that as “a rookie mistake a lot of businesses make, chasing opportunities that come up, and running after everything.”
But if Upstreet’s future was not in the restaurant management business, where should it be?
Upstreet, of course, was also a craft brewery. It had become highly skilled at brewing the beers its customers prized. But “it was really starting to feel constrained in the craft beer space,” Cobb recalls, “because craft beer is such a hyper-local market. Everyone wants to support their local craft brewery.”
When Upstreet opened in 2015, there were just three companies trying to occupy the beery space on P.E.I. By 2019, there were three times as many. In Atlantic Canada, the competition had become staggering. Upstreet was now pitting its products, beer keg to beer keg, with beers from close to 150 competing brewing and selling operations. That, of course, not only complicated getting its own products listed for sale in other provinces, but it also made it ever more difficult to generate sales traction in an already over-soused market.
But what if they were to take Upstreet’s expertise in craft beer and extrapolate…?
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