I'm not a beer drinker, but this was an interesting question to
Local interest declined and Primo died a slow death after the brewery
and bottling operations were shipped to the mainland in 1979. 100
years in production, a run originated by Honolulu Brewing & Malting
Co. Ltd. in 1898, Primo was brewed for the last time in November 1998.
Hawaii Business - Food & Beverage
"Walk into most supermarkets in Hawaii and you will see a clear case
of dueling beers. Next to each other in the center of the premium beer
section most likely as not stand offerings from Kona Brewing Co. and
Alii Brewing Co., two beer outfits that are vying to dominate the
local suds scene. Both are chasing the ghost of the past, a fabled
brand called Primo that for years ruled the Hawaii beer market and
duked it out with major national brands with great success.
Despite the still-lingering rosy glow, Primo died a slow death after
the brewery and bottling operations were shipped to the mainland in
1979 and local interest declined. Primos departure from its Pearl
City brewery foreshadowed the general demise of medium sized regional
breweries around the country. When Schlitz Brewing Co. (the final
owner of the brand) stopped brewing Primo in May 1998, it was no
surprise. The beer had been a loser for years, with case volume
sliding to nearly one-tenth of its peak.
Say the word Primo and locals smile and remember giving cases to their
garbage men for Christmas or slurping Primo at a backyard luau. But
Primo, as it was, seems like an economic non-starter. The costs of
restarting a large-scale local brewery would run into the millions
with no return in sight for a number of years. Profit margins already
slim at less than 10 percent in the brewing business would be slimmer.
Of course, the big three would make every attempt to price the new
beer out of the market, if it were to be positioned as an everymans
beer like Primo once was.
So Primos days as Hawaiis Budweiser seem to be over. "Primo was an
industrial beer. I dont see much of a chance of that here in Hawaii,"
explains Mattson Davis, the general manager of Kona Brewing. "Its a
different niche than the ones that Hawaiis beer companies are in
now." That said, Davis and his counterparts at Alii would be more than
happy to snag a hefty double-digit share of the Hawaii beer market
like Primo once did."
"WHOS THE NEXT PRIMO?
Right now, of the two Hawaii brews, Kona sells significantly more beer
but that gap may close in the future. But neither is coming close to
the level of old Primo. There are a number of reasons for this. The
state of Hawaii also handcuffs local breweries. "Multiple locations
are not allowed. A brewery such as ours cannot have an offsite
restaurant, and a brewpub cannot produce more than 10,000 barrels of
beer," explains Brennan. On top of that, Hawaiis beer tax levied on
gallons of keg or bottled beers is significantly higher than beer
taxes in most mainland states. The states 11 brewpubs and breweries
are forming a lobbying group to get relief. However, these factors
have already impacted the market and will likely continue to do so."
"Unlike Primo, both Alii and Kona have positioned themselves as
premium beers. This is by design but the extra two or three dollars or
so that they cost is more than a little bit in Hawaii. "The local
people are very price driven. In the grocery store its pretty
challenging," says Davis. "At the bar, the price difference is 50
cents a glass between us and domestics instead of almost twice as much
like you find in the supermarket. Thats much easier to sell.""
From: Pacific Business News
Primo is Pau
"Just short of 100 years in production, a run originated by Honolulu
Brewing & Malting Co. Ltd. in 1898, Primo was brewed for the last time
"Volume in Hawaii had fallen from a peak of around 12,000 cases a
month to 1,200 cases a month, according to Dave Dolim, supervisor at
Primo's local distributor Paradise Beverages, which has represented
Primo for well over a decade. He said Stroh worked different angles
trying to increase volume, including making the beer available in
parts of California and on Cape Cod, Mass., as far back as 1986. Primo
was even sold in Japan for awhile. Other attempts were made in
Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado."
"It just wasn't working," Dolim said.
Hawaii has always been the largest market for Primo. And in 1996 when
Stroh, the nation's fourth-largest brewing company, acquired the
nation's fifth-largest brewing company, G. Heileman Brewing Co. Inc.,
there were plans to move production of Primo to a G. Heileman plant in
either Portland or Seattle to reduce shipping costs.
But anemic volume and a lack of room at the West Coast breweries ruled
out the change that may have sustained Primo.
"The brewery did do their best trying to get the volume up," Dolim
One factor in the ailing demand for Primo seems to have been bottle
Over its history, Primo has changed a few times between brown and
Dolim said when Stroh changed from brown to green bottles in 1985 and
a new long-neck shape in 1986, sales rocketed up to 12,000 cases a
month in Hawaii. Volume tapered off sharply when the company switched
back to brown bottles in 1990-91 for beer stability reasons.
(Sunlight, which is better blocked by brown glass, can disturb beer
The theory is local beer drinkers were those without much money to
spend, those who saw Heineken and Steinlager in green bottles wanted
premium-like beer for an economical price.
"They figure green is green," Dolim said.
Primo retails for somewhere in the $4-something to $5-something price
range for a six pack with occasional specials as low as $3-something.
Dolim said there was a move to change back to green bottles in the
plan to brew Primo on the West Coast. Alas, the suds never got a
Mattson Davis, general manager of Kona Brewing Co., said the overall
beer market has shrunk over the last 10 years. Fewer consumers and
more micro breweries were a couple factors leading brewing giants like
Stroh to pick winners and losers among their labels.
Dolim said Stroh held negotiations with all four Hawaii micro
breweries in an attempt to continue the brewing of Primo and return it
to its Hawaii-made status. But Hawaii's fledgling micro breweries are
trying to focus on viability and growth of their own operations.
"It doesn't really fit with the portfolio of hand-crafted beer," Davis
"[Stroh] certainly made a go of trying to get it back to being brewed
in Hawaii," Dolim said, adding the company was willing to offer a
subsidy and lend the label to a Hawaii brewer while retaining brewing
control and product rights. He also said Stroh was not necessarily
concerned with making money.
Primo was a drop in a bucket for Stroh. Forbes Inc. ranked the
brewery, factoring in the G. Heileman operation, No. 113 in its top
500 private companies with estimated 1996 revenue of $1.35 billion and
operating profits of $35 million.
Founded in 1850 by Bernard Stroh, the company remains family-owned and
distributes beers including Stroh's, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Schaefer,
Special Export, Old Style, Rainier, Henry Weinhard, Schmidt's, Lone
Star, Champale, Colt 45 and Mickey's to more than 70 countries.
Stroh acquired Primo in 1982 in the purchase of the Jos. Schlitz
Reformulating the recipe, featuring a replica of a 1904 label and
launching a new promotional campaign, the company had hoped to restore
the beer to its former stature.
Right now there are no plans to do anything with rights to the beer,
although theoretically Primo could be revived at a later time, which
is something at least Dolim would like to see."
From Whatever Happened To... An update on past news Saturday, November
Falling sales led Primo Beer to stop serving cold ones in 1998
Hawaii Island Economic Development Board
"Beer history buffs may know that Hawaiis first brewery, Hawaii
Brewing Company, began operations in 1898. Its signature brand, the
well-known Primo beer, was produced for 100 years before operations
ended in 1998. The company changed ownership a number of times, but
Primo saw its greatest period of growth after being acquired by
Schlitz in 1964. The following year, Primo beer sales skyrocketed.
Operations began to run on a 24-hour basis, and Primo made brewing
history by capturing 70 percent of the Hawaiian beer market, a
position it held until 1971.
Primos final maker, Stroh Brewery Company, shut its doors in Hawaii
in May 1998. But just as Primo was exiting the beer stage, a
redesigned beer industry the craft brewing industry was taking hold in
Hawaii. Alii Brewing Company and Hawaii Islands own Kona Brewing
Company opened their vats for business in 1994. In the six years that
have followed, the craft brewing industry continues to grow."
Another interesting fact from: Current Hawaii Business Issue - January
Long before he took over as president of his fathers company, Tony
Group, in 1996, Stan Masamitsu had wanted to be a car designer.
Whereas the former Tony Honda dealership was originally the old Primo
Beer factory, and the Tony Volkswagen store was once an old car wash,
the new facility will be custom-designed from the ground up."
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