YAKIMA, Wash. -- Citing slowing growth in the craft brewing industry, a Yakima-based hop broker has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but is confident it will emerge from the process as a stronger company.
47Hops co-owner Douglas MacKinnon outlines the company’s decision this month to file for bankruptcy in a blog entry on the company’s website. MacKinnon said a number of brewers in the past year have delayed payment and delivery of hops under contract, likely due to declining sales.
That’s led to financial challenges for 47Hops. The filing shows the company had $4.3 million in assets and $7.45 million in liabilities.
MacKinnon wrote that if brewers continued to struggle to fulfill their hop contracts, it would lead to a lot of uncertainty in the company’s financial position.
“We decided, therefore, to proactively deal with the problem rather than wait until the situation caused irreparable harm to the company and left us with no options,” he wrote.
According to the bankruptcy filing, 47Hops has contracts with more than 200 breweries in the U.S. and Canada. Brewers work with hop growers and/or brokers to secure hops through contracts made years in advance. MacKinnon states, however, that he aims to emerge from bankruptcy and that brewers’ hop supplies through existing contracts remain secure.
MacKinnon did not respond to several requests seeking comment Thursday, but posted a new blog Thursday where he noted support from both brewers and growers through the bankruptcy restructuring process.
“Growers confirmed they want to continue to supply hops to us and brewers confirmed they look forward to buying hops from us in the future,” he wrote. “That makes our plan to structure 47Hops to the needs of the market more realistic.”
In the same blog entry, MacKinnon again voiced concerns of an oversupply of hops amid a slowing craft beer industry. In recent years, hop growers have added acreage in response to what was rapid growth in the craft brewing industry. U.S. hop acreage as of April was estimated at 58,148 acres, which would be double the amount of acreage from 2012.
“Today’s production capacity is at record heights,” he wrote. “It would be good to avoid a record fall. To do that, the hop industry needs to take a break from planting hops for a few years.”
The craft brewing industry is still growing, but at a much less robust rate. As of the end of 2016, there were 5,234 breweries in the U.S., a 16.2 percent increase from a year ago, according to the Brewers Association, a craft brewing trade association. But production at those breweries increased at a much lower rate — 6 percent year over year.
Jaki Brophy of the Hop Growers of America, a Moxee-based trade organization, declined to comment on the 47Hops bankruptcy but noted that hop growers are aware of the slowdown in growth from the craft brewing industry.
She expects that most growers will opt to not add acreage in the next few years. And while there’s been the occasional incident where breweries have pulled out of contracts, most have made the effort to work with brokers and growers if there is an issue.
“For the most part, (breweries) are honoring their contracts,” she said.