Talking with head of Puerto Rican beer giant


Carmen Amalia Valdés talks to Elaine Walker of The Miami Herald about taking over the family business, Cervecera de Puerto Rico, and selling Medalla in Miami for the first time.


Age: 39

Title: President, Cervecera de Puerto Rico Education: Bachelor of Arts (with a concentration in legal studies) from Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut (1994). Graduated Inter American University School of Law in Puerto Rico cum laude In 1998

Lives in: San Juan, Puerto Rico, her birthplace

Personal: Married to Craig T. Hylwa; together they have one son.

Hobbies: Swimming, reading, and traveling.

Last book read: ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson

As the third generation to run her family-owned business, Carmen Amalia Valdes could have easily rested on her laurels.

But since taking over as Cervecera de Puerto Rico’s president in 2003, Valdes has been focusing on growing the brewery’s business both in Puerto Rico and beyond. She invested more than $100 million in renovation of the brewery and launched two new products.

The investment is paying off. Cervecera de Puerto is the top-selling brewery in Puerto Rico and Medalla Light beer is the leading beer in Puerto Rico. Now, Valdes is bringing Medalla to Florida with designs on expansion.

Here’s what she had to say about the company’s growth plans:Q: Why did you now decide to start selling Medalla in Florida?

Florida is the ideal entry market for Medalla Light for several reasons: In the last decade, Florida’s population increased by 17.6 percent, which is much more than the 9 percent average increase in U.S. population. The per capita consumption of beer just in Florida is 28.1 gallons per year, almost as much as the per capita consumption of beer for the whole U.S. It is the third state with the highest consumption of beer in the U.S. — preceded only by California and Texas. In the state of Florida there is an average of 165.4 million cases of beer sold annually.Q: What kind of volume do you expect to do?

We plan to invest $3 million during the first 12 months of the exportation phase, with the goal of selling 175,000 cases.Q: What are your plans for expanding beyond Florida in the United States?

Our sales efforts are concentrated in Florida for the first 12 months, with the goal of expanding distribution throughout the United States in the future.Q: What kind of investment have you made to support future expansion?

Cervecera de Puerto Rico has invested more than $100 million to increase its production capabilities to serve all its consumers well. Q: Who do you see as your competition in the U.S. and why?

Medalla Light has the ability to compete amongst high-end beers in the import beer segments as well as domestics. Medalla Light has proven that it can compete head-to-head with other beer brands, as it has been recognized 15 times, for its taste and quality by beer experts in competitions held in the United States and Europe. We are confident that we will achieve that same success competing in the Florida market and everywhere else. Q: Why do you think beer sales have been falling in the U.S.?

Let’s keep in mind that beer is still the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage; it is the third-most popular drink overall, after water and tea.

According to recent data, beer sales in the Unites States are recovering lost ground. As the economy improves, sales improve. In the state of Florida, the drop in sales was lower than the U.S. average and signs of improvement are already starting to show. Q: What do you think beer manufacturers can do to reverse that trend?

The entire industry: manufacturers, distributors, advertisers, as well as professional organizations, need to continue doing what they are doing: brewing and promoting quality products to maintain consumers interest in the category.Q: What are you doing to introduce the brand to new consumers in the U.S.?

To help promote the brand, we recently launched, a page specifically designed to accompany the expansion. The page allows users to post photos from various locations where they have found and enjoyed Medalla Light. It also features a “trophy shelf” for Medalla Light’s award wins and a store locator.

Billboards, bus shelters, and a wide variety of POP and POS materials have been designed to promote the brand. We are working very closely with our distributors to strengthen brand presence.

We have also contracted with The Bravo Group, a leading full-service, integrated multicultural marketing communications network that has worked for consumer brands including AT&T, Wendy’s and Wrigley; and leading global public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller to raise awareness of the launch throughout Florida. Q: What are your earliest childhood memories of the brewery?

My earliest memory is visiting the brewery, as a child, with my grandfather (one of three Valdes brothers who founded the company), watching him work with passion and hope for the future.

My family began brewing beer in 1937. I am the third generation of our brewing family to lead Cervecera de Puerto Rico. Following in my grandfather’s footsteps, I strive to continue his legacy of innovation, one I’ve learned, watching him work at the brewery since I was a child. Q: What was your first job?

I worked for three years in the corporate division of a law firm. Right after that, and before becoming president of the company, I assumed the responsibility of becoming Cervecera de Puerto Rico’s Operations Manager. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the company better and to solidify my vision for the future.Q: When did you know you wanted to get involved in the family business and why?

Since day one, I knew my future was at Cervecera de Puerto Rico. The brewery is part of my DNA. I am proud to belong to the third generation of a brewing family.Q: What are the challenges of being the third generation to run a family business and particularly a woman? Are you the first female head of the company?

My grandmother was the first woman to hold the position of president of Cervecera de Puerto Rico. I follow her example, as well as all my predecessors’ examples. I would say innovation is the common thread and the key to the success for all three generations that have been in charge of leading Cervecera de Puerto Rico for the past 75 years.

Recently I had the chance to spend some time with Dr. Inge Russell, a well-known brewing world leader, during a brewing conference organized by Cervecera de Puerto Rico. As women in a male dominated industry, we concurred that women have the advantage to look at things from a different perspective, thus, bringing new solutions to old problems.Q: How do you try to serve as a role model for other women in the industry?

By doing my job well, and by embracing social responsibility as one of our core beliefs. With actions and results. By example.

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