By ALEXIS WILLIAMS
October marks one year since one of Mississippi’s largest beer distributors acquired Rex Distributing, the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s former Anheuser-Busch distributor, creating Mitchell Beverage Gulf Coast. After the acquisition of Rex, Meridian-based Mitchell grew its presence in the state and brought total counties they serve to 37, including the three coastal counties of Harrison, Hancock and Jackson as well as the cities of Picayune, Poplarville and Lucedale. Leading the Mitchell Beverage Gulf Coast team is sales manager James Hargrove who has been working in the beer distributor business since he was a teenager.
“I started out in the warehouse at Delta Distributing the summer I was 15,” said Hargrove, a Greenwood native whose family owned Delta Distributing, another Anheuser-Busch distributor, from 1957 until Mitchell Distributing purchased the company in March 2015. “I worked summers throughout junior high, high school and college riding on beer trucks delivering beer.”
After graduating from college and working in real estate development, Hargrove returned full-time to the family business in 2008. His responsibilities grew with his family’s company and then after Mitchell purchased the business. “I’ve done almost every job in an Anheuser Busch wholesaler from the truck driver delivering beer to my current role as sales manager. I went from my own family business to another family business,” he added in regard to the family-owned Mitchell Distributing.
According to Hargrove, Mitchell Beverage Gulf Coast is the second largest beer distributorship in the state of Mississippi, second only to the Ridgeland-based Southern Beverage, which serves the Jackson metro area. The Coast’s casinos and the tourism industry contribute to the success of the business along the Coast. Currently Mitchell Distributing employs approximately 105 people along the Gulf Coast and boasts 550 employees around the state.
The mainstay of the distributing business continues to be, of course, beer. The well-known Anheuser-Busch products, including Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Natural Light, Busch and Busch Light, top the company’s sales but Hargrove believes that the craft business is steadily growing.
“It’s mostly the local crafts that are starting to do well,” he adds. “I think it’s because it feels good to support your local community.” Mitchell Beverage Gulf Coast distributes 15 craft beer brands from all over the country including one local favorite, Gulfport-based Chandeleur Brewing Company. Mighty Miss Brewing Company of Greenville, Natchez Brewing Company and Hattiesburg’s Southern Prohibition Brewing round out the Mississippi craft beer brands.
In addition to beer products, Mitchell Gulf Coast also sells non-alcoholic products including Aquahydrate and Clear Fruit bottled waters, Everfresh juices, Electric Monkey energy drinks, Nestle Nesquick milk, Sparkling Ice and Calypso Lemonade.
Hargrove and his family have adjusted to the move from the Delta to the Gulf Coast. He transitioned out of his former position as sales manager at Mitchell Distributing in Leland while working 3-4 days on the Coast last fall before moving his family south, in a Budweiser truck no less, at the end of December. He says he traded in his side by side for a boat and his rifle for a fishing pole.
“This (move to the Gulf Coast) was an opportunity that we as a family didn’t want to pass up,” he said. “There was some adaptation, but it was adaptation for the better. It’s a great organization to work for, and it continues to teach me a lot. Plus, the Coast has been very welcoming to us. There are a lot of great people down here, and we are having a blast.”
Mitchell Distributing began in the 1940s when two brothers, Mann and Bilbo Mitchell, began distributing Falstaff beers near their hometown of Meridian. Mann Mitchell partnered with Anheuser-Busch in 1953 and turned the business over to his son, Manny. The business has grown and still keeps family at the forefront, now run by Adam Mitchell, the third generation of the family in the beer distributing business. Over the years the company has grown from it’s original Meridian territory, expanding first to Leland and then into Columbus and Tupelo. Later, it purchased what is now Chesapeake Beverage in Baltimore, Md., which doubled the size of the company. Mitchell ultimately acquired Hargrove’s Delta Distributing and the Gulf Coast based Rex.
Since those days working in the warehouse as a teenager, Hargrove has enjoyed selling beer for a living. “It’s always been a fun and challenging business,” he commented. “I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from many great people. It’s a fun business to be in that often times ends in drinking cold Budweiser at the end of the day.”