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Saputo family reaches its fourth generation of beer wholesalers

Andrea Saputo Cox confidently steps into a leadership role at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing.

Andrea Saputo Cox steps into her role at Gold Coast during a challenging time in the industry.
Andrea Saputo Cox steps into her role at Gold Coast during a challenging time in the industry.
Photo by Harry Sayer
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Gold Coast Eagle Distributing employee Hugh Shields jokes, sort of, that when Andrea Saputo Cox left her executive role at the company for roughly a decade to raise two children, he called her constantly. “I begged her every day for 10 years to come back,” quips Shields, a 19-year Gold Coast employee who handles marketing administration. 

Shields says he and others at the Lakewood Ranch-based Anheuser-Busch/InBev beer and beverage distribution business missed Saputo Cox’s even-handed, deliberate and calm leadership style. The company remained a thriving entity in her absence, as her father, John Saputo, had already built the foundations of a $220 million company over 25 years. John Saputo has been, and remains, the public face of the business. But Saputo Cox’s departure left a gap. 

“In the beverage business you have to be able to put a case on a shelf or load a pallet,” Shields says, along with doing all the other office tasks. “She’s definitely the kind of person who leads by example. She will never ask someone to do something she hasn’t done herself.”

Shields and others got their wish in spring 2020, when Saputo-Cox returned to a leadership role at Gold Coast, just as the pandemic began to take hold. More recently, Saputo Cox, 45, was named president and equity manager/owner of Gold Coast Eagle — further cementing her presence in the family-run beer business and East County community. Equity manager is a highly detailed ownership process Anheuser-Busch requires for each of the 450 owners in its network. Saputo Cox is one of seven women to currently hold the equity manager position. 

“We were so proud of Andrea when she decided to come back and carry on the Saputo family beer legacy,” says Denise Saputo, John’s wife and Andrea’s mom. “She has the business mind, and our dream was always for Andrea to come back to the business.”

“Andrea can successfully run the entire company,” adds John Saputo. “There’s no doubt in my mind.” 

John Saputo is a third-generation beer wholesaler. Andrea Saputo Cox is continuing the tradition in the fourth generation.
Photo by Harry Sayer

A high-energy U.S. Marine colonel who breathes passion for Gold Coast’s flagship brand, Budweiser, Saputo, 72, isn’t retiring. But he is slowing down. He might go on longer hunting trips to Michigan, Saputo Cox says, or maybe take a full week off. He will also continue helping his son-in-law, Devyn Dugger, run Dickerson Distributing, a distributorship north of Cincinnati under the Anheuser-Busch/InBev brand Saputo acquired in 2014. Dugger is married to Bethany, the youngest of four Saputo siblings. The oldest sisters, twins Katherine Tanner and Sarah Mackie, aren’t in the beverage business.  

Saputo Cox steps into her role at Gold Coast during a challenging time in the industry, with inflation, gas prices and labor issues among the obstacles at the top of the list. One way the company has been dealing with the rise in costs is through trying to be more efficient with deliveries, particularly in working with customers to do fewer trips with more cases of products. The company, which posted $222 million in revenue in 2021, up 7.7% from $206 million in 2020, has also raised salaries while maintaining and enhancing benefits — to keep and retain top talent. It has some 200 sales, service and support associates. 

Saputo Cox sees a large portion of her role as continuing to foster an environment where people want “to get out of bed and come to work,” adding that “if you take care of employees, they will take care of your customers.” 

Out east

Even though it’s somewhat out of the way, Gold Coast Eagle’s facility, in the south end of the Lakewood Ranch corporate park, is too big and well-known to a host of area nonprofits, to be considered a hidden gem. On 23 acres, the 170,000-square-foot complex includes a tasting room, rotunda, beer garden and conference room that holds up to 200 people. The company has opened the facility to dozens of nonprofits for events, and county officials have used it as a staging area during hurricanes or similar weather situations. “We have a lot of pride in giving back to the community where we live,” Saputo Cox says.

Located on 23 acres, Gold Coast Eagle’s 170,000-square-foot complex includes a tasting room, rotunda, beer garden and conference room that holds up to 200 people.
Photo by Harry Sayer

The facility also holds the corporate offices and warehouse where Gold Coast prepares and provides Anheuser-Busch/InBev products to some 1,600 groceries, bars, restaurants, hotels and more in the Sarasota-Bradenton area every week. Gold Coast sold around 6.5 million cases of beer in 2022. That’s up 91.17% from 3.4 million in 1996, when John Saputo acquired the distributorship from the Goodman family, which had operated Twin City Distributors. Prior to that, Saputo had managed or owned distributorships in Michigan, New York and North Carolina. 

Saputo is a third-generation beer wholesaler. His grandfather, Joe Barraco, ran a three-truck operation outside Detroit in the years after Prohibition, where Saputo and his brothers worked and learned the business. Saputo also worked with his father. 

The Saputo family has expanded several times in the area since 1996, to meet the demand that came with a surge in population. The Gold Coast territory, same as others across the company, is determined by the Anheuser-Busch/InBev corporate office. So, for growth, the company will need to look east of Interstate 75, in both Sarasota and Manatee counties, where there is more land to develop. 

“As more homes are built and people move in, grocery stores, restaurants, bars and convenient stores will follow,” Saputo Cox says. “The expansion of the airport will also give us an increase in sales as more flights will allow easier travel to our area. This will increase our tourism numbers, which helps drive sales.”

Snack attack 

Saputo Cox, like her father, got started in the business at a young age. She would move around cases of beer and then dart around the warehouse in rollerblades as young as 12 or 13 years old. Later, when the family was in North Carolina, Saputo Cox would assemble packages for the Anheuser-Busch Eagle snacks delivery route. “That’s where she really learned the business,” Saputo says. 

By the time Saputo Cox graduated from high school and the University of Florida, she had her own merchandising route. She then moved through all positions in the company, from pricing, graphics, sales, warehouse, sales management, operations and finance to human resources, community outreach and marketing. She’s handled sales for small bars and big grocery stores. “She’s been in every chair we have here,” Saputo says. “She’s done inside sales; she’s done outside sales. She’s handled small accounts, big accounts, all of it.” 

While Saputo never doubted her abilities, his belief in his daughter was cemented in 2003, when he left the company to head overseas for reserve duty for the Marines during Operation Enduring Freedom. The business didn’t miss a beat under Saputo Cox. “A regional Southeast vice president called me when I got back,” Saputo says, “and said, ‘We knew she was good, but we didn’t know she could run the whole company.’”

One aspect of the business Saputo Cox also navigated, says her mom, Denise, is being able to work with, and alongside, her Type A “strong-willed” dad. “There are times when we don’t see eye to eye, but we will often agree on what’s best for the business,” Saputo Cox says. “I really love that he’s still here for me when I need help.”

Even as Saputo Cox puts her stamp on the business, the family has one eye on the long-term future: the next generation. That would be Saputo Cox’s two children. There’s John, a senior at Riverview High School in Sarasota, and Meghan, a sophomore at Riverview. There are no commitments, but both teens, in addition to a handful of other Saputo grandchildren, have already worked in the business. Having one of them take over Gold Coast someday, says Denise Saputo, “would be the dream.”



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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