Turning beer into food: Jacquie Berglund’s company, FINNEGANS, does well doing good

Jacquie Berglund (Photo by Sarah Whiting)

Sitting on a couch in her office, amid pillows bearing the slogans “Irish Holy Water” and “Drink Like You Care,” Jacquie Berglund reflected on her initial career forays – good jobs, just not the right fit. After graduating from Augsburg College, she worked for a recruiting firm – “my first taste of business,” she recalls. “I loved it, but it didn’t have enough meaning. I think I’m just hardwired for [meaningful work].” 

So Berglund took a yearlong leave of absence, relocating to France to pursue a master’s degree in international relations. She ended up staying seven years, hired by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. Berglund found plenty of meaning in her work, which included conducting business training sessions in Russia during the breakup of the Soviet Union. 

“But I knew working in a big, bureaucratic organization was not my thing. It was hard to impact change,” she says. “I learned I’m much more of a grass-roots person.” 

Her business card these days lists her title as “Rambunctious Social Entrepreneur & CEO.” Her company, FINNEGANS, makes beer and donates all – as in 100 percent – of its profits. Besides Berglund, there are five employees. Big and bureaucratic it isn’t. Fun and philanthropic? Absolutely. 


Berglund’s first business job gave her a contact that would be key to her future. Kieran Folliard – who grew to prominence as a restaurateur and pubmaster – also worked for the recruiting firm, and they became friends. When Berglund returned to Minnesota in 1997, Folliard was about to open The Local, and hired Berglund as marketing director. But soon enough, another “aha” moment steered her toward her true calling. 

She was in Washington, D.C., listening to a speech by Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, which works to combat global hunger and poverty. The organization had recently launched its private-sector Community Wealth Partners initiative – creating businesses to fund nonprofits. 

“It was like my hair was on fire, I was so excited,” Berglund recalls. “I thought, ‘Oh my God – that’s what I want to do.'” 

And so the idea of a beer company that donates its profits – the first beer company in the world to do so, as far as Berglund knows – was born. Berglund and Folliard developed a brew called Kieran’s Irish Ale. Berglund wanted it in pubs all over Minnesota, but knew that wouldn’t happen if it was connected with one of Folliard’s establishments – so she bought out his half of the new venture for one dollar and started her new company. 

Initially, profits from the newly rechristened FINNEGANS Irish Amber supported a variety of programs, with a focus on homelessness and at-risk youth. In 2010, the company’s 10-year anniversary, Berglund ran a printout showing where the money had gone. It ran several pages long. 

“We’d given to so many different causes and organizations,” she says, “it was hard to measure our impact.”

Around that time, Berglund saw a brochure about the Emergency Foodshelf Network’s Harvest for the Hungry program, which works with community-supported agriculture (CSA) farmers and members to deliver fresh local produce to households in need. She called the network, offering to help fund the program. 

Now the company’s impact is easily tracked. “I love being able to say: Each dollar we donate is a pound of food,” Berglund says. “Everyone says, ‘I finally get what you do – I know where the dollars go.'” 

She dubs it a “win-win-win-win”: local growers, many of whom are themselves struggling, sell more produce; those in need get fresh, healthy food; the beer company wins, because it sells more beer; and beer consumers win “because they’re drinking really good beer.” 

In 2013, FINNEGANS donations purchased more than 105,000 pounds of locally grown produce for local food shelves. 

Jacquie Berglund and FINNEGANS’ “reverse food truck” the first of its kind in the nation. (Photo by Sarah Whiting)

Connecting the dots

The beer world has been male-dominated, Berglund says, but that’s changing. In fact, being a woman has “not really been a factor” for her, she says. 

“There may have been some people saying, ‘Who is this chick?’ ” she says. “But I proved myself – I’ve done what I said I would.” 

Berglund, a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), speaks frequently to women’s groups. 

This year, she received a Bush Fellowship, which she’ll use to start a “social innovation lab” to help socially minded start-ups. Among other things, Berglund envisions “cross-cultural global exchanges – which for me will connect the dots” to her earlier international experience. 

She’s also excited about another FINNEGANS innovation: a “reverse food truck” to collect, rather than sell, food. “It’s a moveable food drive,” Berglund says. The Martin/Williams ad agency, which does pro bono work for FINNEGANS, thought it up. 

With so much going on and only six paid employees, FINNEGANS relies heavily on volunteers, who deploy at beer festivals and other events. “It’s social, it’s fun and you meet a lot of community-minded people,” Berglund says. “And you make a difference.” 

Which is, after all, the point of volunteering – and also, sometimes, of starting a business. 

FFI: finnegans.org