It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Remember the old rhyme that April Showers Bring May Flowers? Well I'm starting
to worry that May will bring more than just that for those of us who love craft beer. We're now
one month closer to the massive Anheuser-Busch InBev-SABMiller merger. Do you realize that
when it is complete, the resulting company will own over 400 beer labels, including 8 out of
America’s top 10 brands?. Right away, the new Bud-Coors-Miller-Stella-Molson conglomerate
will be responsible for producing roughly 30% of all the suds on earth. Scary, don't you think?
As I see it if the corporate overlords have their way, the company will gain even more market
share down the line. To do so, it’ll have to expand into more regions and/or reverse the trend
that’s most visible in the U.S.: the rise of small, independent craft labels.
While the $104 billion merger of the world’s #1 and #2 beer companies is intended to assure
Big Beer’s dominance in the global marketplace, it’s actually but one of several strategies
being employed to put the pesky craft category in its place—or even destroy it, if possible.
Oh, call me a worry wort or doom sayer if you will but there's no hiding that fact. Even you
must see that Bill. Need more proof I'm right?
Maybe a look at some of there tactics will convince you about this. How else might you expalin
that Big Beer has created a multitude of there own quasi-craft brands. Read Blue Moon
Brewing’s history on the brand’s website and you’ll learn that the Belgian-style wheat ale was
created by "beer-loving visionaries" two decades ago in Denver. What you won’t see there, nor
at the Blue Moon Brewery at the Sandlot, where the Colorado Rockies play, nor on a bottle of
Blue Moon, is mention of the fact that the brand has always fallen under the domain of Coors,
the Colorado-based brewer that’s now owned by MillerCoors, which is itself a subsidiary of
SABMiller. Worried yet, Bill?
Blue Moon was ahead of its time in the “crafty” beer category—brands that seem like small
indie labels that are actually owned by the world’s biggest beer companies. Shock Top is
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s best-known faux craft beer, and according to one source, “75% of
consumers believe Shock Top is from a small/unknown brewer" .Clearly, these brands hope to
win sales by creating the appearance of indie craft authenticity, all while using the production
and marketing advantages of a global corporation.
If that didn't convince you this will. Consider the fact that the Big Boys have snatched up craft
breweries that’ll sell out. If you can’t beat them, buy them. That seems to be the philosophy
behind Anheuser-Busch’s strategy for purchasing popular craft labels such as Goose Island,
Elysian, 10 Barrel, Golden Road, and Blue Point. Generally speaking, these brands vigorously
proclaim that their quality and dedication to customers won’t diminish after the change in
ownership, and they say they still deserve to call themselves craft beers. I definitely don't see it
Don't worry I'm not going to jump off my local brewery roof. The good news is that America
now has over 4,000 breweries, roughly double the number just five years ago. Even the new,
ultra-powerful AB InBev-SABMiller super conglomerate can’t buy them all out, one would think.
But even with that on our side beware that the global beer behemoth can still strategically
purchase key craft brewers and use them to make it extremely difficult for independent little
guys to be successful in the marketplace.
Oh, I've given myself a headache. Do you have an aspirin?
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Well it seems you've sung this song before but it's actually one that we all should hear as often
as possible. Believe it or not I see the same dangerous trend. And I too see facts to back up my
fears, albeit ones different than yours. Hey one of us has to have real insight - just kidding.
Check out some of the Big Guy's new commercials. They defend macro brews and bash craft
snobs like us. When have you ever seen that before? This part of the plan is probably the most
bizarre, and perhaps has backfired on Big Beer. After all, as you said, the beer giants have
purchased prominent craft labels and created their own faux craft brands yet they run ads
mocking craft beer that theoretically supports its struggling Budweiser label. Doesn't make a lot
of sense to me.
Even worse is that I see them trying to control distribution. For better or worse, America’s alcohol
selection is the result of three-tier system, in which brewers and importers (tier #1) must use
distributors (tier #2) to place their beverages in the stores and restaurants that ultimately sell
them (tier #3). The beer distributors are supposed to be independent but not all are. Anheuser-
Busch InBev has been purchasing distributors around the country—including two recently in
Colorado, one of the nation’s craft beer strongholds. There’s an imbalance when one company
owns two of the three tiers for distribution. In fact there is a history of AB-owned distributors only
selling AB products, thereby shutting out craft brands and forcing them to find other means of
I too have some good news in that area. The US Justice Department is looking into the case to
see if Anheuser-Busch InBev is violating antitrust regulations by purchasing distributors and only
distributing its own products, while simultaneously using its size and power to pressure
independent distributors to stay away from craft labels. After all, if it’s difficult or impossible for
consumers to find craft beer in stores and restaurants, they’ll have little choice but to drink mass-
Let's hope the government rules in our favor. If not maybe we could all chip in and hire Chuck
Norris to pay several Big Beer honchos a little visit.
Here's looking at you Gina