Monday, February 11, 2013

Speaking of Big Beer Oligopoly

Another article on the attempts by SAB/InBev to consolidate market share. This time it's US News & World Report reporting on the attempted merger of AB and Grupo Modelo (Corona).

Says Jim Koch (Boston Beer), "I don't see them as trying to deliberately set out to destroy us. But we are very potentially the collateral damage." Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) agreed: ""The success or failure of a beer should depend on how great that beer is… instead of artificial restraints to distribution ..." Koch gives some insight into how this works: "[AB and Miller] are [hiring category space analysts], they [say to a store]: 'We can do that for you,' ... And then they can take my beer from eye level to the top shelf, which drops my sales rate in half. ... We work very hard to get our beer into a sports venue, and then when the big brewer realizes we got in there... they buy out the bowl, and then we're gone."

Everyone's favorite craft-ish beer, Leinenkugel's even makes an appearance: "But brewers like New Belgium may have a reason to be upset with big beer. One of the most bitter complaints of craft brewers is that big beer wins consumers by introducing beers whose names resemble the names of actual independent beers. After New Belgium came out with a popular beer called Sunshine Wheat, MillerCoors, through its Leinenkugel brand, came out with a beer called Sunset Wheat. The beer even had a similar yellow label, which says that the beer is 'carefully brewed by the Leinenkugel family for five generations.'"

For what it's worth, I'm not entirely convinced that Koch isn't just a little Chicken Little. Is "Budweiser Black Crown" condescending and ridiculous? Sure. Is Sunset Wheat an attempt to cut into Sunrise Wheat? Maybe. Is playing shell games with shell companies petty and misleading? Yeah.

But at the end of the day, Black Crown will never be confused for 1554 or Dark Horse Schwarzbier. These "craft-ish" beers are gateways to a greater world. Someone who tries Black Crown and realizes that "dark" beer doesn't have to be heavy and can have great flavor might be less intimidated stepping into the local brewpub or checking out something that isn't at eye-level in the supermarket. Craft beer didn't die when Bud introduced Budweiser American Ale (or whatever the heck it was called). Craft beer won't die with Black Crown either.

1 comment:

  1. I tried Black Crown on saturday. Its an amber lager, and its a boring amber. No confusion with 1554 or a shwartzbier. AB-Inbev is only going to attract their own customers without building any kind of 'craft' business.

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