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News

Hands off Craft Beer: The Battle for Drinker’s Dollars

The Brewers Association of America opened a proverbial can of worms last week, calling out big brewers for attempting to steal a portion of the craft beer market with cleverly marketed crafty-style brands.

The Brewers Association have very strict rules about what constitutes a craft brewery – i.e. annual production is six million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer, to be exact – and are increasingly frustrated by the attempts by big beverage companies to take a chunk out of the growing number of drinkers that like to support entrepreneurs and their independent businesses.

And it is no wonder that the bigger brands see the need to do so – in 2011, according to the Association statement, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume. Add to that the fact that in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent, and the incentive to try and take a chunk of the market increases exponentially.

Like here in the Anitpodes, the bigger companies are coming into the US craft market in a variety of ways: buying out, or buying stakes in, successful craft breweries, or creating new brands that are what the Association calls “non-light ‘crafty’ beers”.

The main beef however, is the production of brands that deliberately blur the lines between craft and mainstream by marketing them as being in the same category as small independent brewers – something award-winning beer writer Phil Cook has dubbed ‘craft-washing’. “When someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it's from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it's made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev," says the Association.

While the Brewers Association is not calling for boycotts of said brands, they are calling for “transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking”.

Interestingly, this is also apparently a big ticket issue in the Canadian brewing industry, with some industry members that country moving toward a certification program that will allow craft brewers to display a ‘craft brew’ logo that is seemingly somewhat akin to the Australian Made logo over here.

Closer to home, Stella Artois, a well-know imported macro Lager, raised the ire of local drinkers with their new Christmas packaging which unsubtly announces that the beer is “Crafted for Christmas”, while Beer & Brewer’s NZ Editor, Neil Miller, blogged about the outrage that a recent crafty release from Lion in NZ that not only insults all craft beer – including their own brands which include Macs and Emersons – with their labelling (it reads: “Someone should make a craft beer you can actually drink”) but also seems designed to trick craft beer shoppers into thinking that it is a fully independent brand.

Additionally, since the Brewers Association statement went live the Sydney Morning Herald has courted controversy by calling out James Squire and Matilda Bay as brands that could find themselves under scrutiny, being owned by Lion and CUB respectively – something the brewers in those two brewers will no doubt strongly dispute.

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