Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)
As mentioned in the comments section of last week’s column, the biggest news story in the beer industry involved the U.S. Justice Department filing suit to stop the purchase of Grupo Modelo (makers of Corona, among other brands) by AB InBev (Budweiser, Stella Artois), the biggest of the big beer companies. It’s funny which stories have ‘legs’ where others don’t; I remember the InBev purchase of Anheuser-Busch gaining quite a bit of attention, but I never got any phone calls from reporters then — and I did this week when the big guys got told “no”.
During the conversation I had with a reporter who had reached out for some perspective from the retail side, I was asked if I thought the competition between Big Beer and Craft Beer was more or less intense than a few years ago. What I think is that where once Big Beer fought to keep small breweries off the shelves because they saw a potential long-term threat, now Craft Beer is established itself.
The Sierra Nevadas and Dogfish Heads of the world aren’t going anywhere; Craft Beer is only 6% of U.S. beer sales, but that number is growing every year while the biggest names keep seeing their market share decline. Big Beer’s plan was to keep growing to the point where it would become, forgive the phrase, too big to fail. With the Grupo Modelo deal dead, or at the very least significantly delayed, I’m looking for the big beer companies to deploy a classic strategy: if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.
Once upon a time it was the smaller, regional brewers who would get bought out by the big guys. Today it’s Craft Breweries in the sights. The sale of Goose Island to Budweiser a few years back was just the start, if AB InBev has its way — just recently Lagunitas founder Tony Magee mentioned meeting the AB InBev employee who made the Goose Island deal happen, and insinuated that Bud was sniffing around for a potential deal for Lagunitas as well (have no fears — Tony isn’t going anywhere anytime soon). As more drinkers opt out of the ‘faux craft’ labels created by Big Beer and offerings like Bud’s new Black Crown come and go, look for more small breweries to get bought up.
No matter what, keep in mind that it’s your support that has brought America’s small brewers to this point. InBev and MillerCoors can run all the ads and buy all the breweries they want; America is discovering its craft breweries, and every day more of us learn the difference between the real thing and a line we’re being sold. Until next time.
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