By John Miles
EVP & Associate Publisher
The craft beer movement has been on the rise for over a decade but has it reached its pinnacle and will it soon be gone? The name “craft beer” denotes skill and artistry because beer making is now also considered an art form. Traditionally, beer has always had the same base ingredients. Nowadays, additions that brewers throw in are limitless—ranging from coffee grounds to chilies to anything in between. This gives their beer its signature taste. Packaging certainly isn’t a defining feature since both small breweries and big brand beers come packaged in all sorts of containers like bottles, casks, kegs, and cans.
Craft beer enthusiasts flock to the thousands of local breweries weekly. However, the large beer brands, whose historical growth is in significant decline, are now not only attacking the industry but potentially causing its permanent demise.
What Exactly is Craft Beer?
There used to be a time when the term “craft beer” was reserved for independent breweries that developed a reputation for creating quality local beer. Unfortunately, the name “craft beer” is becoming stale and breweries must continuously evolve their product if they want to stay relevant. Soon, the term “craft beer” may lose its overall meaning in the same way that the terms ”premium” or “handcrafted beer” hold no meaning whatsoever. According to Karl Strauss Brewing Company founder Chris Cramer, “Back when we started, non-one had ever heard of craft beer, and we had to make decisions that enabled us to grow and survive in that environment.”
Fast forward to 2018, in the alcohol industry—and the food sector in general—the words “craft brewing” are growing into simply marketing terms that companies use. The industry is on the brink of becoming corporate and established. Cramer reflects further, “If you really want to develop a company that is going to going to be relevant over the long term, what you have to do is create a culture that is all about embracing change.”
That is what the large beer producers are trying to convince their wide array of consumers who grew up drinking Bud Light, Coors, Michelob, and Heinekin. One interesting aspect about this change is that craft beer consumers expect certain uniqueness to craft beer when it comes to taste. This is partly due to the craft brewer’s innovative approach to beer making.
Global Breweries are Buying In and Buying Up Craft
Aside from that, another trend that puts the “craft beer” status in jeopardy is that bigger breweries are beginning to buy off the smaller artisanal brands to foster sales and brand growth. In fact, there are dozens of well-loved craft breweries that have been recently purchased by global breweries. For example, Ballast Point IPA sold to Constellation Brands while Devil’s Backbone was bought by Anheuser-Busch.
In total, during the last few years, 10 independent craft brewers have been purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev. The purchases have also included well-known craft brands like Goose Island and Wicked Weed based in North Carolina. This means that the craft beers we find in the grocery stores have already been gobbled up by these larger companies.
Consumers are generally clueless on what is happening (unless they are craft beer purists) and even if they did know, they wouldn’t care too much as long as their beer of choice tastes the same. On the other hand, lobbyists and craft beer brewers feel that they are being attacked by these big beer breweries.
Take Back Craft
Bob Pease is the President and CEO of the Brewers Association, a trade group formed by independent craft brewers. According to him, this incursion in the craft beer industry began around seven years ago when the big brands noticed that the market share of craft breweries was growing significantly. These large corporations tried but failed to imitate the success of craft breweries. This led to the bold move of buying the breweries instead, similar to other industries that have been consolidated.
The large companies pressured the distributors and retailers to drop the independently owned brand which forced the craft breweries to either sell their brands or face bankruptcy.
Fans of craft beer cry out on various social media whenever a beloved craft brewery is bought out by big companies. This shows just how much support and fans these craft breweries have.
One of the initiatives to take back craft beers is the TakeBackCraft.com website which launched a campaign called #TakeCraftBack. This is a crowdsourcing campaign accepting pledges to support buying Anheuser-Busch and separating it from the beverage conglomerate. Anheuser Busch InBev was formed in 2008 from the merger of three giant beverage companies, namely Anheuser-Busch, based in the United States, Interbrew of Belgium, and AmBev of Brazil. The #TakeCraftBack campaign aims to raise $213 billion to buy back Anheuser-Busch and stop them from buying any additional independent craft brewer.
EVP & Associate Publisher
Brings visionary leadership style and talent as an international speaker for Bold Business. He is best known for his experience and knowledge regarding digital media and technology, business intelligence, innovation, and block chain. John headed digital strategy at Catalina Marketing as CTO and global head of operations and currently leads tech, healthcare and media investments at Virgo Investment Group, and has built the number one social brand at Dell as CIO. Miles is active on Twitter, has been published in a variety of media, and has delivered Key Notes at venues such as SalesForce’s DreamForce Conference and Oracle Open World.