Backlash on Social Media Doesn’t Translate to Retail for Founders Brewing
Update: Shortly after this article, Craft Beer Cellar sent out a memo urging franchisees to consider not carrying founders. Nearly 24 hours later, and many retailers joining in on a boycott, Founders Brewing settled this lawsuit out of court. Please read the article from the Chicago Tribune for more details. [here]
Last year, Founders Brewing, who are owned by Mahou San Miguel, found themselves in hot water as they were charged with a lawsuit accusing them of racial discrimination in the workplace by former employee, Tracy Evans. This has been outlined in many Michigan-based publications [here] and commented on by our friends over at BeerKulture [here]. If you are not caught up on this story, please do so before continuing.
Guilty or not, Founders Brewing has taken a bold stance that not many other businesses their size would do, whether they are right or wrong. The easiest thing Founders Brewing could have done back in 2018 was to acknowledge the mistake, sincerely apologize, make quantifiable corporate cultural changes so they never come close to a controversy like this again, and settle the lawsuit so that people move on to the next scandal. They haven’t done any of that to date. They have denied the claim of the lawsuit, issued a half-hearted response, and have drawn this issue out in court. They also haven’t laid out any plan of substance for how they will change their company culture. Keep in mind, they are a privately-owned company and have no obligation to divulge any company operation info.
When we thought things couldn’t get worse, a leaked deposition from a co-worker of the terminated Mr. Evans painted a picture of Founders Brewing’s legal tactics, in which they would seemingly play stupid when interrogated. Please read the latest from Detroit Metro Times for further astonishment [here].
It was my observation that when the initial story broke in 2018, that the outrage over this case didn’t reach farther than “Beer Twitter”, a subsection of Twitter in which beer industry members and pundits bicker at each other all day. The crux of the BeerKulture article that we referred to at the beginning of this post is that there is evidence of selective outrage, from controversy to controversy, and that this Founders issue wasn’t invoking nearly enough outrage and action based on other less impactful scandals.
When the Detroit Metro Times article broke earlier this week, the story awoke many people who had forgotten what happened last year, and definitely got the attention of many outside the Beer Twitterverse. This story has hit more mainstream channels this time around, such as the Washington Post [here]. I would add maybe the NBCS News article too
In the world we are living in with cancel culture and overblown outrage, I wondered if anyone would take action to support Tracy Evans or not show support for Founders Brewing, who at best has no PR acumen and at worst, is guilty of bad PR acumen and racially discriminates in the work pace. Outside of the words of BeerKulture, the first public tangible action we saw take place was Eastern Market Brewing announcing they were pulling out of the Detroit Fall Beer Festival due to Founders’ participation. Shortly after, Founders made an announcement they would bow out due to all the negative press. Eastern Market Brewing doubled down and continued to make their voice heard about the issue by staying out of the festival [here].
So, what about retailers? While Founders popularity has declined with the beer geeks year over year, they continue you pump out more beer to the masses with the help of their majority owners, Mahou San Miguel. We contacted three large retailers that are either national or regional to see what their response was to this controversy and whether they would continue to carry Founders if found guilty in a court of law.
Buffalo Wild Wings – National chain that promotes craft beer including Founders, owned by Inspire Brands.
After attempting to contact by phone, I was directed to email. Upon emailing BWW, I was met with no response at all.
HopCat – Grand Rapids based regional gastropub chain with 17 Midwest locations. Owned by BarFly Ventures. Runs many promotions and carries a great deal of Founders Brewing beer.
We emailed BarFly Ventures media contact and got a fairly quick response. We asked them if they had heard about the Founders lawsuit, the leaked deposition, and if based on the current news or if Founders is found guilty, would the discontinue carrying Founders beer.
Joseph Soheim, Director of Marketing at BarFly Ventures said, “BarFly Ventures is not involved in any cultural aspects relating to Founders, so we don’t have a basis to give any comment at this time.” When pressed further as to whether they would continue carrying Founders if found guilty, the response was “We have no comment on this issue at this time.”
Craft Beer Cellar – A national bottle shop franchise based out of Massachusetts with 27 locations around the country, including Grand Rapids Michigan.
We asked the same questions as to whether the recent news would cause them to pull Founders items from locations, Tatum E. Stewart, CEO of Craft Beer Cellar had this to say “Thank you for your inquiry regarding the ongoing discrimination lawsuit with Founders Brewing Company. Given this recent development will be following this lawsuit closely. We will evaluate the information as becomes available.” When pressed with the question as to whether they would pull the Founders products if found guilty of racial discrimination in the workplace, we were met with silence.
While we understand this is a small sample, the biggest impact people can make is not by coming up with a clever hashtag like #FuckFounders, but by making a statement with the almighty dollar. It will be interesting to see if any of the retailers we’ve contacted, or a wave of independent bottle shops, make the tough decision not to do business with Founders Brewing.
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