But It Still Tastes the Same – Why the Producer Matters as Much as the Product
The parade of brewery sales and acquisitions marches steadily on. With ownership details becoming ever more murky, consumers must move past the Brewers Association’s definition of “craft beer” when making purchasing decisions. A great many consumers seem to assume that if Beer X from Brewery A still tastes the same as it always has then they can continue to buy Beer X without any negative consequences. If all we care about is the continued availability of Beer X then this is a sound strategy. However, most craft beer drinkers (at least in my experience) care about having an abundance of choice.
Let’s take our Brewery A from above. Brewery A recently sold over half its shares to Giant Brewing Conglomerate (GBC from now on). GBC is a publicly held company, which means that they are legally required to endeavor to raise their stock price and provide a return to shareholders. Companies like GBC will rarely attempt to make higher quality, more expensive products in order to gain more market share and provide the necessary return. Rather, GBC will do all it can to reduce the price of its current portfolio and to introduce (seemingly) new products to squeeze its competitors off of shelves and faucets. In other words, it is not only in GBC’s interest to reduce choice, it is almost a legal obligation for them to do so.
Now, when you go and buy Beer X from Brewery A, a good chunk of your purchase is going directly to GBC. GBC is stoked that you’re buying beer from Brewery A. You are justifying their recent investment and helping maintain their newly acquired market share. You are also helping GBC keep beers from Breweries B, C, D and E off of shelves. You read that correctly. Any time you put money in GBC’s pocket, you effectively reduce your available beer choices.
Your purchases do not occur in a vacuum. With the craft beer landscape rapidly changing, consumers must consider where their dollars go when making purchasing decisions. It is not just what one finds inside the bottle, can or keg that matters. Quality is paramount, but the quality and personality of a company matters just as much as the objective quality of its product. If you want to maintain an abundance of choice, you must buy beer from breweries who seek to gain market share through the quality of their products and their salesforce, and not through manipulation.
Pay attention to the way a brewery operates in the marketplace. “Craft” is more than ownership structure and ingredients. Craft does not manipulate. Craft focuses on building brands organically. Craft trades on quality. Craft promotes choice. Maintain your access to choice. Buy craft.
This article was contributed by long time support of The Full Pint, General Manager of Library Ale House, Alex P. Davis in Santa Monica.