What’s in a name?

As we get ready for Memorial Day weekend, the first beer drinking holiday of summer, some food for thought for craft beer brewers and drinkers.

On Tuesday, an article in The Atlantic entitled “When Is A Craft Brewery Just a Brewery?” asked some interesting questions. The one that piqued my interest was about big brewers cashing in on the craft beer “movement” and its continued growth.

“… In 2007 a brewery in Golden, Colorado called AC Golden started operations. AC Golden brews beer in small batches with local ingredients—including Colorado Native Lager, which you can only get in-state… But AC Golden is careful not to call itself a craft brewer, because, at least according to the Brewers Association, it’s not: it’s controlled by MillerCoors, the second largest brewer in the country. “

“According to AC Golden, Colorado Native Lager was in 600 stores just six weeks after its release, placed alongside Avery, Great Divide, and other Colorado microbrews. Nothing on the label identifies it as a MillerCoors product. As long as 10 percent growth is the rule, there might be room for corporate pretenders. But that growth will top off at some point, and craft brewers will suddenly find themselves struggling for shelf space, even in their own niche market, with the mega-brewers. True small-timers may have a superior product, but are they ready for this fight?

In today’s Beer Business Daily, Harry Schumacher asks: “will retailers get into private label craft?”

“Consultant Bump Williams…believes that before the year is done, at least five major retail chains will get into selling private label craft beer in a big way. And some craft brewers with capacity will brew it for them. Recall that west coast brewer Gordon Biersch brews Costco’s craft Kirkland for them, and it is the number one selling craft brand in the stores today.”

In case you’re thinking – so what? He goes on to say:

The fact is that with so many brands, most consumers don’t know who brews craft beers, and the labels are easy to create to give the impression of a real craft beer. The chains can put up displays of private label craft at an attractive price point relative to indie crafts, and take share. It’s a scary thought and one that should be on the radar of all indie craft brewers.

Since my film was released last year, there’s been some criticism that the points I made are “dated.” After all, craft beer is more available than it was 5 or 10 years ago. Indeed it is in states where liquor stores dominate but the reality is that craft beers from small, independent brewers are still hard to find in chain supermarkets where the big brewers continue to dominate. The entry of giant retailers into the private label craft business is another indication that this war is only going to heat up. Corporate America is not going to sit by and allow its market share to erode.

But in the end, it’s all up to the consumer. The sad reality is that most Americans don’t care who makes what they buy. They shop based on price and advertising. In order for this craft beer movement to continue to flourish, independent craft brewers will have to find new ways to ensure that those consumers who seek them out can find their beers where they shop.

Your thoughts?

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. DWF says:

    Three things are important to me: innovation (which is subjective), quality (which is also subjective) and diversity (which is objective). We need a system that allows anyone to make a great new product, consumers to find it, and then judge it in the marketplace.

    The current system stifles innovation – which can come from anywhere – unless it comes from MegaBeerCorps, Unltd. That is the sad part.

    ps: just finished a DogFishHead 90-min IPA and am serving growlers of Amber & Scotch Ale from Devil’s Canyon Brewing (Belmont, CA) at my BBQ in a couple of hours.

  2. Anat says:

    Yes, feel free to share as long as you attribute back to this site.

Oenophiles have SIDEWAYS and BOTTLE SHOCK; now their beer-loving counterparts can claim a film as their own.
- Rotten Tomatoes
A David and Goliath story pitting the country's smallest brewers against the largest.
Beer Wars: Brewed in America, is an eye-opening, funny and righteously infuriating documentary by first-time filmmaker Anat Baron. Her film (think of it as Suds: A Love Story) is also a pretty damning indictment of not just the beer industry but contemporary unfettered unregulated capitalism's disturbing excesses.
- Box Office Magazine
In Beer Wars, entrepreneurialism and opportunity go awry when tainted by greed and a thirst for power.
- Los Angeles Times
Beer Wars certainly raises some interesting questions, the most potent of which is, is this what capitalism is meant to be?
- New Times
For those who are keeping the American dream alive, this spirited documentary raises a toast.
- St Louis Post-Dispatch
A trenchant analysis unapologetic in its rebuke of Big Beer, Beer Wars is heartily recommended for patrons already inclined to opt for the local brew at every tap. It will also appeal to patrons interested in craft foods as well as homebrewed beer and wine and others particular about quality.
- Library Journal