Just Say No to ABI

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ABI logo

Ever since Joe Tucker’s Friday afternoon announcement that ZX Ventures had purchased a minority stake in RateBeer, the beer rating site that Tucker founded, a veritable army of craft beer geeks and writers has decried the act almost nonstop. And with good reason.

On May 16, which now seems like a long time ago, I wrote a post, “ABI and the Future of Craft Beer, summarizing Anheuser-Busch InBev’s aggressive acquisition of craft breweries and the backlash to their recent acquisition of Wicked Weed and the flashy beer blogging website they started in March. All of these deals were handled through ABI’s The High End division.

I also noted that last fall ABI acquired Northern Brewer homebrew supply business through ZX Ventures. For a lot of folks in the craft community, it hasn’t been clear exactly what this business, which describes itself as a “global disruptive growth group,” is.

It certainly got clearer on Friday with Tucker’s announcement of his deal with ZX, which he describes as “AB InBev’s tech-friendly growth division.” As if ZX’s investment (amount undisclosed) wasn’t enough surprise, turns out the deal was done very quietly eight months ago. What rankled so many of us was 1) the delayed disclosure and 2) the potential for ABI to influence RateBeer’s ratings.

Tucker wrote what has become the usual post-acquisition announcement blurb for ABI-owned “craft” breweries, saying of ZX Ventures, “What we’ve found on the other side is a multicultural company that cares deeply about their own employees, cares about the local communities they invest in developing and is taking significant steps to better understand and foster local beer. It’s a great small team in a big company.” Did your eyes gloss over reading that like mine did? Later, Tucker wraps up with the expected, “Life at RateBeer will continue as it has.” Blah, blah. We’ve heard it all before.

Like a lot of others, apparently, I learned the news from a fast-breaking piece posted by Dave Eisenberg on Good Beer Hunting shortly after Tucker’s announcement. Craft beer writers, some of whom tend to do more beer drinking than writing on Friday afternoons, were suddenly tweeting like it crazy.

Social media comments quieted down some over the weekend, and the only anti-ABI-in-craft article I read was a great one by Sayre Piotrkowski in the San Francisco Chronicle, titled, “Why Oakland should stand up to AB InBev’s proposed Golden Road beer garden.” (If you don’t understand why so many in the independent craft beer community are so opposed to ABI, Piortkowski explains it well, with a close-to-home example.)

Then Monday dawned with a statement from none other than Sam Calagione, the respected founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, demanding RateBeer remove Dogfish beers from its website and encouraging other indie brewers to do the same.

Like Monday morning quarterbacks, a group of Twitter users argued that RateBeer was so outdated that they hadn’t posted beer reviews on the website in years. These days, they noted, users prefer apps like Untappd anyway. Posts started rolling in from bloggers like Brew Nymph, aka Certified Cicerone® Linda Johnson, who called this “nothing-should-surprise-us-anymore” news, and questioned where it will lead next.

By far the best and most in depth piece was, “Can I Get Your Number? – How Your Data Will Impact the Future of Beer,” written by Bryan D. Roth, again, for Good Beer Hunting. Roth, who has a sharp ability to ferret out big-picture issues, develops a solid, and rather unnerving, argument that ZX Ventures’ goal is to glean consumer data and manage consumers’ beer experiences.

“Today’s marketplace,” he writes, “demands the use of ‘Big Data’ to create smarter and better investment.” He examines how ZX has done this in Brazil for some time “to better connect to places where drinking choices are made, but also how that’s happening.” Roth concludes that collecting data to drive business decisions will become more critical for all breweries to survive.

Starting to sound a little scary? While it’s similar to data gathering and use by Goggle and Facebook to better target consumers, this is way, way beyond what your neighborhood indie craft brewery can do or compete with.

Ultimately, what so many of us increasingly fear is that craft beer as we have come to know it in the U.S. today—a beautiful community of over 5000 breweries and millions of craft-loving fans—could be acquired into oblivion. We’ve seen this movie before as macro beer companies in the 1950s through 1990s were gradually bought up, consolidated and put out of business until only a few giants remained. For years, the biggest one of all—Anheuser-Busch—waged price wars on smaller breweries. They could afford to take losses on their own brands to undercut competitors’ prices and hasten their demise. They made distributors highly lucrative deals to go to retailers and increase AB portion of limited shelf and tap space, resulting in a decrease for competitors.

Today’s ABI, far larger than the 1990 AB, is the largest brewery in the world, with over 400 brands. Your independent neighborhood brewery doesn’t have a fraction of ABI’s brands or dollars. Even the largest indie breweries can’t compete financially with an ABI-owned “craft” brewery like Golden Road or Ten Barrel or Elysian or Devils Backbone or Wicked Weed or…the list goes on.

What it all comes down to is that if you value your local indie craft brewery and America’s wonderfully vibrant craft beer reality, don’t support ABI—no Bud, no Shock Top, no Stella Artois, no Corona on your Mexican vacation, no anything produced by ABI’s “craft” breweries. Don’t buy homebrew supplies from Northern Brewer. Don’t read brew news from TheBeerNecesities.com. Finally, don’t write or read reviews on RateBeer. Just say no to ABI.

 

Comments

  1. Dave Thomas says:

    Well said Leslie!

    • Leslie Patino says:

      Thanks, Dave. Last night I read an excellent Brewbound article on Rate Beer ABI’s other acquisitions. Someone had commented that, no, American business is all about competition and ABI should forge ahead.

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