It took a while, but CUB have finally issued a public statement in relation to the open letter I sent to their CEO Ari Mervis.
Needless to say, it wasn’t issued to me and it didn’t actually address the issues I raised in my letter. Still, liquor trade website TheShout received responses from both Byron Bay Brewing Company owner Barry Schadel and CUB spokesman, Jeremy Griffith.
CUB spokesman Jeremy Griffith told TheShout that he would understand the reaction if Byron Bay Brewing Company was owned by CUB, but it’s still Barry Schadel’s brand.
“We are providing the opportunity for a small craft brewery to expand its distribution and bring its beer to a national market,” he said.
I won’t write another 850 word piece making the same unanswered points that are in the open letter. We’ll leave them on the table.
I will point out, though, that while I can’t think of a precedent for CUB brewing a domestic brand under-licence that they might point to support their non-labelling stance, there are plenty for international brands that contradict it.
It is normal practice for CUB to note that they are helping a brewery to bring to market and expand the distribution of beers, such as Kronenbourg. Last time I checked, Kronenbourg wasn’t owned owned by CUB but it’s clearly labelled on the bottle that they brew it.
Here CUB have applied SABMiller’s declared strategy and “cozied up” to a person who has incubated a good business and have done this by brewing, marketing and distributing the beer. As noted yesterday, these are facts that SABMiller’s Executive Chairman Graham Mackay explicitly recognised the public are interested in.
“The consumer has gone back to saying, “Let’s get a bit of interest, let’s have a bit of difference,” Mr Mackay told Fortune magazine.
“But it’s also local, anti-marketing, anti-global, anti-big, and more focused on experience and knowing the brewer who produces it.” (emphasis added)
Why should they tell people of their involvement? Because CUB is the brewer who produces it. Byron Bay merely owns the intellectual property and will count the dollars that flow under the licensing deal.
If I am mistaken on that point, I am sure that CUB will provide the relevant details of the licensing agreement so that I can stand corrected and embarrassingly apologise.
When Barry Schadel asks why he should have to declare CUB’s involvement in expanding the distribution of a brand (note how carefully they both refer to ‘brand’ and not beer) that he created and continues to own outright, his own business partner, SABMiller’s Executive Chairman, answers him:
“What we say is, ‘Let the consumer decide.’ If we’re authentic enough for the consumer, that’s authentic enough for anyone. “
Wondering how they feel about it, I contacted Byron Bay’s other brewery, the one that actually puts a pale lager into bottles in Byron Bay, to see if he had any thoughts on the issue. It turns out they did.
Stone Brewery co-founder, former beer marketing executive (and, in the interests of transparency, sponsor of Brews News through Stone & Wood) Jamie Cook described CUB’s actions as a “corporate comb-over”.
“This sort of behaviour from the large brewers around the world is why they have lost the trust and loyalty of an increasing number of beer drinkers,” he said.
“They have moved too far away from the essence of what the brewing industry is about.”
“Brewing is about being part of a local community, and building strong relationships. It is moves like this from the big guys that continue to weaken beer’s bond with its drinkers.
“This type of corporate comb-over is something that they think most people can’t see … and they are right, most don’t and probably don’t care, but it in the long term it weakens the proposition and authenticity of the category,” Jamie said.
SABMiller Executive Director Graham Mackay has already noted his company is seen as “the enemy”.
“We’re the other guys. They think we’re stealing their authenticity,” he said.
I just wonder if they ever stop and question why.
If you haven’t already and you support the cause, head on over to Facebook and like: Dear Ari Mervis: Please Fix It.
*Featured photo “combover” by Andrew Malone.
Firstly an update to the above that escaped me when I was responding to Barry Schadel. Mr Schadel can question all he likes about why ‘he’ should have to put CUB’s name on ‘his’ label, but I expect that under the licensing agreement it is CUB’s label and therefore CUB’s responsibility to disclose. He probably has no say in the labels and it’s spin doctoring at its best to even put him up for the quote.
But more importantly: Barry, why shouldn’t you disclose it? You did last time you licensed the beer. What’s different this time?
Secondly, I have been spending far too much time than is healthy reflecting on this issue over the last five days, not having a crack corporate PR team and communication managers to advise me. But, having read Graham Mackay’s comments, it is clear that SABMiller know that people are cynical about big companies like his. He also can put his finger on exactly why this is the case: corporate behaviour like this.
CUB, through their Director of Corporate Affairs, can be as po-faced as they like and say “there’s no issue here” while not answering the questions but, in doing so, they just reinforce the reason why they are seen as ‘the enemy’ by some.
What’s sad is that they are trying to be so tricky over such a small beer. Meanwhile their craft arm, Matilda Bay, makes terrific beer but just doesn’t seem to be able to get the traction in the marketplace that it warrants.
Despite protestations that CUB are just its ‘rich’uncle’ Matilda Bay labours under the yoke of being “part of CUB” as well as years of effective neglect while CUB puts resources into previous nonsense like this. Pure Blonde White anyone? It just seems sad that, unless I am imagining the interest in this story and the traffic it has generated, the company’s behaviour here will just continue to infect their other beers with the cynicism that they continue to breed.
Maybe I’m just tired. It’s been a long day.