America’s small and independent brewers must not cede an inch as the battle they are waging against the multinationals inevitably heats up, Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease declared as the Craft Brewers Conference 2016 got underway in Philadelphia.
Pease said there are now 4400 breweries in the United States, up from just 50 in 1976 – a “craft beer revolution” by any measure.
“Look at what you’ve accomplished,” he said. “The reputation of beer being produced by American breweries has been transformed. America’s craft brewers have changed the culture of beer drinking in our nation.
“Just consider the growth of the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC). Ten years ago we were in Seattle and there were 2000 attendees at the CBC. This year more than 13,000.
“There’s a Presidential candidate who’s been travelling around the country. I won’t call him out by name, but he uses the slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’.
“In the beer industry, we don’t need to Trump up our success. We’ve been – you’ve been – making beer great again for years and years,” said Pease.
Storm clouds ahead
However, Pease said the global beer landscape is changing rapidly and there are “many challenges and storm clouds ahead” for small brewers.
“The number one global brewer is trying to swallow the number two global brewer. Megabrew is trying to become Ultra Megabrew and that could severely limit craft brewers’ access to market,” he said.
“What is the Brewers Association going to do about that? We’re going to fight for fairness.
“The largest brewing company in the world is aggressively acquiring independent craft brewers and thereby disrupting the original disruptors.
“What is the BA going to do about that? We’re going to fight anti-competitive behaviour.
“In the first 30 years of the craft beer revolution, our enemy was ignorance and inertia. The big brewers hardly noticed us – they thought we were a fad. They denied our efforts and our beers.
“Well that sure has changed. Now our challenge is to confront and to call out the brewers who blur the lines between the small and independent craft brewers and the large multinationals.
“Make no mistake – there’s a battle today between the small independent brewers and the large multinational brewers for the loyalty of America’s craft beer drinkers.
“We are right in the middle of that battle and we must not cede an inch of ground in this fight.
“We must continue to educate the beer drinker about the differences between America’s small and independent craft brewers and the large global brewers,” said Pease.
Buyouts don’t scratch the surface
Brewers Association chair Rob Tod said the recent spate of brewery buyouts must not weaken the organisation’s resolve to exclude multinational-owned players from its voting membership.
“Recently we’ve seen a few brewers move from a voting craft brewer defined member of the BA to an associate member of the BA. And I get it, it’s an emotional thing to see this change,” he said.
Tod acknowledged that the bylaw excluding these breweries may make it more difficult for the BA to achieve its stated goal of independent breweries having a 20 per cent market share by 2020.
“But we need to make sure this does not change who the BA is going to bat for to promote and protect,” he said.
“Bear in mind – even if three or four dozen of our members leave the ranks because ownership transitions land them outside of our definition, and they no longer need the BA for preservation and protection, that’s less than one per cent of the 4000 independent brewers in this country,” he said.
“We’re adding members far more quickly than we’re shedding them and our ranks are swelling and more people are drinking our indie-brewed beer with each passing day,” said Tod.