beer column

my notes from yesterday's on the coast beer column:

The macrobreweries of Canada and the United States are losing market share to craft breweries.  The big guys are fighting back in several ways.  But I think they're going about it alllll wrong!

One way the big Canadian breweries are trying to regain their market share lost to the increasing love of craft beer is by diversifying their products – for example to include cider in their line-ups.  MolsonCoors introduced a cider to Eastern Canada a couple of years ago.  It made its debut in BC very recently.  Labatt’s brought out its Alexander Keith’s cider in 2012.  Cider is becoming more popular, so it only makes sense to get into that market as well.  With all the craft cider available, that probably won’t be enough to stem the market share slide, but at least it’s an honest way to go.

Another, not-so-honest way is to offer new beer brands that appear to be made by independent breweries – which some people refer to as “crafty” beer.  Shock Top beers, which are popular in Canada, appear to be made by an independent brewery.  They have their own website and labelling and simply refer to being brewed in St. Louis, Missouri.  And it’s true, they are brewed there... but by Anheuser Busch-InBev, a mega-beer brand, not an independent brewery.

Mad Jack – an apple lager that you’ve probably seen advertised recently on billboards and Stanley Cup play-off television commercials – is the latest offering from MolsonCoors to the beer market.  But are they trumpeting that they are the proud brewers of this beer?  Nope.  If you go to the very bottom of the Mad Jack website and hover there, you can find the Molson Coors name.  Otherwise, it is nowhere to be found.

So, why wouldn’t Molson Coors want us to know they brew Mad Jack? 

If you don’t know who brews it, you’ll probably think it’s craft beer.  If they can make you think their beer is craft beer, or as they say on the label, a “premium” beer, you’ll think it is a quality product and be willing to pay more for it.

And if you do find out it’s not craft, and they have already swayed you with their ad campaign into trying, and liking, the beer, maybe you won’t care when you find out who brews it.  They might be right – it is possible most people don’t care who brews their beer, so long as it tastes good.  If you’re like me, though, you do care about who is making your beer – how they’re making it, where they’re making it and what kind of ingredients they’re using.  I am willing to pay more for craft beers because I want quality, small batch beers.  Do I ever drink macro beers?  You bet I do.  But when I do it is a conscious decision, not because they baffled me with branding and I confused them for a craft beer.  I think less of MolsonCoors now, and am far less likely to ever drink a Mad Jack than I would have been if their name was on the label. 

As for backlash against these crafty beers, there is at least one beer drinker out there who felt deceived when he found out that the “artfully crafted” Blue Moon beer he had been enjoying, and thought was a craft beer, turned out to be made by MillerCoors.  He was so upset that he has launched a lawsuit against MillerCoors in California, alleging false and deceptive advertising.  The lawsuit mentions that nowhere on the beer packaging or its website does Blue Moon indicate that it is brewed by MillerCoors, leading consumers to believe the beer to be craft brewed.  The beer is being produced by a large beer company, but sold at a higher price – a craft beer price.  The suit was filed under California’s business and professions code, under which a label doesn’t have to be false to be in violation, merely deceptive, leading a consumer to believe that a product has properties it does not possess.  In time the lawyer hopes to file as a class action suit and get consumers some of their money back.  It will be interesting to see if that lawsuit sparks any others in different jurisdictions.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has gotten itself into similar legal trouble by brewing import label beers in America – basically selling domestic beers at imported beer prices.  2 Miami residents sued them for misrepresenting Kirin Ichiban as a brand imported from Japan rather than one produced in multiple breweries in the U.S.  The case was settled in January, with reimbursement up to $50 for affected consumers.

And then there's all the bad press AB-Inbev is getting for their ad campaigns.

If you watched the Superbowl on an American feed you would have seen the Budweiser commercial that made fun of craft beer – calling it beer to be fussed over and dissected, while Budweiser is brewed the hard way and meant for drinking.  But even if you didn't see the ad, you probably heard about it via social media.

Craft brewers had a heyday making their own mock commercials calling Budweiser out for intimating that they take no care in the making of their beers and showing how craft beer is really the harder way to brew... but at the end of the day I doubt anyone who wasn’t already a Budweiser drinker was convinced to try it, and no one who is a Budweiser drinker was converted to craft beer.

And then there’s the UpForWhatever campaign of Bud Lite that has many people wondering how a slogan that could be seen to promote rape culture managed to get through company officials and end up with the tagline “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” on beer bottles.   Social media was not kind to AB-InBev about that.  The company has apologized. 

Will a couple of lousy ads affect a huge company like AB-Inbev?  Probably not.  But they can’t have helped win back market share either.

Craft beer has integrity.  Macro beer is not showing that it does.  Will that help tip the scales?  It will be interesting to see if craft beer meets the predictions of a 20% market share by 2020.

Beer Picks:

Park Life by Bomber Brewing:  A 4.5% passionfruit ale – available on tap and in six packs of cans

Doan’s Craft Brewing opened on May 7th at 1830 Powell Street – they’ve got three beers on tap, an IPA, a kolsch and an altbier.

Driftwood Brewing’s New Growth pale ale –available in 650 ml bottles – with centennial and Newport hops from the Sartori Ranch near Chilliwack.



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