On February 12th, 2018, Stone Brewing Company announced they are suing MillerCoors for blatantly and consistently using the word ‘stone’ in the marketing and promotion of one of their light, domestic staples – Keystone Light. As Stone Brewing Co-Founder Greg Koch stated, MillerCoors is “intentionally and deliberately trying to create confusion within the marketplace with their Keystone brand.” Marketing campaigns focused on selling Keystone Light feature slogans such as ‘Grab Life by the Stones’ and ‘Hunt the Stone’ among others, all seemingly attempting to capture the consumer in a web of misguided logic when seeking out beers from the world renowned, California-based brand.
Check out the message posted by Greg Koch yesterday via Stone’s Twitter feed:
This method of creating confusion has been in big beer’s repertoire for quite some time. Peruse any beer shelf in any grocery store across America and you’ll see brands owned by big beer mixed in with independent brands, all featuring similar artwork and imagery and all lacking clarification on whether the beer is owned by a small craft brewery who most likely had to work their ass off to earn that shelf space or by a large, corporate conglomerate that is doing everything in their power to not only confuse you, the consumer, but push those small brands off the shelf completely.
Big beer and independent breweries have been locked in this battle for years now. The Brewers Association took action in 2017 to bring the Independent Craft Seal to life as a way for small brands to differentiate themselves from brands owned by AB InBev, MillerCoors, and other large corporations. The seal appears on the packaging and merchandise of breweries who have joined the BA’s movement and provides a point of reference for consumers looking to support independent brands.
At the time of this publication, 2,939 craft breweries across America have proudly claimed their independence by adopting this seal in some way, shape, or form, according to the Brewers Association website.
The seal is a big step, but it’s still a small piece of the puzzle when helping consumers down the proper path. As a beer drinker, you have the right to drink what you like. However, where the water gets completely dirty is when these big companies with seemingly unlimited resources utilize said resources to attempt to sway your decision-making in their favor…most of the time through underhanded tactics and slight-of-hand trickery like you’re seeing with the Keystone campaigns.
Independent beer continues to grow and things are rapidly changing in the beer world. Even craft brands who remain independent despite nationwide growth and beyond are being forced to re-evaluate their direction because there are hundreds of local, regional, and state-wide options for consumers to enjoy, thus making it increasingly difficult to stay competitive. This is not a knock on the liquid whatsoever, rather an example of the abundance of beer choices people can enjoy, often times direct from the source at a nearby taproom, any time they wish.
Big beer may say this growth isn’t phasing them, but numbers don’t lie. Considering sales of big beers like Budweiser, Bud Light, and Miller Lite have either run flat or declined over the past five years says many consumers have chosen a new direction with their drinking habits. And despite big beer’s attempts to transition their marketing strategies for a brief period (remember how Bud Light let us all know rice is an essential ingredient in their ‘quality’ product before rolling out Dilly Dilly?), it’s hard for them to keep up when nothing innovative ever comes from their product line. Craft beer was built on innovation and pushing the envelope and these 6,000+ breweries and counting continue to do so every day.
So what does Stone suing big beer mean? Depending how you look at it, a lot. To me, it marks another shift in momentum in craft beer’s favor. Stone is standing up for independent breweries everywhere and staking claim to the name they’ve put over 20 years of effort into building, growing, and expanding. It shows that craft beer has come a long way and the revolution has grown strong enough that the ‘little guy’ can fight back and take a stand against a legitimate threat. It shows that independent beer continues to be a community filled with camaraderie as many breweries across the country have already shown support to Stone for their actions.
Stone has grown to be one of the largest and most recognizable breweries in the world. And despite that size, they’ve remained true to themselves, their consumers, and the community they’ve helped grow. They say they’ll never sell out and nothing about anything they do can make you believe otherwise.
Stone’s lawsuit is another example of the changing tides in the beer industry. How things unfold remains to be seen, but Stone’s actions to figuratively and literally stand up and fight against the confusion campaigns created by big beer is already a win for the independent side.
Greg Koch visited Pittsburgh last summer and joined me on The Breaking Brews Podcast. You can check out the full episode below: