Craft beer isn’t something you learn about because it’s in your face any time you turn on the TV, pull up Facebook, or walk into a beer distributor. Knowledge of craft beer is gained from word-of-mouth, select locales spotlighting featured brews, and us as beer consumers making up our own minds about what we wish to drink.
For decades, the big beer makers at Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors have poured BILLIONS of dollars into advertising their product with high hopes of maintaining the stranglehold they have on the beer marketshare. They use their deep pockets, as well as political influence and other questionable tactics, to keep microbreweries off the radar of the typical beer drinker. It is a difficult proposition for craft beer brewers to get their product over in any given beer market simply because most of the shelf space is consumed by the big guys.
Over the past decade, there has been a major paradigm shift in the beer industry. Miller and Coors merged. Anheuser-Busch was bought out and became Anheuser-Busch In Bev, the world’s largest beer manufacturer. After the merger, they continued to buy out several smaller, independent breweries and put their name under their flag.
Even with these efforts, the growth trend for the big conglomerates has flatlined…because the voice of the craft beer market has gotten louder. This has led to a power struggle that appears to be the equivalent of the big guys firing a bazooka against the little guys’ cap gun.
Because the big guys know there’s a real competitor out there, they use any tactic necessary to keep you, the consumer, unaware of the craft beer options available to you. Their influence allows them to own the majority of shelf space in most grocery stores, bodegas, and bottle shops, thus making it hard for the craft beers to get face time with you. Even worse, the big guys’ influence and support of regional distributors sometimes makes it hard for a craft beer to even get onto a delivery truck.
Below is your typical grocery store beer aisle. Next time you’re shopping, take a look at the variety of packaging options in front of you. 6-packs, 12-packs, 20-packs, 24-packs, 30-packs, 6-packs of bottles, 6-packs of 16 0z cans…all housing the same type of mass-produced, domestic beer chock full of additives to lessen the flavor. Are that many packaging options necessary? No, but that many options eat up significant shelf space and keep craft beer hidden to the point you have to search hard for them, or off the shelf altogether.
It’s for reasons like this that advocates of craft beer need to make the extra effort to support the independents. An all-in craft beer loyalist has reached the point where an ad with a cute dog and a big horse isn’t going to determine what beer they drink. The more people of that mindset, the better. This is what keeps the craft breweries in demand and their creative offerings coming!
The craft beer brewers understand they aren’t in their battle alone. While they may be in competition against each other on the surface, they are unified as one against the big guys. Also, their fan base will stick by them and continue buying and drinking their product because they know it was brewed with their tastes in mind. The mass-producers can’t say that. Their product is made and sold with shareholder profit in mind.
While taste is undeniably a major dictator in the love of craft beer, an element of principle comes into play, too. We are a country that champions free enterprise, yet succumbs to corporate oppression out of convenience. The conglomerates win because we patronize them. The big guys pour billions of dollars into advertising and marketing instead of enhancing their product because it’s working. Only you, the consumer, can buck the system and help change evolve.
When it comes to our beer, let’s help the independent breweries, the ones who have us in mind, fight a winning battle.