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Craft Brewers Take a Shot at Anheuser Busch in New Campaign

By Published on .

Craft brewers are taking aim at Anheuser-Busch InBev in a new campaign that accuses big beer marketers of "attempting to buy their way into the craft beer movement." The effort by the Brewers Association, which represents craft brewers, includes a stunt in which the group says it is trying to crowdsource $213 billion in order to buy AB InBev.

"We are going to take on the oppressive big beer machine before they can bleed the passion out of the independent craft brewing culture forever," a character named Andy says in a new video. The campaign is by Boulder, Colo-based Sterling Rice Group. It will get paid support on social media.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired 10 craft brewers in the U.S. since 2011 in an attempt to gain access to what has been the fastest-growing segment in the beer industry. The latest deal came in May with the purchase of Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed Brewing. MillerCoors has also acquired several craft breweries in recent years. The acquisitions come as big brewers struggle to grow their largest brands.

"We can take a joke!" AB InBev U.S. communications VP Gemma Hart said in a statement about the Brewers Association campaign. "While the fake money for this campaign 'piles' up, we will keep focusing our donations on giving back to communities across our country. We're proud of the more than 2.8 million cans of emergency drinking water we've donated in 2017 alone, with more than two million of those cans going out the past month alone to Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern California."

Of course, no one is forcing the craft brewers to sell and it's debatable how much the average consumer cares about who owns what. While each acquisition is typically accompanied by an outcry on social media by craft beer enthusiasts, the brands usually continue to experience high demand once under the wing of the larger brewer. The craft brewers acquired by AB InBev grew sales volume by 26% in stores year-to-date as of Aug. 13, not including Wicked Weed and Karbach Brewing, a Texas-based brewer it acquired last last year, according to IRI figures recently cited by Beer Marketer's Insights. (Some of the gains are undoubtedly due to the expanded distribution network gained via AB InBev's ownership.)

"So far if you just judge the trends, [consumers] don't particularly care," Beer Marketer's publisher Benj Steinman said in an interview. "But this is obviously a core belief of the Brewers Association that more people would care if they knew. And they are willing to keep pushing the envelope on bringing more awareness to the distinction."

The campaign comes after the Brewers Association in June unveiled a new "Independent Craft" product seal that it is urging craft brewers to use on packaging. The new campaign includes a website called takecraftback.com that features videos from several craft brewers talking about why they support the "anti-Big-Beer movement."

The 'Independent Craft' seal that the Brewers' Association wants smaller breweries to adopt.
The 'Independent Craft' seal that the Brewers' Association wants smaller breweries to adopt. Credit: Brewers Association (BA)

"Bottom line, it's about transparency," Adam Wohl, executive creative director at Sterling Rice Group, said in a statement. "Since 2011, ABI has quietly acquired 10 small and independent breweries—but they won't tell you that on their packaging. They flex their distribution muscle to keep small and independent beer off shelves at retail and off tap handles and menus at bars and restaurants. When consumers visit retailers, they may see a variety of beer but many will be owned by ABI. They are creating an illusion of choice, but sales of all of their brands go to the same Belgium-based profit-center."

The big brewer acquisitions have not put a dent in craft brewery expansions. As of the end of last year, 5,234 craft breweries operated in the U.S., up from 2,420 in 2012, according to the Brewers Association.

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