Red, White and Brewed: How a New Beer Brand Is Making a Patriotic Play
Anheuser-Busch is having its patriotism challenged in its own backyard.
A new company called The All American Beer Co. has launched American Patriot Beer in St. Louis in an attempt to seize on the fact that the nation's largest brewers are foreign-owned. That includes St. Louis-based Anheuser-Bush, which was taken over by Belgium-based InBev in 2008 to form A-B InBev.
American Patriot Beer, which recently hit stores, says it is "taking back America one beer at a time," according to the tagline of its ad campaign running on TV in St. Louis and on billboards. The company was founded by John Beal, who owns a roofing company in St. Louis. Mr. Beal told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was "crushed" after InBev bought A-B. He spent the next three years quietly prepping the venture before launching it last week, his local newspaper reported.
"I wanted to make American beer and I wanted to make an American beer company," Mr. Beal told Ad Age in a quick phone interview Wednesday as he was boarding an airplane.
The nation's second-largest brewer behind A-B is MillerCoors, which is owned by London-based SABMiller and MolsonCoors, which has offices in Denver and Montreal. A-B and MillerCoors together control 75.3% of the U.S. beer market, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. The biggest fully U.S.-owned brewer is Pottsville, Pa.-based D.G. Yuengling & Son, a regional player that only has 1.2% market share.
But as Ad Age pointed out last year, consumers might not care much who owns their beer. Or as beer historian Maureen Ogel told us, "consumers drink beer, they don't obsess over who owns what." Also, foreign ownership hasn't stopped big brands from deploying their own patriotic marketing. For instance, A-B's Budweiser, which is brewed in the U.S., is putting major marketing muscle behind astar-studded summer music festival in Philadelphia called "Made in America," while wrapping limited-edition cans and bottles in stars and stripes. Also, much of the growth in the beer industry is coming from American-owned craft brewers.
American Patriot Beer, which comes in a lager and light lager, is positioned as an easy-drinking brew priced about the same as Bud or Bud Light. Spokeswoman Peggy Lents said it is made for the "everyman," as opposed to a "niche" craft beer. "It's sold out in some of the stores and they are already re-ordering," she told Ad Age .
While the rest of America might not care much where their beer is made, the issue still resonates in St. Louis, said Steven Thurman, owner of New Standard Creative Agency, a small St. Louis ad agency, which created the American Patriot ads. "There is a little bit more pride in St. Louis," he said. "When AB was bought out, there was certainly a sense of loss."
A-B InBev's executive management board is dominated by Brazilians, who have made cutting costs a priority at A-B. But the brewer still employs a boatload of people at 12 U.S. breweries and at its U.S. division headquarters in St. Louis. A-B InBev also has a significant presence at a global office in New York.
"We provide good-paying jobs for thousands of American workers from coast to coast, amounting to more than a billion dollars in wages, and pay billions in U.S. federal, state, local and excise taxes," A-B said in a statement to Ad Age . The brewer also pointed to its new "Track Your Bud," program, a digital effort that "gives our consumers transparency into how and where Budweiser is made and where its raw materials come from, which includes barley farms in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin; and hop farms in Idaho, Washington, Oregon."
American Patriot has done a little border jumping itself. While sold in St. Louis, the brand is contract-brewed up north, in Wisconsin. "In a perfect world, John would love to be able to own a brewery," Ms. Lents said. But "the best and fastest way to get into it was not to wait until he built a brewery."