Great Taste, Less Indie

Many of us try to launch tiny rebellions against big
corporations by shelling out a bit of extra cash for our favorite
niche items. But our small, independent, and organic products are
rapidly going the way of Chuck Taylor shoes and Odwalla juices —
that is, they’re falling into the hands of mammoth corporations
like Nike and Coca-Cola. This trend has now overtaken some of our
most beloved friends: the lagers, pale ales, and specialty beers
that provide us with color and taste in a frothy sea of bland
brand-name beers.

Beer aficionado Barry Schlacter recently reported for the
McClatchy wire that small-craft brewers have
grown significantly in popularity, more so than their imported
and industrial brewer counterparts. According to the Brewers
Association, which represents independent brewers, small-craft
breweries increased distribution by 11.7 percent in 2006. Their
success, Schlacter writes, is due to their thicker flavor
profiles and their refusal ‘to use cheaper adjunct ingredients
such as rice and corn that have given some big US brands an
international reputation as yellow fizzy water.’

Industrial brewers are now looking to tap into the niche
market’s success by adopting a more authentic feel, usually by
donning beer bottles with an indie or organic label that gives no
hint of the corporate power behind it.
Oligopoly Watch, a blog that tracks the
mergers and acquisitions of large companies, notes that the
megabrewer Anheuser-Busch is test-marketing two organic brews, Wild
Hops and Stone Mill Pale Ale, that are being promoted under the
label of Green Valley Brewing Company. The name is essentially a
pseudonym, the blog reports, and the beers are brewed in existing
Anheuser-Busch facilities.

Jeff Ostrowski of the
Palm Beach Post reports that the trend
of large corporate brewers hiding their involvement in craft
beers is more challenging to conscientious consumers who wish to
make an ‘anti-corporate statement with their beer.’

Adding to the complexity behind the label, some megabrewers
don’t waste time on fabricating names; as Ostrowski reports, they
simply sink their teeth into the market by buying out small-craft
breweries. For instance, Miller Brewing Co. owns Leinenkugel’s, and
Molson Coors Co. sets the ‘gold standard for stealth with Blue
Moon, a Belgian-style beer that has been selling well as a craft
brew.’

In another sign of the changing times, Schlacter notes that
Anheuser-Busch, which also owns a stake in craft breweries Widmer
and Redhook, announced that its line of Michelob lagers will now be
‘all malt’ — a common designation used by craft breweries. While
such shifts may lead to tastier industrial brews, we have yet to
see how the trend of corporate takeovers will impact the
independent beer market. Oligopoly Watch‘s prediction is a
bleak one: the marketing and distribution power of the likes of
Anheuser-Busch could muscle the independent organic beers off the
shelf.

Go there >>
Small Brewers Gaining on Big Brewers

Go there, too >>
Beer: Big Brewer Goes Undercover

And there >>
Who Really Owns These Products?

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