Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Big Boys

The (American) Brewers Association daily email arrived earlier with links to a couple of interesting articles on the role of the brewing giants in the US.

One was written by Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy for CNN(!) on his fear that the US beer market is getting dangerously close to a duopoly. (Annoyingly the embedded video seems to have no relation to the content of the article.) The piece is quite fearful, as if the writer has heard stories about how bad a duopoly can be - stories from, I dunno, New Zealand? Interestingly it's possible that regulators will intervene to stop the 47% market-share holder from swallowing a 6% market-share holder.

The second was an interview with SABMiller executive chairman Graham Mackay on their "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude to craft brewers. At times it's refreshingly candid. He talks about how little bitterness was left in American beer before the arrival of craft beer, and acknowledges that craft is "local, anti-marketing, anti-global, anti-big, and more focused on experience and knowing the brewer who produces it."

He then chucks in the line repeated by many big brewers: "We have our own craft brands." He's just acknowledged that craft brewing is essentially a movement away from everything big breweries represent, but claims to be, or "have" one too. In other words, they're part of the empire but they're also part of the rebellion. Staggering.

Then there's the perfectly fair and reasonable-sounding comment "Let the consumer decide. If we're authentic enough for the consumer, that's authentic enough for anyone." As if transparency is their middle name and their advertising budget is for fun.

Finally comes the most chilling comment of the lot. "Tenth and Blake is a creation of MillerCoors to solve a specific problem, which is that we under-index in the growth segments." Yes buying craft breweries or starting faux-craft operations (which is the role of Tenth and Blake) is their way of correcting an error in their risk profile. That's why companies like Lion Nathan buy breweries like Emerson's - they're like fund managers making sure they've got stocks in all the companies in the benchmark index. Perfect owners.