Behind the Scenes on 2018 and the Independent Craft Brewer Seal

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Way back in 2017 when the Brewers Association (BA) launched the independent craft brewer seal, 432 U.S. craft brewing companies signed up to use the new certified mark on the very first day. As of December 3, 2018 more than 4,000 craft breweries, and counting, have signed on to use the seal. This group of breweries represents more than 85 percent of the volume of craft brewed beer today. Needless to say, we have seen much momentum and reached many milestones in 2018. I wanted to share some insights from this past year.


1. Take Craft Back

  • Coming off the heels of Take Craft Back, which launched October through December 2017, craft brewers and the seal were poised to gain more attention.
  • Take Craft Back was the first campaign to feature the likeness of the seal.
  • The campaign had a ginormous goal: crowd source $213 billion to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), flipping the script on the global company that’s purchased 10 independent U.S. breweries since 2011.
  • We failed but made a point. The campaign earned more than $3.8 million in pledges of support from almost 12,000 people.

2. Retail Support

On April 25, 2018, we launched an independent craft beer seal retailer program to equip on- and off-premise retailers with free assets to activate the independent craft brewer seal and elevate how they promote independent craft beer. Since the launch, we’ve heard from thousands of retailers, breweries and beer industry stakeholders declaring their support of the seal and requesting seal point-of-sale materials.

3. That’s Independence You’re Tasting

On August 28, 2018 we were proud to launch the That’s Independence You’re Tasting campaign, the first-ever national advertising campaign by the Brewers Association to support small and independent craft brewers.

  • This campaign centers around two commercial spots, “Independence” and “Choice,” to put small brewers on the big stage across multiple channels, including linear TV, digital TV, social media, and Pandora Radio. Historic in scope as the Brewers Association’s largest ever campaign, we increased awareness of the independent craft brewer seal across major channels, including the CBS Sports Network, Comedy Central, Travel Channel, and a variety of other CBS shows.
  • Engaging a broad range of craft beer lovers, these commercials not only advance awareness of craft breweries, but they also advance the beverage of beer. Shot on film for a raw, more realistic, approachable, and authentic feel, they strategically feature a diverse set of appreciators enjoying beer in a variety of clean glassware and featuring a multitude of beer styles in various packaging served in a variety of ways. Both TV and the Pandora commercials have a female voice over, and the brewers in the commercials are real brewers.
  • Hashtag #SeekTheSeal and #IndependentBeer showcase the scope of the movement with tens of thousands of mentions.
  • To date this campaign is still running. Look for more in 2019.


Data continues to come in that reinforces the importance of independent ownership and the seal, but it is still early. Rome was not built in a day. Today, 98 percent of the breweries in the U.S. have only an estimated 13 percent of the total market share by volume. As we all know, it’s a long-term game to advance awareness, shelf-space and support for independent breweries. Now 18 months into this effort, we are very pleased that the prominence of the seal continues to grow, but understand that it will take time for some statistics, like purchase influence and year over year sales lift, to hit an apples to apples level. That said, here are some nuggets of interest:

  • In the Nielsen OPUS Fall 2018 survey of 2,708 ‘craft beer’ respondents, when asked, “If you saw this logo on beer how much, if at all, would it affect your likelihood of purchasing the beer?”:
    • 40 percent said the seal would make them ‘more’ or ‘much more’ likely to buy a beer. This is a 5 percent increase from a year ago, when 35 percent said the same.
    • That number jumps to 57 percent for craft beer lovers 21-34 (up from 45 percent a year ago), with 23 percent stating it would make them ‘much more’ likely to purchase.
  • For craft drinkers, here is the trend:
  Total U.S. 21-34 35-54 55+ Female Male
Fall 2018 40% 57% 41% 26% 37% 43%
Spring 2018 39% 54% 38% 27% 37% 40%
Fall 2017 35% 45% 38% 24% 34% 36%
Source: Nielsen OPUS

Also, in 2018 the Brewers Association reported a 5 percent growth by volume for craft breweries for the first half of the year (full 2018 statistics will be shared in Q1 2019). This number reflects the cooling of growth we continue to see. It’s fair to ask if that number might have been lower without the independent craft brewer seal and the national campaigns supporting the effort.

As for 2019, stay tuned for more specific data updates that we will add to our retailer sell sheets.

Brewery Packaging and Marketing

With 4,000 breweries having now adopted the seal, we’re starting to see even more activating it on brewery marketing and packaging in a number of interesting ways. A few gems to share include:

  • 86 percent of the top 50 craft brewing companies have adopted the seal, and 60 percent have added it to their packaging.
  • Throughout 2018 we saw ongoing brewers guild support behind the seal. One example: On Giving Tuesday, Nov. 20, strategically close to Small Business Saturday, nearly 30 craft brewers in Wisconsin hoisted a seal flag at their breweries.
  • From Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware:

“I am proud to announce that Dogfish Head believes so strongly in the BA’s objective to help small indie craft breweries differentiate ourselves that we are making the BA indie seal as big as we possibly can on our biggest selling beer’s packaging: 60 Minute IPA.”

Marketplace Acceptance

The broader beerscape, aka beyond breweries, also has many examples. Here are just a few from 2018:

  • Untappd Badge: Since September 20, 2018 the seal has achieved more than 2M+ ‘unlocks’ with hundreds of thousands of shares of the ‘Independent U.S. Craft Breweries’ badge.
  • BeerAdvocate: The go-to beer rating website now has the seal on every single page of its site. It’s also now on independent brewery banners at their festivals.
  • Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine: The magazine and website has formally added the seal to both their website and magazine beer listings.
  • TapHunter: TapHunter is now using the seal. See an example here.
  • Tavour: The independent beer sales site and app has added the seal.
  • BreweryDB: BreweryDB’s API is used by hundreds of beer web and app developers and other services that, as of 2018, can update their programming to display the seal icon next to craft beer listings.

Independent Ownership is a Global Phenomenon

In 2018, we witnessed a global movement dedicated to support independent breweries, with multiple countries also seeing value in a seal.

  • On October 9, 2018, nine regulatory bodies met in Brussels to create a European Union for craft beer. Countries represented included France, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, all of whom represent smaller, independent craft brewers.
  • Independent breweries in Ireland , Australia and the United Kingdom all now have their own seals to differentiate and designate craft brewers’ beers.

In Summary

In 2018 what remains top of mind for me is that research shows that seals work for both sales and trust. With Big Beer acquired brands lacking the transparency of stating their parent company owner, this is an area where craft brewers can continue to provide clarity by use of a seal. The seal flips the script and tells beer lovers the beer they hold is from a certified independent brewery and reminds them that craft brewers turned the beer world upside down evolving it to an even more meaningful place.

Beer drinkers have a right to know when they are purchasing a beer from a large global brewery or an independent one. Many of them want to support small and independent businesses, but BA research shows that many beer lovers cannot distinguish true small and independent craft brands from acquired Big Beer brands. Thus, the pursuit to provide clarity is merited.

The seal captures the spirit of what small and independent craft brewers have achieved. For many people, beer is more than just what’s in the glass—it is also about the people who brew it and who owns the brewery behind the brands.

Today, with an ever-increasing number of breweries having invested to add this new mark to their packaging and marketing, we have traction and ever-increasing reports of “seal sightings” in the market. In 2019, look for continuing campaigns, more retailer support, more market place prominence and activations, and more beer lovers seeking the seal. We are in it for the long-term just like the independent craft breweries who the seal represents.