Big Beer Doesn’t Think Choice Matters. They’re Wrong.

When I read this week that Anheuser Busch-InBev’s Carlos Brito thinks “consumers are a bit tired of choice”, I had to ask myself what he’s been drinking. After all, we are only a few weeks out from last month’s Great American Beer Festival, where a sold-out crowd of 60,000 beer lovers sampled 3,800+ beers from 780 brewers from across the country. For 35 years, this event has been the epicenter of beer culture in America—a place where beer lovers take full advantage of finding that next great beer flavor or a style they have not yet tried.

Freedom of choice, after all, is a central value of our democracy and a core tenet of “being American.”

Understanding this, Brito’s comments about “consumer” preferences tell me something else: It’s a hypothesis being willed into existence for the greater good of one brewery.

We all know AB-InBev has been on a craft brewery shopping spree of late.

AB-InBev is on a roll acquiring breweries like Goose Island, Devils Backbone, 10 Barrel, and Breckenridge. While a growing corporate “craft” portfolio of once-independent brands benefits from AB’s marketing muscle, the truly small and independent brands not under their ownership get pushed off the shelves and left off of restaurant menus. That’s reducing choice all right—but not based on beer lover demand.

The shelves and taps belong to beer drinkers and retailers, not the producers. If one mega company tries to manufacture or force demand, consumers will rebel.

Craft brewers have strength in the independent distribution tier (where sales grow), at the fine places that sell beer from small and independent brewers (where sales grow), and with beer drinkers who want choices—delicious choices in a variety of beer styles from a plethora of high-quality brewers. The shelves and taps belong to the beer drinkers and retailers, not the producers. If one mega company tries to manufacture or force demand, consumers will rebel. In fact, a recent Nielsen survey found 58% of American craft beer drinkers crave even more flavor options. In the same survey, approximately 65% said they are drinking more craft specifically because it offers more variety.

Like any growing industry, the competition and market pressures craft brewers face are real. But the answer to that is to make the highest quality beer possible to win over fans—not to limit supply and reduce those fans’ options.

Bob Pease is president & CEO of the Brewers Association, the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers with more than 3,500 brewery members. In his role, Pease is responsible for the strategic development and tactical execution of the association’s mission in the areas of membership development, events, media relations, and government affairs. He has led the charge to strengthen the small brewer’s voice in Washington, D.C.

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