Craft beer buyouts: It’s the quality of the brew that ultimately counts

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Craft beer: What are consumers looking for?
Craft beer: What are consumers looking for?

Related tags: Craft beer, Brewing, Analyst

When large multinational brewers buy small independent craft brewers, it often prompts an outcry among beer fans. But do consumers really care who owns their favourite beer brands?

The reality is that most consumers – save for a few dedicated drinkers – don't know or care who produces craft brands, according to a Mintel analyst.  

Far more importantly, consumers are looking for the quality of the brew.

However, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both parties is crucial for the success of the craft beer brand after a takeover.

‘They want quality beer’

Craft beers are often built on their local, authentic credentials. A takeover from a multinational brewer can, therefore, prompt a highly critical backlash. But this comes from a small vocal group, Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst, Mintel, told BeverageDaily.

“The hard core craft beer drinker is bothered. But they’re a small proportion. There really aren’t many people like that. The majority of people don’t know, the person on the street doesn’t know. What our research shows is that the majority of people don’t care.

“People want the major brewers to produce more craft beer, and they want the quality beer. It doesn’t have to be about being small; it’s about good quality beer.”

Craft beer acquisitions from the largest multinational brewers have gathered plenty of attention. AB InBev bought Chicago craft beer Goose Island in 2011;  followed by subsequent craft additions to its portfolio such as Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing in September​.   

SABMiller entered the craft beer scene with the acquisition of London-based Meantime Brewing Company​ in May this year; while Heineken purchased of a 50% stake in Lagunitas Brewing Co​ in September.  

So how should a big brewer approach a craft brand it has recently added to its portfolio?

“The most important thing is to let the craft beer carry on being entrepreneurial,” ​said Forsyth. “It’s the whole entrepreneurialism that leads to the experimentation. I think you can help with marketing, but be top lead by them as well.

“The more commercial side is where [the buyer] really needs to come in. How to scale-up, sell lots of beer all over the world. Craft brewers know a lot about beer, the local consumer, but not so much about the world consumer. They don’t know so much about long term growth or distribution.”

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