Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Invasive Species in the Beer Aisle

So the other day I was on a routine trip to my local Meijer superstore in search of groceries for the week. The shopping excursion began like any other with me quickly grabbing some of the usual suspects I can't go a week without: cereal, milk, bread, apples and bananas, sandwich meat and so on. After a few other necessities go in my cart, I begin to explore what else might be on sale or new on the shelf this week. This is where the zenith of my story comes in into focus.

Being a craft beer enthusiast I wander over to the extensive beer aisle to see what new seasonal offerings might have been brought in over the weekend. Now, in the past several years Meijer has really impressed me with their thorough and rather enthusiastic effort in having an excellent craft beer selection. They stock the full line of locals, Founders, Bells, New Holland and Arcadia, but they also carry a respectable variety from around the country as well. Meijer usually sets aside around 1/3 (+ or -) of the large beer aisle for the craft selection, leaving the BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors and the like) to the other side. This makes it pretty clean cut to the consumer where the quality products are.

So as I peruse the aisle up and down, I come face to face with what at the time I felt was a royal insult. As I looked up, right there in front of my eyes and within arms reach was a six-pack of the new Bud Light Golden the craft beer section. My first thought was one of "Someone must have misplaced it on this side." While looking closer, I realize that wasn't the case at all. The merchandiser had clearly given that shelf space to that product. So what gives?? Just because Anheuiser Busch is as big as they are, they get to have that spot and push a much more deserving craft brewer out? "They dare put THAT in with the highly respectable likes of Flying Dog, Great Lakes Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, and Dogfish Head!? Do they even understand the difference??"

A Trojan Horse of the beer industry! Strategically placed so that the uninformed (and/or apathetic) consumer might not tell the difference. Blasphemy! So Anhuiser Busch wants to play dirty now, eh? I left with this thought brooding in my mind.

At this point, you're probably thinking "Why the hell do you care?" Well, Budweiser's first swing at the growing craft segment was Budweiser American Ale. Now, this product too was placed right in the heart of the craft beer section. I didn't give much of a hoot because it was marketed as a full blown regular ale, and ale (opposed to lager) is what makes up the majority of the craft beer segment. Bud Light Golden Wheat is something different. It's a light beer simply brewed with spices and orange peel. From what I can tell there is no real "wheat beer" characterisitics about it, other than marketing.

After giving it some thought, this might not be such a bad thing afterall. Does this mean all the wonderful craft beer we love will dissapear? No. While it is still in my mind's eye complete corporate bullying to get that shelf space when AB already has 1/3 of it to themselves pushing out a small brewery, time and our efforts I hope, can rectify that.

This is however, a sign that the industry giants are starting to get uneasy. While the overall beer sales numbers of beer have dropped the last several years, the craft beer segment has continually experienced growth in sales and product output of 5% to 10% each year for more than a decade. That means they are starting to "infringe" upon the big three's market share in a rather stagnant beverage segment. The brewing giants are sensing their first real competition from anyone other than themselves since before prohibition! You'd be pissed too! How dare they offer something different and get away with it! Truth be told, they almost did it too. For decades there was only one choice of beer in this country and it was a yellow, fizzy, bland concoction brewed with the cheapest and fewest ingredients available. A consumer-driven economy eventually will force this into reversal and demand choice and quality. Luckily, that process has begun in ernest here in the United States.

To further the impact, the craft beer industry in the United States is united together in collaboration to further the diversification of the beer industry in America and promote choice to the consumer. While the big three still fight and squabble against each other, they're facing a small, but growing and united front that gains momentum each passing day. So let's raise to a toast to beers that were collaboratively brewed with local concern in mind!

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