As craft beer continues to see growth, it's hardly a secret where the increased market share is coming from. Big beer's so-called premium brands continue to take a beating. As documented here and elsewhere, they aren't taking this situation laying down by any means. They want your money.
Then there's brand confusion, where big beer creates fake craft brands, which they then promote as the real thing via spendy marketing campaigns. The beers don't fool knowledgeable craft beer fans, but they do create enough brand confusion to reel in some new drinkers.
Now there's news that Anheuser-Busch, big beer's biggest bully, is launching a new counteroffensive based on price. The story was first reported in the Beer Business Daily the other day. I don't subscribe...too expensive. But I've received several messages from industry sources filling me in on what's happening.
It seems AB distributors in parts of Oregon and Washington (the reach of the campaign is uncertain) have issued updated price lists containing massive price drops on the Shock Top and Goose Island brands. Kegs that were previously selling to retailers for about $110 per half barrel will now be priced at $56. That's not a misprint. No word on pricing for packaged versions of those beers.
Inquiring minds may ask what AB is up to. Well, it appears they will attempt to use loss leader pricing to gain control of tap handles wherever possible. The low hanging fruit likely includes meat markets where the clientele often likes to drink a lot on the cheap. Buffalo Wild Wings and Blitz come instantly to mind, but they aren't alone. These joints could offer $3 pints of Shock Top or Goose Island around the clock and still make money.
What we clearly won't see is Shock Top or Goose Island taking over any handles at aficionado spots like Belmont Station, Saraveza or BeerMongers. Fat chance. The buyers in those bars would rather have their blood drained by vampires than serve charlatan craft brands to customers. It's not gonna happen...though I do like the juxtaposition of vampires and Anheuser-Busch.
Then there's the distributor angle. How could a distributor offer pricing like this? Even with backdoor subsidies in the form of reduced prices, discounts on shipping or increased advertising support, this kind of pricing would put independent distributors in a bind. Of course, many, possibly most of the distributors offering this pricing are wholly owned by Anheuser-Busch. They have to sell this sludge no matter what. So much for the three-tier system.
There is definitely some consternation on the part of MillerCoors distributors, who are independently owned and generally more interested in growing craft brands than in collapsing them, like AB. They wonder what predatory pricing on Shock Top and Goose Island will do to gateway brands like Blue Moon and Third Shift. They don't want a price war. But maybe that's what they have for now.
Look, the obvious goal of AB's initiative is to gobble up as many tap handles in as many places as possible. It's a rear guard action. These handles are apt to be in joints frequented by a lot of gateway drinkers. Hardcore craft bars aren't good targets. Once they have the business, prices of Shock Top and Goose Island will gradually increase.
It's a cynical strategy. What did you expect? It's your money they're after. That's what they've always been after. All that's changed is they've lost control of the narrative.