There's nothing like a junket to the tropics to improve mental and physical dexterity. Wishful thinking, you know. These trips are more or less a regular thing, which means I've talked about the beer scene out here on many occasions. "Out here," of course, is code for Kauai. And it's a veritable desert in beer terms.
I take a dim view of buyouts and sellouts and of AB's efforts to leverage its position globally and in the United States. Not everyone agrees or cares, but I think these buyouts are bad for craft beer, whatever that is these days. Anheuser-Busch hopes to purchase enough breweries and distributors to squeeze craft beer out of the comfort zone it enjoys today.
Upon arriving in Kauai, I got a firsthand snootful of what a buyout looks like to consumers. This happened at the car rental joint. I reserved a car several months ago via a website that offers options from among all or most of the car rental vendors here. I've used this approach to rent a car here for many years. This time, we rented from Thrifty.
It was pretty apparent we were in trouble the instant we got to the rental office. There was a line of customers and only two people behind the counter. Outside, a skeleton crew prepped cars that were going back out. Nearby, folks who had checked in and were ready to go waited patiently their vehicles. And waited.
As I reached the front of the line, a gent appeared from outside the ropes and told the agent he would need another car...that the car they gave him had a mechanical problem. The agent smiled and said he would take care of that momentarily. There were a lot of vacant stares on the faces of people waiting in line. Expectations for a positive experience took a dive.
The agent taking care of my reservation had been to Portland a year or so ago and we struck up a friendly conversation. As he was finishing things up, I discreetly asked him what the hell was going on with Thrifty. I'd rented from them before and never seen a disaster like this.
"We were bought out by Hertz," he said. "A few weeks ago, they came in and switched us to a new computer system, cut staffing and made a mess." He had told me at the start that he had to access another site to find the details of my reservation. The entire process took nearly an hour, for something that typically takes 15-20 minutes in Kauai. Not good.
Of course, there's more to the story. The Hertz buyout of Thrifty didn't just happen. It happened in 2012. But Hertz has been busy dealing with the anti-trust issues that came out of its purchase of Thrifty and Dollar. Hertz had to offload domestic locations of subsidiary Advantage. It evidently took them a while to bring the various locations into the Hertz orbit. Small favors.
In fact, only three companies–Hertz, Avis and Enterprise–control 94 percent of the car rental industry in America. Recent consolidation in the industry, including Hertz' buyout of Dollar and Thrifty, has led to dramatic price increases, as discussed here. Funny how reduced competition leads to fewer choices, higher prices and less attentive service. Huge surprise.
Could this kind of scenario occur in the beer world? Maybe not. But Anheuser-Busch's strategy of buying craft breweries and distributors is alarming. It will enable them to limit access to the market for non-AB brands while their owned "craft "brands, brewed in factory breweries, become readily available. If there's an upside, I don't see it.
Obviously, the significant question is how many people know or care about what's going on in the beer wars. Here on Kauai, I see plenty of people drinking Bud Light or similar garbage. I wonder if they know or care what that choice means. Sounds like a topic for future discussion.