© 2024 KRCU Public Radio
90.9 Cape Girardeau | 88.9-HD Ste. Genevieve | 88.7 Poplar Bluff
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Anheuser-Busch strategy prompts craft brewers to fight back with humor

A well-enjoyed glass of Schlafly Optic Golden Ale
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
A well-enjoyed glass of Schlafly Optic Golden Ale

St. Louis could become one of the next fronts in the battle between large and small beer companies.

A nonprofit group representing independent brewers is trying to slow acquisitions by larger corporations, like Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has been on a purchasing binge of the past few years, buying several prominent craft beer companies including Goose Island, Breckenridge and Wicked Weed.

"With the increased acquisition of independent breweries by big beer, including Anheuser-Busch InBev, we're seeing these small and independents get pushed off the shelf or restaurant menu in place of these newly acquired brands," Julia Herz of the Brewers Association said.

She added that craft beer producers account for 98 percent of the country's 5,700 breweries but only have 13 percent of the market share, and that is shrinking.

"In the first half of 2017, we've seen double-digit growth from previous years slow to 5 percent by volume," Herz said.

"So, this cooling off of growth is definitely a sign of what we're talking about here has merit and is worth attention."

The effort has centered on a tongue-in-cheek campaign for association members to raise $213 billion through a crowdfunding initiative to acquire AB-InBev. More than $3.5 million has been raised so far.

Even though buying AB-InBev probably isn't realistic, the campaign has received national attention and helped highlight the issue of the small players being squeezed out. The association said so-called Big Beer also controls many distributors, making it tougher for craft brewers to get their suds to beer drinkers.

St. Louis has a unique beer landscape. The North American headquarters of AB-InBev is here, along with a healthy craft sector with high-profile businesses like Urban Chestnut, Schlafly and O'Fallon.

"It's been super fun to see St. Louis evolve and continue to become a destination," Herz said.

It's not known if any of the smaller operations in the area will end up under the Anheuser-Busch umbrella. But the attractiveness of craft brewers around the world has prompted the conglomerate to set up a specific business unit called The High End.

Urban Chestnut is one of several independent brewers that have carved out a spot in St. Louis' competitive craft beer sector.
Credit Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio
Urban Chestnut is one of several independent brewers that have carved out a spot in St. Louis' competitive craft beer sector.

AB-InBev established the division more than two years ago to give the company's craft and European brands "autonomy and support for growth."

In specifically responding to the Brewers Association campaign, which was launched this year, Anheuser-Busch tried to take a more serious tone.

"We will keep focusing our donations on giving back to communities across the country," the company said. It also highlighted its efforts to help in disaster areas with a donation of more than 2 million cans of water to Florida, northern California, Texas, Puerto Rico  and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But AB-InBev also seemed to appreciate the humor involved in a potential takeover by the crowdfunding effort.

"We can take a joke," the company said in a statement.

Follow Wayne on Twitter: @WayneRadio

Copyright 2017 St. Louis Public Radio

Wayne Pratt is a veteran journalist who has made stops at radio stations, wire services and websites throughout North America. He comes to St. Louis Public Radio from Indianapolis, where he was assistant managing editor at Inside Indiana Business. Wayne also launched a local news operation at NPR member station WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana, and spent time as a correspondent for a network of more than 800 stations. His career has included positions in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Toronto, Ontario and Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne grew up near Ottawa, Ontario and moved to the United States in the mid-90s on a dare. Soon after, he met his wife and has been in the U.S. ever since.