In his article, “Can Beer Save America”, journalist and bestselling author David Sirota explores the battle between macrobrew behemoths and what Sirota refers to as the smaller craftbrew insurgents in America’s troubled economy.
Sirota suggests the rise of the craft brewing industry, composed mostly of independent small and medium-size businesses, and their emphases on quality and diversity over volume, underscores a change in consumer attitudes, and thus, a possible shift in the type and nature of our future economy.
“In the fevered battle between the macrobrew behemoths and the craftbrew insurgents, both sides are digging in for an epic confrontation,” writes Sirota.
Sirota contends that for decades, the big brewers such as Anheuser Busch, Miller, and Coors, have ignored taste and quality, in favor of marketing an identity.
“What you drank subsequently became a statement not necessarily of what your taste buds enjoyed, but of your self-image.”
Since macrobrew beers are high-volume, contain low-quality ingredients, and are inferior in taste, they have designed their marketing campaigns to focus on everything but the actual product itself.
The universal theme pimped with macrobrewed beer is a perennial emphasis on how cold the beer is or should be” “a temperature that,” says Sirota, “quite deliberately helps hide just how bad the beer actually is.”
This low-price-over-everything-else model assumes consumers view beer as a homogenized, uniform commodity, which dovetails perfectly with the college binge-drinking culture in which kids are taught to value low prices and quantity.
But Sirota points out that this model ignores a potentially profitable market of beer drinkers with a different set of priorities, and that’s where the craft brew industry comes in.
Small brewers have successfully marketed and sold higher-priced products based on premium quality and taste.
In a year that saw an overall decline in the beer market, the craft brewing industry increased its year-to-year sales by 15 percent and substantially grew its share of the total market.
According to the Brewer’s Association, “Craft brewing sales share in 2011 was 5.7 percent (of the total beer market) by volume and 9.1 percent by dollars”
Craft brewers are generating a much larger share of beer revenue as a growing share of consumers are willing to pay more for the comparatively higher-quality product that craft brewers provide.
Instead of changing their business model, Sirota notes that macrobrewing moguls are doubling down on their existing low-price, low-quality, high-volume formula.
“So, for example, Coors Light isn’t changing its watered-down product; it’s simply going with color-changing cans…And most blatantly, Miller has just launched this television campaign promoting a new can that allows the beer to be consumed as quickly as possible.”
The craft brewing industry is doing the opposite by directing beer drinkers’ attention away from volume, offering instead a diverse selection, from double IPAs to sour beers to barley wines.
Microbrew products are sold in smaller sizes and at higher per-ounce prices than the typical macrobrew, and their products are designed to taste better. An example is Left Hand’s creation of a bottled, widget-free milk stout on nitro.
The questions remains whether or not we will we be a country of high volume and low quality? Or an economy of quality and price premium? Whether it’s drinking, buying computers or choosing what industrial policy to support, Sirota believes we are in the process of answering those questions.