The beer industry is an ugly battle scene between microbreweries and the three corporate giants–Miller, Coors, and Budweiser. It is an uphill battle for the microbreweries, being that they share less than 5% of the entire U.S. market for beer, while the corporate giants share a whopping 78% of the U.S. beer market (the rest of the market consisting of wine, spirits, etc.). Due to the multimillion dollar ad campaigns that Bud, Coors, and Miller run each year, they hold, and will continue to hold, the greater share. However, within the last 10 years microbreweries have been climbing the ladder in relation to beer sales. Today, more and more consumers are drinking beers that have more flavor and character, leaving the heads of the beer industry crying in the suds of their tasteless light lagers. The light lagers are finding it harder these days to get into the belly’s of the average American consumer. Like any successful trade, innovation is the key. Unfortunately, that only applies to their advertising campaigns. Thank god for microbreweries. They apply innovation to what is inside their beers, rather than what is on the outside.
This contemporary version of a David and Goliath story is illustrated in the 2009 documentary, Beer Wars. This movie reveals the cutthroat world of business in the American beer market. Featuring the founder of Sam Adams beers, Stone Brewery, Dogfish Head, and several others this film unveils the ugly side of the competition and politics in this evolving trade. It is great to know that smaller breweries are on the rise as far as popularity (sales) in America, but the corporate giants, with plenty of money and politics on their side, are simply too big to loose.
Although it is good news that imported and craft beers are on the rise and all the big brewers are down in sales (slightly), there is still one major factor to getting those craft beers on the shelves…Distributors! In order to get your beer on the shelves at the super markets or in bars, you must follow the three-tier system, which consists of 1. The Brewer, 2. The Distributor, and 3. The Retailer. This system was established after prohibition in order to separate the brewers from the retailers. As a brewer, you must go through one of only three distributors; Anheuser-Busch, Coors, or Miller. What’s worse is that Anheuser-Busch, the largest distributor, doesn’t transport any other beer other than their own.
The story of the three powerhouse corporations began when the founders of Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors all came to America in the mid 1800s. In just a half a century America was home to over 1,800 breweries. The industry was crushed by prohibition in the 1920s, but bounced back in the 1950s. By the 1970s, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller had knocked out almost all of the competition. By 1978, only 45 breweries remained in America. Today, Anheuser-Busch sells one out of every two beers sold in America (Anat Baron, Beer Wars ).
The future of microbreweries is looking a bit brighter these days. Now more than ever we can see a change in the attitudes of the average American consumers who want a little bit more out of his or her beer drinking experience. So lets all do our part and support local breweries. Long live craft beers.