business news in context, analysis with attitude

Two different stories this morning about how craft beer manufacturers have decided to sell their brands - some would call it breaking faith with their roots - to major beer brands, causing some consternation among the craft brewing faithful.

The Associated Press reports that North Carolina's Wicked Weed beer has been sold to Anheuser Busch InBev, which will make the brand a wholly owned subsidiary of the brewing giant and one of a dozen brands in its The High End unit. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

At the same time, the Los Angeles Times reports that "Dutch brewing giant Heineken said Thursday it bought full ownership of California craft beer maker Lagunitas Brewing Co. in a move to further expand Lagunitas’ overseas distribution. Heineken, which acquired a 50% stake in Lagunitas two years ago, didn’t disclose how much it paid for the remaining half."

In the case of Wicked Weed, the story notes that within hours of announcing the sale, the company "lost its voting rights in a craft beer guild, was booted from collaborations with two independent breweries and exiled from at least a handful of stores and restaurants."

Walt Dickinson, who co-founded Wicked Weed, conceded that the company has work to do to address the concerns of its "very, very passionate consumers," saying, "It’s going to be our job going forward to win them back and show them that we’re the exact same people ... “I could name 10 other partners we could have chosen besides The High End that the beer industry would have had a lot better feelings about, but at the end of the day I believe this was the right choice for our brand and our company."

As for Lagunitas, founder Tommy Magee released a statement saying, in part, “Only by fully committing to this relationship can we both respond to the historic opportunity that awaits us in all 24 time zones." And the companies emphasized that "Lagunitas will continue operating independently within Heineken to help 'maintain the Lagunitas culture and free spirit,' the companies said, adding that Magee would remain executive chairman of Lagunitas and be supported by his current management team."
KC's View:
Look, everybody has to make a buck, and everybody has a right to pursue their own visions for growth, even if they don't necessarily synch up with that of their customers. Of course, when a brand's vision diverges from that of the core customer, there's a risk ... but in this case, Anheuser Busch and Heineken are betting that they can bring in a lot more new customers via growth than they'll lose by selling out. They're almost certainly right.

For the record, if someone wants to acquire MNB, I'm open to the discussion. I don't want to be a hypocrite here.

I generally try not to take a knee-jerk approach to choosing beers, and won't automatically reject a brand just because it is owned by a big company. My preference is for the small craft brands that have not been absorbed by the behemoths, but I can be flexible as long as the quality stays high.