In a provocative article today, the business-oriented website, TheStreet.com, which describes itself as the “leading digital financial media company,” pondered whether Anheuser-Busch InBev might possibly be considering buying the Craft Brewers Alliance (CBA). The piece, by Miriam Reimer, entitled Anheuser-Busch Takeover Target: Craft Brewers Alliance?, certainly had the wags wagging on the blogosphere today.
There’s a great reminder of just how insignificant craft beer is to the business world in the opening paragraph, which refers to the CBA as that “little-known craft beer maker.” Compared to the big two, that’s understandable, but given that the brands in CBA are some of craft’s biggest players, it’s also pretty funny and humbling. But it’s good to remember that what many of us take so seriously is just a very small sliver of a much bigger pie.
At any rate, the idea of ABI buying the CBA was floated by Washington Street Investments president Bryce Peterson. Despite stating that “such speculation is premature,” he had no problem engaging in it himself. The thinking is, apparently, that ABI “might think it’s smart to buy a strong brand in the craft area and use its incredible distribution and marketing strengths to grow the acquired business.” Which sounds good on paper, but that’s exactly the reason that Anheuser-Busch earlier invested in the CBA brands individually, before their merger in 2008. When craft beer was beginning it’s latest growth trend, A-B distributors started wanting to carry some, too, and that drove A-B to partner with RedHook and Widmer to satisfy that demand. As a result, I’m not sure what buying the remaining 64.4% of CBA that ABI does not own would accomplish. The bulk of the article is given over to share prices, quarterly sales, and other business analysis. It’s interesting, up to a point, but all the numbers don’t seem to manage to answer the basic question of what advantage there would be for ABI. Plus, isn’t ABI still trying to trim the fat to pay for buying Anheuser-Busch?
The article concludes with a poll, asking readers to answer the question posed by the title: “Yes — Anheuser-Busch sees long-term potential in Craft’s growing corner of the market” or “No — Anheuser-Busch wouldn’t bother with such a small-time player.” What’s surprising is that as of this evening better than 17% thought “no.” They obviously are oblivious to A-B’s history. I’ve never seen a niche market too small for them try to own or destroy … ever. And InBev is even more ruthless than A-B was, so it’s hard to imagine them not going after craft beer in some fashion. Whether it will be by buying the CBA, at least at this point, is still an open question.
UPDATE 8.26: Author Miriam Reimer did a follow-up article to this one, Anheuser-Busch Thirsty for Craft Brewers, Poll Says, focusing on the poll at the end of it. She contacted me about the piece, and we spoke on the phone for a good half-hour, quoting me briefly in the article on page 2.