Last week, it was announced that 4 Pines Brewing, Australia’s largest independent brewery, was purchased by AB InBev through its ZX Ventures which they have coined their “global disruptive growth group.” While AB InBev buying up a craft brewery is hardly news anymore, this brewery purchase if a first fo ZX Ventures. It was recently reported by Forbes, that the High End, the craft beer division of AB InBev, was no longer looking to acquire new breweries, that it was instead going to focus on organic growth (i.e. open up breweries that were even murkier when it comes to AB InBev’s ownership). They must have meant, “in the U.S.” Possibly this deal was on the books long before that interview with Forbes or perhaps ZX Ventures is the newest golden child at AB InBev and for some reason, AB InBev is going to funnel their acquisitions through that arm now. Either way, 4 Pines has learned some things from the sell-outs that came before and they took an unapologetic stance in their announcement on Facebook, trying to get ahead of all the brouhaha that was sure to come by pre-emptively answering the most-asked questions when a brewery sells out. From their Facebook announcement:
Here are some answers you might be looking for:
Yes. 4 Pines will continue to operate all existing venues.
Yes. Everyone keeps their job.
Yes. 4 Pines is now 100% owned by ABI.
Yes. The Brookvale brewery will be expanding its capacity in the very near future.
Yes. Some people will think our beer tastes different.
No. It doesn’t.
Yes. We will have access to even more ingredients and better brewing toys.
Yes. 4 Pines has already started developing plans for national and global expansion.
Yes. ABI and 4 Pines fat cats have a squash game and a hot sauna locked in to celebrate.
No. Costs won’t be cut; in fact, we’re looking to invest.
Yes. Our commitment and investment to sustainability will grow.
Yes. We will join ABI’s global plan to be a 100% Renewable Energy Brewery.
Yes. As part of ZX Ventures, we will be part of the global forefront of beer innovation.
Yes. Our current beers will remain.
Yes. We’re looking to grow Keller Door and Keller Door Barrelled even more.
Yes. The founders and all the key people are hanging around.
Yes. 4 Pines did treat themselves to a case of Crownies to celebrate.
While some of the commenters on their page felt that this cheeky reply was disrespectful to their very real feelings of disappointment, it does show that 4 Pines did their homework before announcing the sale or they got the “selling out talking points” memo from AB InBev. All of these answers are well and good but they don’t address consumers’ concerns about putting money in the coffers of a business that consistently undermines smaller breweries at a legislative and business level (i.e. pay-to-play). So yes, all of these elements of 4 Pines may stay the same, but that’s not really the point for people who are anti-AB InBev because of their business practices vs. their ability to create opportunities for breweries that they buy.
Do Aussies handle indie beer sellouts the same way that American craft beer lovers do?
4 pines vs. Wicked Weed
It turns out, maybe not. In an entirely unscientific examination of the Facebook pages of 4 Pines Brewery and Wicked Weed (which sold to AB InBev earlier this year), a couple of things stood out. First, I took a look at the posts on each page announcing the ownership change. We can compare the “likes” to the emojis for “Angry” and “Sad.” For 4 Pines, their likes on the announcement post were at 498, “Sad” came in at 98, “Wow” got 44 and there were no “Angry” emojis. Seems pretty reasonable when you compare that to the Facebook page of Wicked Weed. Not only did the “strategic partnership” announcement on their page show 2005 “Likes”, 1045 “Angry” emojis and 982 “Sad” emojis (bringing the negative reaction tally ahead of the positive one) but even though the sale was back in April, the most recent posts are still dumpster fires. People are still posting negative comments on every post, making jokes about Wicked Weed selling out or just expressing their undying displeasure no matter what the topic of the post is.
This was a surprise because when I checked the Facebook pages of other breweries that sold to AB InBev (Karbach, Devil’s Backbone, Breckenridge), most show no recent activity from the anti-big-beer crowd save for a few stray comments on random posts. Maybe it has to do with Wicked Weed being the most recent of the American acquisitions or maybe it’s because Wicked Weed was beloved for its sour program and specialty beers and fans feel like the sellout is an especially big slap in the face. Either way, it’s a stark contrast to the more mellow reaction from our Australian brethren.
Coffee vs. Beer
It’s not just craft beer consumers who freak out when their beloved, local shop sells out to a global conglomerate. It turns out coffee lovers are just as testy. This past week, it was announced that artisan coffee company, Blue Bottle Coffee, based out of the Bay Area, sold a majority share of its company to Nestlé. The resulting online fury was swift as former fans raged all over Blue Bottle’s Facebook page. Nestlé not only has been accused of pushing infant formula in developing countries where access to clean water is a struggle but apparently, they siphon water out of National Parks as well as drought-sensitive areas to the tune of billions of dollars in profit, paying little to nothing for the water taken. Furthermore, a recent NY Times article outlines how Nestle is contributing to getting people hooked on junk food in isolated areas of Latin America, Asia, and Africa and the resulting negative impact on those communities. People were angry the company they loved and supported was now controlled by a corporation with such a track record.
In the end, these sorts of sale/acquisitions/investments will continue on in the business world, so where does the outrage come from in the craft beer and coffee industries? Maybe it has to do with the demographics of consumers who can afford to buy craft beer and craft coffee and the luxury of being in that socioeconomic class which allows one to spend time being socially conscious. Or maybe it has to do with the handmade, artisan nature that sits at the soul of both of these craft communities. They offer something thoughtful, something special and people get to feel good supporting companies that often boast about their community focused, fair-trade, earth-friendliness. Maybe when those companies sell out, that craft consumer feels fooled and embarrassed they thought the company was something different than it was, because it’s ok for it to be about the money, just don’t pretend it’s not.