Why So Serious?

6 06 2010

Yesterday, we posted our thoughts on a recent Wall Street Journal article about the downturn of light American lager sales. The downturn is something we have noted before in our weekly Beer News Roundups. But interestingly enough, our analysis of the situation was much more positive than most of the mainstream media. While sales for the Big Three are down about 5% over the past fiscal year, sales for craft brews have gone up more than 10%.

Photo Credit: Andrewk100 CC

The Atlantic has an article on the same subject with the rather hyperbolic name “The Death of Beer?”. The article is short. It is lazy. And it makes many leaps of logic in order to come up with the insane assertion that as people are drinking fewer Bud Lights, Miller Lights and Coors Lights, American beer companies are a mere days away from shutting their doors forever. So it made us wonder: why so serious? Why do the food and drink editors of America think that beer is going down the tubes?

We traced it back to an article from Ad Age. Their article, complete with grim numbers and even grimmer quotes from pencil pushers at the Big Three, paints a dark picture of the American Mega Brewer landscape. True, numbers are down for the first time in nearly 30 years. At one point the editor for Beer Business Daily says “I’ve never seen so much red ink on a spreadsheet in all my years in this business…It’s really disconcerting.” Ad Age begins with a reminder that the largest beer drinking population, namely people aged 18-35, are also the demographic with the largest overall unemployment rates. It seems that people who once bought copious amounts of mid-level beers (namely the Big Three) are now tightening their budgets and drinking cheaper beers (such as those we profiled in the Recession Time Drinks Challenge) and saving up for fancier, craft beers for special occasions.

Ad Age portrays the Mega Brew Industry struggling to find new and interesting ways to bring back those people they lost. As we mentioned yesterday, many new advertising gimmicks have been launched by the ad men of the beer world. The Vortex Bottle supposedly aerates the beer to unlock flavor. Where as Coors has bottles and cans that tell you just when your beer is cold enough to lock in all those flavors. Then you have Bud Light with their inane “Drinkability” campaign that is only memorable for its lackluster ability to convince anybody. A-B and Miller continue a race to the bottom for the lightest beer. And A-B and Coors struggle to make inroads with the craft beer scene.

True, the Big Three have lost their ways. But to paint such a grim picture that a dip in beer sales during a recession after a few failed ad campaigns is putting the cart before the horse.

American Beer is not going anywhere any time soon. The fact is American beer did die. And now it is coming back to life. This is an industry that survived multiple recessions, the Great Depression, multiple wars, and a Constitutional Amendment actually making said industry illegal! American beer was dead in the 1920’s. And it struggled back to life in the ’30’s, ’40’s and ’50’s. And a lot of blood was shed (figuratively speaking). By the time of the 1970’s, the industry was pretty much dead again. American craft brewing in the 1980’s by the Grossmans, Maytags, Stoudts, and Kochs of the world helped bring American beer back from the dead. And A-B, Miller and Coors were able to compete by creating a market for light beers.

American beer is n0t dying. And even light American lagers are not going anywhere. In our humble opinion, if the Big Three want to start being respected by American beer drinkers, they need to start respecting the American beer drinker. No more inane claims about “Drinkability” or “Triple Hopped Brewed.” No more “Beer can technology.” No more tricks or lies. Just offer us beer and let us make up our own minds.

As Americans begin to take beer more seriously, money is going to move around. Craft beers and imports are going to start taking more of the market share away from the big Three, or even the big 20. And in a recession, a rising tide does not float all boats. As long as A-B, MillerCoors and the other breweries are stuck in a pre-recession mindframe, any loss of revenue is going to look like the sky is falling. However, a 1% loss in market share given to American craft brewers (the small business owners of our land), that means more jobs, more variety of beers, and an increase in overall beer culture in our land.

So, to the beer and business editors of the American Mainstream Media, we say “Relax…its only beer.” In fact, let’s have one right now. You’re buying the first round.

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