The parent company of Budweiser, Bud Light, and Natural “Natty” Light wants to make its beers more craft.
“The idea that we have on craft is a simple one,” Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito said Wednesday in an earnings call. “Craft is a growing and very profitable segment, and it’s one that we’re underrepresented.”
Now, the big-beer giant best known for its light and inexpensive brews wants to change that.
AB InBev is on an acquisition spree, closing on purchases of the craft breweries Four Peaks and Breckenridge in the first quarter of 2016, in addition to announcing its acquisition of Devils Backbone Brewing Company.
According to Brito, these acquisitions are step one of the company’s plan to take over craft brewing.
“First, you bring some amazing craft partners to join us, and continue to help our brewers,” Brito said.
At the same time, the company is debuting its own “craft” options, with more expensive and complex brews such as Shock Top. AB InBev made a major push to persuade consumers to purchase Shock Top this year, airing a commercial for the brew during the Super Bowl in February. Since the ad, the brand has grown in the market organically, according to the company.
These craft acquisitions, craft-inspired brands, and other “above premium” options at AB InBev are some of the brightest points in the company’s business. While Bud Light’s market share declined 35 basis points and Budweiser’s declined 25 basis points in the quarter, the above-premium portfolio gained 50 basis points of market share.
- Shock Top
Of course, many craft brewers would argue that any craft beer created or acquired by AB InBev could never qualify as a true craft brew.
“Acquisitions go against the very nature of craft beer – by commoditizing it, big companies are pulling the wool over customers’ eyes,” Sarah Warman, the head of marketing for the craft brewer BrewDog, told Business Insider in March.
Craft is also influencing big beer’s established brands.
While Bud Light is still the No. 1 beer in the US, and AB InBev and MillerCoors make up 72% of all US beer sales, craft beer has been rapidly growing while brands including Bud Light and Budweiser have been shrinking. To turn around these brands that are traditionally marketed to “basic bros,” AB InBev is turning to craft-beer companies for inspiration.
Budweiser’s most recent marketing campaign doubles down on what Brito calls the beer’s “quality and heritage credentials.” Last December, Bud Light announced a makeover that emphasized the craft elements of the brew, returning the “AB” crest to labels after 14 years off of the packaging.
- Bud Light
Big Beer has taken cues from craft beer with its marketing campaigns,with an increased emphasis onstunts, social media, and authenticity. And like many purveyors of craft beer, Big Beer has zeroed in on irony.Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad, for example, used craft-inspired techniques to boldly focus in on what makes it unique: it’s not a craft beer.
All of this points to the obvious: AB InBev is ready to take on craft beer, whether by buying up craft brewers or by adopting craft-inspired methods of marketing and packaging their own beers.
But the company is missing a key element. According to a study executed by Bloomberg,six out of 10 drinkersbelieve a brewer’s independence is important when picking a craft beer – the one thing AB InBev cannot provide.