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The Big Issue: Ownership Revisited III


Back in May, the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) launched its independence seal. The aim is to provide focus for the association's drive to encourage more drinkers to support local, Australian owned brewing companies.

As of last week, 86 of the IBA's members had licensed the seal – chances are if you're the sort of drinker always on the lookout for something new, you'll already have held a can or bottle with the yellow, black and white logo stamped on it. The campaign will enter a new phase soon, encouraging businesses that support local and independent brewers to get involved.

While the Australian seal, and the #askforindiebeer push around it, is in its infancy, there has been a similar campaign running in the US since June 2017. It was launched by the Brewers Association and, at April's Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, the BA was able to announce brewers responsible for brewing 75 percent of the independent beer in the States had adopted it in some form.

We got in touch with the association's CEO, Bob Pease, to find out more about their reasons for the campaign and what lessons they might have for those responsible for driving the campaign in Australia.


US Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease.


Why did you decide to launch the seal?

The seal was created as a response to brewery member input about confusion in the marketplace over which beers were independently owned and which were not. Our members wanted their trade association to protect them. 

Since 2008, large multinational brewers have acquired 16 formerly small and independent brewers (see chart below). The multinational brewers use those acquired breweries to confuse the beer drinker in the marketplace. 

Many beer lovers care who makes the beer they drink, but it has become increasingly difficult to discern ownership.


Was there are particular moment (or moments) that made the BA / independent brewers feel having an independence seal and supporting campaign was crucial?

The lack of transparency in the beer market has been a growing problem for some time now. With large global brewers acquiring small breweries, it has become harder and harder for beer drinkers to know and remember which brands are truly independent. Yet, Nielsen research shows that independence is important to the majority of beer drinkers. They want transparency as it pertains to ownership, and Big Beer does everything they can to confuse the beer drinker as to own is behind a particular beer brand.


 

A US Brewers Association graphic highlighting key brewery acquisitions of recent years.
This VinePair feature includes other sales within the independent sector as well as brewing companies that have taken investment from private equity.

There’s been coverage of blowback from some quarters regarding the design, be it the choice to have the bottle upside down or from breweries that only package in cans. How has the Brewers Association approached this?

By and large, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Craft brewers are counter culture and each one of them has a very individual voice. We also realise that design and aesthetics can be very personal. So we expected a variety of reactions right out of the gate. 

That said, the design says “beer” loud and clear. The upside down bottle represents how small and independent brewers have literally turned the beer industry in the US upside down. We did not expect that every brewery was doing to love the design. That said, we now have over 3,500 breweries who have signed our licensing agreement and have downloaded the art.

We’ve also seen a softening from the few breweries who initially voiced opinions. There are many, many canning craft brewers that have incorporated the seal into their branding. In fact, we’re seeing the seal on cans at least as often as on bottles, maybe more often.


How did you go about encouraging uptake from member brewers?

The BA rolled out several initiatives to bring awareness to this new certified mark, including communications and campaigns directed at brewers, beer drinkers and retailers. Some of our biggest promotion has come from brewers themselves, who have done an incredible job of spreading the word on their own. At the end of the day, the seal is designed for brewers, so they will always be some of our strongest voices.


How have you involved non-brewers with the campaign?

We’ve done a lot of work on social media, for one thing. For example, beer lovers are encouraged to #seektheseal when they make beer purchase decisions. Those social media campaigns have yielded impressive results in a very short period of time. 

We’ve also encouraged retailers to help their customers identify small and independent beer brands by incorporating the seal in their establishments. [You can view the BA's retailer microsite here]


How have you structured the campaign and the keg messaging around the seal? Is it more than "support independent US brewers because they're independent"?

Much of our messaging has simply followed what our research and data have shown us about consumer preference: beer drinkers want to know who makes the beer they drink.  

So our approach has been: “Beer lovers and brewers are telling us independent ownership matters, so here’s an easy way to tell.”


The BA's seal on beers from City Star Brewing, Weldwerks and Societe Brewing.

You've had impressive uptake within the industry. Have you been able to measure any consumer impact since its launch?

Based on the data we have from our recent work tied to the independent craft brewer seal, we know that 90 percent-plus of consumers surveyed were interested in the seal and what it stands for. Additionally, beer drinkers who have seen the seal show a 77 percent increase in prioritising independent ownership when they buy beer.


What lessons have you learned since launching?

Garnering adoption, activation and awareness of a new certified mark takes time. However, we are extremely encouraged by the reaction we are seeing. The seal is showing up all over the place: on brewery packaging, websites and social media, on retailer shelves, cooler doors and restaurant menus, and it only will continue to pick up steam from here.

According to VinePair: “Given the speed of information dissemination in the digital age, and passion of craft beer drinkers, the Brewers Association’s seal could easily surpass the reach and impact of organic food labels.”


We'll be catching up with those driving the IBA's campaign when their supporter seal is ready to go. 

You can find recent articles on The Crafty Pint addressing ownership here, here and here. And here we chat to a local expert about the business of beer in the future.

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