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SIBA joins fight against misappropriation of ‘craft’

The UK’s Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has called for “greater clarity” over the true craft credentials of brewers, following a multitude of buyouts of previously independent craft brewers by multinational brewers.

SIBA’s “Assured Independent British Craft Brewer” seal

As the craft beer category has grown, so too has interest in its brewers by large global companies eager to get a slice of its success. Most recently, London Fields Brewers was bought by Carsberg in a deal worth £1 billion, following similar deals that saw AB InBev snap up Camden Town Brewery for £85m in 2015 and Japanese brewer Asahi acquire Meantime in 2016.

While the success of small brands growing into larger companies is commendable, it has led to increasing confusion over the term ‘craft’, with brands typically thought of as ‘craft’ due to their independent nature and small production sharing the term with huge global brewers.

“Buyouts such as that of London Fields by global beer company Carlsberg are made in the hope of capturing the original customers and target market of an established, previously independent craft beer brewery – Customer bases which were built on the back of the brewery being relatively small, independent and brewing quality, flavoursome beer,” said Mike Benner, SIBA chief executive.

“Consumers deserve to know that what they are buying is a genuine craft-brewed beer as research clearly shows that most beer drinkers believe craft beer to be produced by relatively small, independent brewers.”

Market research commissioned by SIBA in 2016 showed that 46% of beer drinkers regard craft beer as “made by small brewers rather than large corporations”, although one in ten beer drinkers are unsure what the term means. 35% regard craft breweries as ‘artisanal’ with 22% associating the term with ‘small’ and 14% with ‘local’.

‘Questions over genuine independence and ethics in the brewing industry’

Across the pond, the US Brewer’s Association – which represents small and independent American craft brewers – is also concerned about this shift, launching a new seal last month to identify beers brewed by independent brewers.

The new seal, accredited by the BA, signals that the brew has been produced by a brewery that is independently owned and “free of influence from other alcohol beverage companies which are not themselves craft brewers”.

“As Big Beer acquires former craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which brewers remain independent,” Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association said at the time of its launch.

The Brewers Association launched a label to identify independent craft brewers last month

“Beer lovers are interested in transparency when it comes to brewery ownership. This seal is a simple way to provide that clarity – now they can know what’s been brewed small and certified independent.”

Likewise, SIBA has launched its own “Assured Independent British Craft Brewer” seal for the UK craft beer industry.

“London’s thriving independent craft beer scene has been built on the passion, investment, sweat and tears of genuine independent brewers and we know that beer drinkers care about the provenance of their beer, ” said SIBA‘s south east regional director Ed Mason, who also runs Five Points Brewing Co in London.

“The purchase of the ‘London Fields’ brand by Carlsberg raises a number of questions about genuine independence and ethics in the brewing industry. SIBA’s AIBCB ‘Assured Independent Brewers’ seal will help ensure that customers can tell which beers are truly independent.”

Previously independent brewers that have been sold to global brewers :-

London Fields – bought by Carlsberg for about £1m in 2017

Lagunitas – Heineken completed takeover in 2017

Meantime – bought by SAB Miller for £50m, then sold to Asahi in 2016

Camden Town Brewery – sold to AB InBev for £85m in 2015

Goose Island – bought by ABInBev in 2011 for $40m

Sharp’s Doom Bar – owned by MolsonCoors since 2011

For an in-depth look at the evolution of ‘craft’ in drinks industry design, click here. 

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