Sainsbury’s Craft Beer

This article was first published by Martin on LinkedIn

We British love crafts. Many of us have family names – Taylor, Baker, Mason – that trace back to the skills of our ancestors and even today every village or market town will have its farmers’ market and annual craft fair.

“Craft” sets emotional expectations like “exclusive” and “artisan”, so it’s no surprise to see how Craft Beer sales have frothed on the back of these concepts.

Grow UK’s recently-released UK Craft Beer Report gets right to the heart of these consumer expectations:

  • 77% of respondents Agree or Strongly Agree that Craft Beer is produced by small companies
  • 73% Agree or Strongly Agree that Craft Beer is produced using artisanal processes
  • 72% Agree or Strongly Agree that Craft Beer supports local producers

But not all is as it seems in the world of Craft Beer.

Now that Craft Beer makes up the fastest-growing sector of the market the big brewers are leaning on the bar waving wads of cash at brands like Camden Town and Meantime. Which begs the question; what really is a Craft Beer?

We might expect true Craft Brewers to be making more of a fuss about their art and some such as Moor Brewery remain stoutly independent. Meanwhile, SIBA (the Society of Independent Brewers) has launched an industry-standard kitemark that lays down brewery size, location and ownership criteria that define “Craft”. Multinationals would not qualify.

There is clearly an opportunity for retailers to play the role of consumer champion by ensuring their ranges help navigate this confusion, but there is little evidence they will sacrifice major brewer funding and short-term revenue uplift to do so.

A quick assessment of my local Sainsbury shows an entire bay given over to what appears to be Craft Beer. But investigate further and out of 14 brands on offer just one – Innis and Gunn – is an independent British brewer…and it’s Scottish. Hardly local. The debate will continue to bubble about whether BrewDog – now backed by Private Equity – is truly independent, but Camden (owned by AB Inbev) is not. Nor is Meantime (Asahi), Goose Island (AB Inbev) or Lagunitas (Heineken).

Imagine if your local craft fair offered Christmas trinkets produced for Argos and bread baked at Tesco. Even if they were sold by a hipster with a man-bun and dispensed in a retro paper bag, consumers would consider it a con perpetrated by big business and would rapidly vote with their feet.

Drinkers are paying more for Craft Beer because they believe in its quality and integrity and if the big brewers and retailers lose this honesty they will have called last orders on the entire movement.

Are big brewers killing the Craft beer movement?
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