What future for young brewers facing a monopoly?
There is a common feeling shared by all young, independent brewers across the world operating in territories dominated by Big Beer industrialisation. They feel stifled by monopolisation, and consider it the ruination of their industry.
Whilst having a monopoly over a market is a highly-desirable state for any vendor offering a product or service, anti-competitive conduct is rarely tolerated by governments who legislate and regulate to discourage monopolistic practices. Additionally, consumer watchdogs monitor and control the conduct of vendors to protect consumer choice and maintain free-trade.
However, the beer industry appears to fall outside of any government- or watchdog-level controls in many countries. Moreover, many governments seemingly either encourage or condone industrial beer monopolisation; consumer choice is of little consequence when Big Beer payments bolster the coffers.
Let’s consider an imaginary airport that may contains many small, independent pubs, bars and other retailers that satisfy consumer demand by providing a wide selection of choice. If all the independent outlets were replaced by outlets owned by a single industrial beer giant, we may feel that that beer giant has paid a considerable amount for the opportunity to control consumer choice and remove the independents. If we took this imaginary example further and supposed the flagship airline of that airport served nothing but the beer brewed by the same industrial beer giant — if this were a real example, would it be a monopoly?
If this situation were to occur, would this be considered anti-competitive conduct by the government of that country?
In many countries there are consumer groups walking the corridors of power to ensure industrial beer giants don’t ingratiate themselves and cosy-up to government. Anti-competitive behaviour and Big Beer totalitarianism is rarely tolerated in the beer industry of these countries. The UK’s CAMRA, with almost 200,000 members, is a good example of this. Governments see consumer groups with 200,000 members as 200,000 members of the electorate — a considerable number of voters to keep sweet in the fragile world of politics.
What does this mean for the young brewer in a country where there is a loyal, stuck-in-the-mud consumer-base that worships at the altar of corporate insipidity? Part of the responsibility for the pervasiveness of the monopolies has to lie with the general public, the drinkers who undermine the artisanal, innovative brewers by continuing to support, patronise and endorse Big Beer. The small brewers strive to keep an important cottage industry alive, they strive to bring high-quality taste, ingredients and quality to drinkers. However, the masses soused on blandness are indifferent.
Furthermore, bar owners, beer stores and other retailers need to break the chain by further embracing the artisanal craft beer industry before it is completely smothered. It is easy to be seduced by the riches of a bloated industrial beer giant when there are no misgivings about anti-competitive behaviour or limited consumer choice.
The feeling among young brewers in these markets is not-uncommon, insofar as they see most long-term opportunity for growth overseas. They see the potential for acceleration in their home-market throttled by the dominance of a handful of major players. This feeling is unfortunately shared by many young brewers, many times over, in most corners of the world. Unsurprisingly, the target-markets for the young brewers are those in which drinkers don’t simply accept what brand-loyalty tells them is acceptable to drink.
As consumers we ought to be ashamed that the lack of interest we show in our own small businesses and lesser well-known brands is driving skills, talent and future opportunity overseas into other markets, merely because they feel disregarded at home. We ought to be encouraging both national and international markets. We ought to be championing the export of home-grown products that make us proud, products that demonstrate and acknowledge how we appreciate our national industries. Simply driving out our home-grown product through apathy is inexcusable.