A few questions about the BA seal of approval

The Brewers Association yesterday unveiled a new seal that can be put on the packaging, labels, tap handles and other assets of brewers that meet the group’s definition of “independent craft.”

The seal depicts an upside down bottle with the legend, “Independent Craft,” accompanied by text reading, “Brewers Association Certified.”

The association, which ignited the intra-industry “craft vs. crafty” war of words back in 2012, told Brewbound that the goal of the label is to “differentiate but not denigrate.” The seal would not be allowed to appear on brands including Blue Moon, Leinenkugel’s, Lagunitas, Founders, Ballast Point, Goose Island or Wicked Weed (for starters).

Jim McGreevy, CEO of the Beer Institute (of which MillerCoors is a member), saw it differently. From a report in Craft Brew News (subscription required):

"I'm disappointed in the BA's announcement," Beer Institute Jim McGreevy told us today. "They should be focused on the quality of the beer, not the ownership of the brewery. The BI's voluntary disclosure initiative focuses on quality. The BA seal is a gimmick which plays right into the hands of our competitors, especially hard liquor."

As for us, we just had a few questions:

  1. How long will it stick? The BA’s craft brewer definition, not the label. Because the definition has changed more than a few times. Back in early 2006, the Brewers Association cited Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company (bought by Miller Brewing Company in 1988) as a leading craft brewer. Meanwhile, the volume threshold has moved in uncanny symmetry with the barrelage of Boston Beer (the threshold was 2 million 10 years ago, it’s 6 million now). Will something else – percentage ownership by private equity, let’s say? – be altered in order to accommodate changes in the industry or in the life cycles of key BA members? Maybe the seal should be removable.
  2. Who puts people ahead of profit? The BA is certainly entitled to puffery, but language about BA-defined craft brewers “putting community above corporation, people ahead of profit and beer before the bottom line” jumps out. Not because BA-defined breweries don’t do good works … but because big brewers make a big economic impact as well.  The average salary for a brewery line worker at a big brewer is significantly higher than at a small brewer. MillerCoors has several thousand of those jobs. And since 2008 we’ve donated $94.2 million to support nonprofit organizations in our communities.
  3. What is important to consumers? The Brewers Association says that a Nielsen survey commissioned by Brewbound found that the terms “independent” and “independently owned” resonate with a substantial majority of “craft beer drinkers.”  That said, other Nielsen findings suggest that the “general consumer” cares more about the beer in the glass. From the 5/26 Craft Brew News:

In the latest attempt to figure out how the general consumer perceives "what is a craft beer," Nielsen survey shows "unique flavor" and "high quality" are more important factors than ownership or mass production. About half of respondents chose flavor and quality as key factors compared to about 1/3 of consumers that said craft beer is "not mass produced," "not owned by a big brewery" or "produced by an independent company."

Meanwhile, Beer Business Daily (subscription required) had its own query today: “The real question is how effective the BA can be in making more consumers care in the future.  How much money is the cash-rich organization willing to spend to generate major consumer awareness of what indie/traditional means to grow it beyond beer geek-land and into the mainstream?”

One thing is for sure: MillerCoors is relentlessly committed to focusing on quality and brewing the full range of beers that all types of beer drinkers enjoy.

Note: This post was edited to correct the title of Craft Brew News.