A few weeks ago, I wrote about Heinekens’ indirect bullying of local pubs in Cardiff to the effect that they couldn’t market the actual beers they sell outside of the premises. This restriction applied to businesses within a certain area of the Millennium Stadium. It is actually LOCOG (the London 2012 Organising Committee) who enforces the rules, but Heineken are paying a large fee to bully for the privilege. Sadly they are protected by the law and the big company will win in the short term. Big Brewers 1 – Small Business 0
A second instance of big brand pressure occurred a couple of weeks ago. Brewdog were to be nearly awarded the ‘Bar Operator of the Year’ by the Scottish arm of the BII, the professional body for the licensed retail sector. On the 6th May, the award ceremony took place in Glasgow. Before the ceremony, there were strong rumours that Brewdog was favourite for the award. When the winner was announced another company was named, something which even shocked the judges who had been dealing with the category.
However the twist in the tale is that upon being given the trophy, the announced “winners” immediately refused it as it already had Brewdogs’ name engraved on it. On questioning the BII, Brewdog found out that the organisers had been approach prior to the ceremony and told by one of the key sponsors Diageo (the makers of Guinness) and were told “under no circumstances could the award be given to BrewDog. They said if this happened they would pull their sponsorship from all future BII events and their representatives would not present any of the awards on the evening.”
Brewdog being the reticent little poodle it is, immediately took to Twitter and within a day had elicited an apology from Diageo who stated “There was a serious misjudgement by Diageo staff at the awards dinner on Sunday evening in relation to the Bar Operator of the Year Award. We would like to apologise to BrewDog and to the British Institute of Innkeeping for this error of judgement.”. This sorry episode was reported in the national press, Scottish national TV and was one of the top trending topics on twitter.
Brewdog winning the award would have got a few headlines in the Scottish newspapers and trade press, Diageo’s’ actions gave the smaller brewer 100 times the publicity and more public awareness than they could ever have hoped for. Big Brewers 1 – Small Business 1
Now to a more recent and more low key story, last week I wrote a profile of a local craft brewery based in Huddersfield called Mallinsons ran by two brewsters (an old technical term for a female brewer). The brewery is forging a reputation for very good quality single hop beers among their range. I said in the article they had released 11 so far, I found another since then, taking the total to 12. This week they received a letter from the brewers of Stella Artois, InBev. It asked them to withdraw or rebrand their single hop brew named after the plant it derives from, the “Stella” hop.
There is no way you could mistake they two drinks, one is brewed just outside Huddersfield, has a blue label, is a really well balanced ale from the single variety hop which names it, has no chemicals and doesn’t give you a headache after one pint. The other is mass produced in multiple countries, is heavily marketed with a french tinge and tastes, in the writers opinion, chemically and artificial. The Mallinsons brew is available mostly in the Yorkshire and north of England at less than 100 pubs, while the InBev product is ubiquitous across our pub landscape.
The local beer has been out for about 5 months now, if it was that big an impact on the giants sales, it would have been noticed a long time ago. Big companies are litigious by nature, however I don’t see the point of taking this action as all it will do is make the excellent brewers who run Mallinsons rename it to “Stellar” or similar at some cost to the company when the next batch is brewed. Some lawyers, printers and designers win the day, not either company. I”ll call this a score draw.
It will always be the case that big will win sometimes and small will other times. I’m rooting for the little guys in extra time.