Rumors, you know, stimulate creativity. So last night, tormented by the fumes of alcohol, after a dinner during which we heard what we didn’t want to hear, we scribblers passionate about craft beer we had a common nightmare: let’s say that an iconic craft brewery we do Cr / Ak, hand over its distribution to a multinational, and we shoot it big to make the idea by making the example of Partesa (Heineken). What would happen?
Do not make that face: we are telling you about our crowds and you will not laugh at the anguish of others. The fact is before falling asleep we saw the poster of an event organized by the Campodarsego brewery (Padua), “Guerrilla Crak the rules – The event to break the rules” and, persistent accomplices and tendentious rumors, we were unable to get it out of your head.
The rules are broken by doing something unusual, and since the sale of craft breweries to beer multinationals has unfortunately become canonical, our mind has risked a hypothesis (absurd!), an option capable of challenging the norm. Literally.
The rule is that if a craft brewery is acquired by a multinational company it loses the right to the denomination “artisan”. This is what happened for Birra del Borgo in 2016, which acted as a forerunner to the acquisitions, becoming a scapegoat for those who arrived later: Ducato, Hibu, Nabiretta (who the fuck is Rita Pavone?). Few breweries actually, very few compared to the terrible forecasts that were made four years ago for the Italian market, and above all, with all due respect for the “sold”, nothing so shocking.
In short, we are not talking about Beavertown (UK), which in the meantime has sold to Heineken for 53 MILLION DOLLARS.
Just Beavertown, however, when you think about it, is so similar to Crak: large, renowned, captivating enough to be interesting in the eyes of the giants. Crak, like Beavertown, with a design with disarming recognisability and hopped beers with a thousand shades of bitterness, has managed to reach a cross-sectional audience on a global scale, even breaking through the hearts of the generalist press normally not very sensitive to craft.
Break the rules
Let’s get to the point. A brilliant way to break the rules could be to give others the right to sell instead of selling. No play on words: if a craft brewery sells its distribution, this is what happens, with all the advantages of the case, if the company to which sales charges and honors are entrusted is a giant of the Horeca. Do you want an example? One at random, just to make you understand: Partesa, which is from Heineken.
Now, the current situation of the Italian sales network of Cr / ak is as follows: the brewery reaches pubs and beer shops specializing in high-quality craft beer almost exclusively through distributors and enjoys only very few direct commercial relationships. Specialized distributors, of course, in craft beer.
This means that the end customer portfolio is not directly in the hands of the manufacturer, but largely depends on the possibilities and intentions of the distributors to place a product at the premises that supply it.
Twisting the rules
The sale of the distribution to a company 100% controlled by Big Beer would therefore be a net upheaval, for an ultra-premium reality whose current commercial structure is based on a sales network set up in this way.
Granting Partesa the national distribution would in fact mean, in all likelihood, removing the artisan distributors who have hitherto been standard bearers of Guerrilla & Co .; and consequently make a clean sweep of the current army of specialized pubs that would end up abandoning the product in place of others, similar, available from trusted wholesalers.
This would also entail, for the brewery, the possibility / need to re-establish the sales system setting from scratch, being able to enjoy a final clientele, acquired directly from Heineken, which is decidedly wider and more generalist; made up of restaurants and shops not specifically dedicated to the world of craft beer.
Would this mean being able to find the cans of the famous Venetians around every corner, in medium pizzerias, inside service station bars, supermarkets?
Yes with reservation, in the sense that the potential of the Heineken commercial network would certainly allow this kind of distribution capillarity, but that at present the type of product and the economic outlay required from the buyer do not exactly meet the needs of commercial businesses that are not highly specialized.
In other words, a commercial configuration of this kind would mean for Crak to give up the “credibility” of the “square that matters” to achieve, if it ever managed to come out at lower prices and with products close to the interest of the general public, an increase in volumes sold.
It is clear that if for Partesa, on the one hand, the acquisition of the brand would prove to be a very powerful pick to penetrate (and unhinge) the non-specialized beer market, saturating a band of premium premises with a product that can, up to now, make use of all the trappings of the most sought-after craftsmanship; for Crak, apparently the choice to outsource sales to a Heineken subsidiary therefore represents more of a risk, a bet, than an immediate advantage.
And still remain a craft brewery
According to the law in force on the matter, if our risky hypothesis were to be realized, Cr / Ak would remain, yielding only the distribution, an Italian craft brewery, taking two succulent pigeons with one bean. “Breaking the rules” sounds mocking now, in the light of what might seem more the clever filling of a regulatory vacuum.
Why should a craft brewery sell its distribution to industry?
Why then, assuming that our nightmare is actually a premonitory dream, should the brewery follow this path? In exchange for which counterpart?
Hypothesis 1: suicide
The well-known Paduan brewery has decided (“so, de botto, without reason” cit.) To close its doors and leave the scene with a firework, hectoliters of unsold beer in stock and a very loud and evocative sound crak. Rich prizes and cotillon, rest in peace, amen.
Counterparty: none (except the coup de théâtre)
Hypothesis 2: the hoax
Cr / ak has spread rumors about its sale to increase the buzz around itself, before announcing, once the case has exploded, that it was all a joke designed to launch with maximum resonance a new venue, a colossal crowdfunding, a further independent expansion. Applause.
Counterpart: ball hype and skyrocketing street credibility, critics’ award for metaironia
Hypothesis 3: change of register
The sale of the distribution is actually an end in itself move, which will serve to move the consumer pool from specialty craft to a more general segment of large retailers. The brewery will produce larger quantities of less distinctive beers and will come out at lower prices, generating much larger volumes than the current ones reabsorbed by the new, large audience of the Partesa customer portfolio. Heineken’s interference in no way enters into production management but is actually limited to distribution. Too bad that the industry is generally really good at not limiting itself, and “interference” is necessarily, for profit optimization reasons, its second and terrible name.
Counterparty: larger volumes, relative maintenance of productive independence, rainbows, world peace, invasion of cute baby unicorns.
Hypothesis 4: the assignment
The distribution concession to Partesa is only an antechamber towards a sale of company shares, and therefore the entry of Heineken into companies according to progressive brackets. In this case, the brewery’s payback would consist of a sound cash advance, and subsequently a decidedly substantial monetary out which will increasingly move the ownership into the hands of the multinational; up to the totality.
Counterparty: cash out in the order of tens of millions of euros, loss of craftsmanship (and face). But in stages. It goes without saying that, if this is the scenario that is prefigured, Crak would not maintain the status of a craft brewery; adding to the list of Italian breweries acquired by multinational corporations. But we are sure that this scenario will not occur: after all, ours is just a bad dream.