Craft brewing is exploding in the United States, with 409 new breweries opening last year alone. According to the Brewers Association, an advocacy group for craft beer, more than 1200 breweries are currently on the drawing board.
If you doubt these numbers, take a stroll down the beer aisle of your local supermarket. You’ll be lucky if you recognize a fraction of the brands. Some of them, of course, are not true craft beers. Large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have launched their own “craft” labels, in an attempt to hold on to market share as customers desert them in droves. Another thing the large brewers have going for them—and something the Brewers Association is actively fighting—is their control of the distribution network, which makes it easier for them to keep the craft brewers in check.
All their efforts aren’t working. Sales of Budweiser declined 29% in the period from 2006 to 2011, and are actually down 60% from their peak in 1988. The appeal of locally brewed and hand-crafted products simply appears to be too strong.
Budweiser’s latest solution to their economic dilemma is new packaging: the bowtie can. Basically, it looks like a can of Bud that has been squeezed in the middle, making it slightly easier to hold. It contains a bit less beer than the old can, but is otherwise identical.
The reasoning behind this move is very interesting. It is similar to being desperately attracted to a member of the opposite sex—someone who has absolutely no interest in you. You’ve tried everything to catch this person’s attention, to no avail. Then one day, you become convinced that if you only put on a different shirt, the object of your desire will throw themself at your feet. It’s a sad theory, but that’s what desperation will do.
In this case, the problem is that the beer inside the can is still Budweiser.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to amazon.com