Is beverage behemoth AB InBev trying to make it harder for craft brewers to do business? The U.S. Justice Department is now investigating claims that the beer giant is using unfair practices to squash its smaller competitors, reports Reuters.
AB InBev is snapping up beverage distributors left and right, having purchased five distributors across three different states in recent months. Per Reuters, "Many states require brewers to use distributors to sell their product, and once AB InBev buys a distributor, craft companies say they find that they can't distribute their beer as easily and sales growth stalls." Authorities are also reportedly investigating claims that the beer giant "pushes some independent distributors to only carry the company's products and end their ties with the craft industry."
In recent years AB InBev has been on a mission to snap up a number of craft breweries, including Chicago's Goose Island, Seattle's Elysian Brewing, and Golden Road Brewing from Los Angeles. And this Goliath is about to get even bigger: AB InBev has reportedly just reached a $104 billion deal with SABMiller that would form the largest beer company in the world, meaning this antitrust investigation probably couldn't come at a worse time.
Big beer corporations using their money and power to keep small craft brewers at bay is nothing new: Notably, Florida's craft beer industry has recently come under attack from big beer companies trying to get legislation passed that would make it harder for the growing number of the state's craft breweries to sell their own products. And while 90 percent of American beers are still manufactured by just 11 different brewers, it's no wonder big beer is scared: The whole world seems to be thirsty for American craft beer, with exports surging by 35 percent last year.
And while it's easy for craft beer lovers to get up in arms against the perceived monopoly of macrobrewers, some say the move toward consolidation just makes sense: "Many of the hip upstart craft brewers are maturing into sustaining businesses that outgrow their own capabilities, while others are selling out and moving on with their lives," beer industry expert Peter Cherpack tells Eater. "This is part of a maturing industry in which to make real money you need volume."