The Assault on Florida’s Microbreweries

Herbert Hoover – no, not the inventor of a vacuum cleaner – but the 31st President of the United States – once HerbertHooversaid,

“Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress.”

Amen … Well said, President Hoover.

Maybe a more familiar celebrity to you, Walt Disney, was once quoted,

“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

Competition is a good thing. Of course, it is. Even the Federal Government only allows a limit to open Walt_Disneycompetition under special circumstances and programs. Who would ever want to limit competition? Think about it, the best … sorry … hold on, there’s someone at the door.

*Knock-Knock*

Q: Who’s there?
A: “The Florida Independent Spirits Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the beer wholesalers’ lobbying organization.”

Q: The Florida Independent Spirits Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the beer wholesalers’ lobbying organization WHO?
A: “Quit asking questions! Big Beer called and said, “We’re losing market share!”

Q: Go away. We don’t want any.
A: “Hey, shut up! We’re more important than you. We represent Big Beer and our friends include some big retail companies. You don’t understand – we’re only concerned about you, the consumer.”

Q: Is that so? … In what way?
A: “Well, you know – that whole thing about allowing microbreweries to sell their products to customers who want them inside their establishments. It’s hazy – it needs clarification. Without clarification, the consumer might buy something he or she likes while cutting out the distributor. It makes for a more affordable product and helps the microbrewery stay in business. We can’t have that.”

Q: Why not? Sounds pretty good to me. Plus, our local distributors’ reps don’t have a problem with the way it is now.
A: “Are you stupid? The microbreweries are able to create delicious beer using whatever ingredients they want and can afford. Big Beer can’t do that – they’re stuck using an industrial process to produce a beer which used to be the only product around – they’re on TV a lot, by the way. Look for some great new commercials in the near future! But, back to the issue at hand …

Big Beer has really been trying – they have spent a lot of money creating beer names and labels which sound like a microbrew. Labels – THAT should be enough to maintain their market share – all our in-house experts tell us so – they’re on TV a lot, by the way. Look for some great new labels coming out in the near future! … But, back to the issue at hand … why are you not opening the door?”

Q: Do you think your decreasing market share might be due to the quality of the product underneath those labels? … Why not make changes in your system to provide better products?
A: “BLASPHEMY! … how DARE you? … what do YOU know? … you’re not a shareholder! … Big Beer is too big to fail! … they can’t change their system – it would be too difficult and their leadership is not concerned enough to do so. We can’t ask their top management to start a new initiative in developing better tasting mass-produced beer- their more sophisticated business acumen would prevent that. Plus, their workforce couldn’t do it anyway – they’re too busy batching what they do now to fund top management’s salaries and benefit packages. Hey, if you won’t open the door, why don’t you meet us for Happy Hour? You can get a large bucket full of bottled Big Beer and a hot dog for $2.99! IT’S BIG BEER TIME! …Drink responsibly … did we tell you about the commercials coming up?”

Q: Yes, you did – and no thank you about the Happy Hour. I have two quart-growlers of one style of beer and a gallon growler of another style from one of our awesome local microbreweries. I would have bought a half-gallon of it, but in Florida it’s against the law to sell beer in half-gallon sizes – for some stupid reason.
A: “Don’t even go there, friend – we’re willing to allow half-gallon growlers given approval of our clarification of the present law. Remember it’s best for you if we get clarification. Don’t worry about the reasons – we’re smarter than you.”

Q: Well, thanks any way for stopping by – no clarification needed from the consumer end, though – just leave it alone.
A: “Okay – but remember Big Beer has great labels and names – and hot lookin’ ladies in their commercials, too! Have a cold Big Beer and you’ll get the ladies! Drink responsibly.”

Okay, sorry about that – I’m back now.

According to a recent article in www.jacksonville.com:

“Florida liquor stores and beer distributors are challenging the way the state issues licenses allowing craft breweries to sell their products in tasting rooms, a move that brewers say could put dozens of breweries out of business or, at the very least, halt rapid growth in the industry.

The Florida Retail Federation is suing the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and the associations that represent Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors distributors have asked to intervene in support of the suit. Separately, the Florida Independent Spirits Association filed a challenge with the agency. The association includes ABC Fine Wine & Spirits chain, which is the state’s largest liquor store chain.

The groups said they aren’t trying to shut down the brewery tasting rooms, but rather to clarify the law that allows the brewers to serve draft beer to drink on site and cans and bottles to take home.”

“Clarify the law”??? … Honestly??? …

First, let’s take a look at who is behind the lawsuit.

According to their website:

Florida Independent Spirits Association, Inc. is a Not For Profit corporation in the State of Florida. FISA was created by a dedicated group of independent alcohol retailers in December of 2013 to combat legislation proposed by Florida grocery chains to put liquor on the shelves of grocery stores.”

Visit their web page and read all the way to the bottom:
http://www.floridaindependentspiritsassociation.com/index.php/about-fisa

Another page on their website gives an indication of what they’re after:
“We were successful in defeating Wal-Mart & Target’s proposed legislation last session that would have placed spirits (hard liquor) directly on grocery shelves. FISA’s lobbyist, Scott Dick and his team, were successful in keeping the current restrictions in place!”
http://www.floridaindependentspiritsassociation.com/index.php/legislative

It’s easy to get on the bandwagon of Walmart-haters. Allegations of Walmart hurting locally owned businesses and killing jobs are thrown about like empty cans of Coors Light. I wonder what the local folks who work at these Walmarts feel about being vilified.

What FISA is really saying is “Limit our competition’s ability to provide what the customer wants in a manner more convenient for them. Screw the customer – make them buy from us.”

Although the Florida Retail Federation supports craft brewers in being willing to sell growlers to go if the product is brewed on the premises (including the “evil” half-gallon size), they oppose brewers selling other malt beverage products not brewed on the premises.

There’s that “make them buy from us” showing up, again …

According to their website:

The Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (FBWA) is a not-for-profit trade association of over two-dozen independent licensed beer distributors throughout Florida. For over 25 years, we have been providing hundreds of fresh, quality beers to licensed retailers in our state, from Pensacola to Key West.

The FBWA is dedicated to educating policy makers, licensees and the general public about the societal value in regulating the manufacturing, the independent distribution of, and the retail sale of alcoholic beverages.”

Read that as – “You need education, you rube-like consumer. You’re just ignorant of our industry.”

On their website, there is an article written by Mitch Rubin, FBWA’s Executive Director. In part, Mr. Rubin states, “It is not our intention to shut down tasting rooms. In fact, we support every brewery’s right to have a tasting room and to sell growlers of beer brewed on the premises.”

Okay. I, for one, actually believe him. But I think he would be able to get to the “common ground” he seeks quicker if he just simply said, “The breweries’ distributors deserve their cut. Cough it up.”

Keep in mind, the alcohol industry’s political strength comes from the beer distributors, not the Big Beer corporations themselves. The main group representing these beer distributors is the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

Here is an article by its President:

http://www.nbwa.org/news/insider-columns/maintaining-a-system-that-works-the-power-of-grassroots

The system mentioned is the Three-Tier System. For more basic info about the Three-Tier System, read a quick Wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-tier_%28alcohol_distribution%29

What Mr. Purser has said in the NBWA article assumes a system not tinkered with politically or influenced by deep pockets. In essence, Mr. Purser alleges any misgivings the public has about the Three-Tier System can be assuaged by education. In other words, they’re smarter than we are – we’re ignorant of all the value the system has brought and continues to bring to the table.

Education again.

He states in the website-published article, “Thanks to an independent, three-tier distribution system that is unique to the United States, American consumers have access to the most choice and variety of any country in the world – with retailers selling thousands of labels of beer from more than 3,000 breweries. This system allows brewers and importers open access to an independent distributor tier, making our system efficient and balanced.”

Efficient and balanced? More like, “Where’s OUR cut?” … How would continuing to allow microbreweries to sell their creations in their own taproom without selling it first to a distributor undermine the fabric of our country? Answer – it won’t.

It is not surprising that over time, there have been ways found to take advantage of the Three-Tier system for alcohol distribution – by guess who? … those with deep pockets. Here is a great article which highlights both pros and cons of the Three-Tier System.

http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2014/01/craft-beer-three-tier-system-pros-cons-distributor-retailer-debate.html

It has been said, “In identifying manure, ‘nose’ is better than ‘ear’ …”. Sniff it out – follow the money.

Big Beer has been losing market share slowly over the past few years – and the corporate business gurus at these organizations still don’t get it.

Read this article – http://adage.com/article/news/a-b-inbev-millercoors-losing-share-fix/244178/

The telling paragraph to me is:

“It all boils down to positioning,” said MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer Andy England. As other beers get heavier, Coors Light — which is marketed as “the world’s most refreshing beer” — is the perfect choice “on a hot day or following a hoppy, malty brew when you want something that is a little lighter to wash that down,” Mr. England said.”

Corporate speak. I’m sure he got a bonus for saying that.

The problem is – is that it DOES boil down to positioning – but the positioning is something that in this case needs to be determined resolutely by the consumer on a DAILY basis – not by the jaded marketing staff and consultants of Big Beer implementing a 5-Year Plan. In a somewhat stagnant market, their “positioning” efforts can be effective and a valid course of action. But in an emerging, slowly maturing but rapidly changing market like craft beer? I think their “positioning” will be the product’s high water mark attained collectively by the beer drinkers – a mark driven SOLELY by taste perception EVERY visit – EVERY day. Respectfully, Coors Light is NOT the perfect choice on a hot day or following a hoppy, malty brew. And I think you know that, Andy.

Look, I don’t have a problem with Coors, Bud, Miller, etc. – and you beer geeks out there had better be careful denigrating the mass-produced beverages too much … why? … because it will be just simple human nature for those who religiously drink Bud and such (around 75% of the beer-drinking market, mind you) to take offense at what you’re saying – they’ll take it personal. When they do, what chance do we have of luring them into the craft beer world? Answer: Zilch. (oh my, that would make a great new Big Beer name – Zilch Lite, but I digress)

Staying at odds with Big Beer drinkers cannot help the craft beer industry – especially right here in Jacksonville. By being satisfied with the current number of craft beer lovers in our community is sort of like a small island having one casino and no tourists coming in to gamble. The locals all visit and the same dollars are circulated in and out of the casino – in to gamble, out in salaries and support agreements. Little to no growth … nothing to get really excited about. Do we want that in the Greater Jacksonville Craft Beer Community? Hell, no. May it never be!

Mark my words, Big Beer will be coming on strong in the near future with commercials making craft beer drinkers out to be smug, stuck up snobbish villains putting down real hardworking Americans who drink the mass-produced varieties. Invite a Big Beer drinker out for an evening. Respect your friend’s palate – and look for a “beginner” craft beer. Consider springing for it. We need to gain more loyal craft beer enthusiasts – and it’s time to focus on that.

So what can we do about this lawsuit thing?

The Florida Brewers Guild has set up a crowdfunded legal defense fund. It is estimated that $100,000 will be needed to fight this in the legal realm. The opposition is funded with those with “deep pockets”, so this is a reasonable approximation of the necessary amount.

Here is a link to the site:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-florida-s-craft-breweries

Any contribution will help as the Florida Brewers Guild is literally fighting for the life of the Florida craft brewing industry.

Also,

Contact the opposition:
Florida Retail Federation (850) 222-4082
Beer Industry of Florida (850) 222-8960
Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (850) 224-2337
Florida Independent Spirits Association (850) 421-9100

Ask them why they believe breweries should be required to first sell the beer they serve in their own taprooms to their distributor before offering to their customers.

Remember … sniff out the manure – and follow the money. At the end of the day, it is still about Big Beer trying to limit competition.

Another celebrity of sorts, Fidel Castro once stated:Fidel-Castro

“I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating… because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition.”

Fidel Castro. Limits competition. Hates the American spirit. His leadership has worked so well for the Cuban people, hasn’t it? Good role model for competition-haters everywhere.

Hey! Now THERE’S an idea for the folks who the Florida Independent Spirits Association, the Florida Retail Federation and the beer wholesalers’ lobbying organization represent! … a new mass-produced beer … a brand new label!

I can see it now during a future commercial break:

The Dictator – an Imperial Reddish Pale Lite India Lager Pils – a new girl-getter – the Official Beer of Communism! Available only at friends of The Dictator. Drink responsibly.