About That Loony Anheuser-Busch “Anti-Trust” Claim

I wasn’t going to waste my time on this but . . . . Yesterday the New York Times ran this piece in which someone with entirely too much time on his/her hands “argued” (and I use that term loosely) that when Anheuser-Busch InBev announced it was raising prices, it all but invited the Obama administration to file an anti-trust suit against the company.

And suddenly everyone and his mother seems to be running around in breathless anticipation, waiting for A-B to finally get what’s coming to it, damnit. Picture me rolling my eyes. Read the piece for yourself (it’s short), but know this:

1. Whoever wrote it knows little or nothing about the recent history of the beer industry.

2. A-B, Miller, and Coors have controlled 80% of the beer market for about 25 years (during which time, of course, the number of American beermakers rose from about 100 to 1500).

3. The Pabst suit was one of many filed by the government between c. 1960 and 1980.

4. All the beer makers, large and small, raised their prices recently. They did so last year at this time, and the year before that, and the year before that . . . (you get the picture).

5. There is no more reason to assume that this price hike will inspire an anti-trust suit than there is reason to assume or believe I’ll land on the moon anytime soon.

Finally, and most important, this is the kind of vacuous crap that ends up in newspapers today as newspaper/media companies try to figure out how to add “content” to their websites. (I am dead certain this stuff would never have appeared in the print edition of the paper.) There is no story here.

If the Times had a reporter assigned to the beer industry beat, the piece would not have appeared, but it doesn’t. As a result, it tends to print inane crap about the brewing industry, presumably in an attempt to woo readers.

In this case they probably succeeded, because this “reporting” was all over the internet in about thirty minutes flat, thereby drawing readers to the Times website. You won’t see fluff like this in, say, The Wall Street Journal or the St. Louis Post-Dispatch because they have reporters assigned to cover the industry (David Kesmodel and Jeremiah McWilliams.)

If you want to follow the industry, read Kesmodel in particular (Jeremiah’s reporting is focused toward A-B, no surprise given his location). But they’re both terrific reporters.

And by the way, I am otherwise a huge fan of the New York Times. I just don’t bother with its beer industry coverage because, well, see above.

9 thoughts on “About That Loony Anheuser-Busch “Anti-Trust” Claim

  1. “A-B, Miller, and Coors have controlled 80% of the beer market for about 25 years”Well, remember that 25 years ago, 1984, was still the era of the “Big 6” and Coors was only #5 (up from #6 the year before, as Pabst dropped down and was in the process of being dismantled by Heileman and Kalmanovitz’s S&P). A-B, Miller and Coors’ market share wasn’t even 2/3 of the market, adding up to only a bit over 62% – OTOH, the total “Big 6” share was a dominating 90%. In some respects, the most dramatic change (other than the loss of the other national brewers- Stroh, Heileman and for all intents, Pabst) is the increase of imports. In ’84, imports were less than 4% – smaller than “craft” beer’s current share. Today, imports are approaching 14%. So, “cheap adjunct beer” from Lacrosse, Milwaukee or Detroit has been replaced by “expensive adjunct beer” from Mexico and, to a lesser extent, Canada.

  2. Yes, you’re right about the timing (ie, 1984). I was making probably too big a generalization re. the time frame.But am not sure about your import number. I think the percentage of imports then was more around 9 or 10 percent. (If I weren’t so lazy, I’d go look up the number.) (Well, I’m not lazy exactly. Just tired. Been a long day…)

  3. If anything, he’s high at 4%. I’ve learned to trust Jess on this stuff…but that’s no way to be sure, and he’d be the first to agree. Imports represent a big change in American beer sales in the past 25 years: big shift in sales, big shift in price/margin (although not, as Jess notes, a big shift in taste/style). Maybe also had something to do with the slide in Michelob (though light beer probably was more of it); but that’s just speculation.

  4. Actually, there IS a way to be sure! (Ie, me getting off my lazy ass to check my files.)Jess, you’re right. And I was wrong. I was mis-remembering numbers. Or, more accurately, I remembered numbers correctly, but remembered incorrectly what those numbers referred to.The nine to ten percent I remember was the GROWTH rate. But Jess is correct: the total percentage of sales hovered around three percent.So apologies. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’m obsessive about accuracy (although I have NO idea how to spell “obssessive.”) And I just kinda ripped through the original blog entry about anti-trust from memory rather than double-checking my facts.Anyway — I stand by my main point, which is that this dumbass piece about Obama/beer/anti-trust was a nauseatingly sloppy piece of “journalism.” And I apologize for being sloppy. AND I thank Jess — who I don’t know — for stopping by to correct me.In case anyone reading hasn’t figure it out, I’m completely absorbed in the new book and trying to teach myself about a new topic (meat, agricultural production, the American food system, etc.) and so beer is, frankly, hovering around the backyard of my brain, which is not a good place for something to be if the brain in question continues to comment on it.But, hey, a girl’s gotta do what she’s gotta do to earn a living and what I’m doing is writing a new book. So. There you have it.Again, serious thanks to Jess and to Lew for this.

  5. Maureen, We’ve “bumped into” one another over on, I think it was Beer Advocate at times (the one I recall was in reference to the “Furry Freak Brothers” quote- go figure, right) but, as Lew suggested, I (like him) am kinda “fact based” when it comes to beer and brewing history. (I call it a “fact fetish”- I think my mother was scared by an Encyclopaedia Britannica salesman during pregnancy.)I suppose the fact that I haven’t commented on your blog before can be taken to mean, up ’til now, everything’s been OK . And, needless to say, among my ever handy stacks of reference material piled on the desk and chairs behind the PC, is a oft-consulted copy of Ambitious Brew. (And I’ve got another copy upstairs should I ever wear the first one out.)

  6. “Fact fetish”? I suffer from Fact Fetish? So THAT’S what it is. For almost 56 years, I’ve longed to put a name to my problem. Now I know. I suffer from Fact Fetish. Ahem.I remember the Furry Freak Brothers things at Beer Advocate. That was, if I remember right, the last time I tried to post anything there: like everything else I’ve posted there, it got removed by the moderators. I’ve never been able to figure out what rationale the Alstroms rely on.Anyway — the fact that that’s where you and I encountered one another prompts an idea for an advertising slogan for the FFB (should Gilbert Shelton decide he needs one):”The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers: Bringing People Together Since 1968″

  7. “I’ve never been able to figure out what rationale the Alstroms rely on.”I find the need to inject here. From their days and nights on alt.beer and r.f.d.b., I have often wondered the exact same.

  8. […] About That Loony Anheuser-Busch “Anti-Trust” Claim (Maureen Ogle) […]


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