This all follows a 10.4% gain by Boston Beer last year, more than 20% shipment growth in the first six months of 2013 and 13% growth for all of craft beer during that span. That should only continue through the holidays as, according to Symphony, sales of seasonal beers have risen between 15% and 25% in recent years, with much of that growth coming from craft brewers. According to the Brewers Association, those seasonal sales have helped small brewers sales of craft beer 15% by volume and 15% in dollars in 2012. That gave those small brewers 6.5% of all beer sales volume and 10.2% of its income last year. With recent boosts, that small brewer market share is up to more than 7% in 2013.
If you were MillerCoors, wouldn't you turn to the Blue Moon brand -- and its 10.7% growth and 0.8% share of the beer market in 2012 -- for a little holiday cheer? The brand may not be producing the same 26% growth it did in 2010, but last year's growth beat that of both Boston Beer and D.G. Yuengling & Sons -- each of which has a more than 1% share of the beer market. In fact, if Blue Moon was considered a craft brewers, the 1.9 million barrels it produced in 2012 would make it the second-biggest craft brewer in the U.S.
That's about as close to a holiday miracle as MillerCoors gets, but MillerCoors Chief Executive Tom Long already showed how poorly his company handles even the smallest bit of holiday cheer. In an op-ed written for CNN in response to an editorial by Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy accusing MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev of some less-than-honest "craft" beer labeling, Long defended the legacy of both Jacob Leinenkugel and Blue Moon and made one plea to the U.S. beer drinker: "Whatever style beer you might prefer, all we ask is that you judge us by the quality of the beer in the glass."
That is a fair and reasonable point that most beer drinkers would agree with... if he didn't follow it up with a Bloomberg Businessweek interview in which he told a business audience something entirely different.
"We should be proud to make beers that grow and are popular -- that's the American way," he said. "Being small and unpopular, what's the utility in that?"
In fairness, Bloomberg provided a great, more businesslike description of Long's Tenth & Blake division to go with Long's quote, calling it "an operating unit created to capitalize on the rapid growth of craft and import brews and to help offset slowing sales of light beers." So if there's "no utility" in being "small and unpopular" why is MillerCoors disguising an entire division as a small brewery and pretending a whole line of beers isn't made by the same folks that make disappointing big labels and yellow fizz? Because it matters, and MillerCoors knows it. Just as opening a toy store on the northern tip of Canada that produces and distributes toys all over the world wouldn't turn Mattel into Santa Claus, no amount of deflection or wordplay is going to make Blue Moon a tiny brewery or let it play reindeer games with Samuel Adams, Deschutes, Sierra Nevada or anyone else.
Blue Moon isn't a bad beer and it isn't a bad beer to show up to a holiday party with. We'll even admit that its Abbey Ale has merit, even if its Gingerbread Ale tastes as if someone knocked a spice rack into the brew kettle. It should just get the same treatment as everyone else in the beer aisle, and be stacked next to Coors Light, Coors Banquet Beer, Killian's Irish Red, Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft and its other embarrassing relatives. The holidays are a time for family, and it's not small brewers' fault that the rest of Blue Moon's isn't exactly a pint full of holiday spirit.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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