I’ve always felt a little spoiled covering the craft beer industry, as most of the people I speak with are down to earth and share their thoughts fairly freely, from brew masters, to CEO’s, to the media folks from the larger breweries. After reaching out to a large corporate brewery for the first time, I’ve discovered just how true that is.
I’m writing a story for Today.com [UPDATE: you can now read the finished article here] about the similarities between the packaging of Flying Dog’s beers and those from A-B InBev’s Blue Dawg Brewing, who make a trio of fruity craft beer lookalikes called Rascal’s Wild Red, Wild Blue, and Shadow’s Wild Black.
There are several stories on the Internet detailing how consumers purchased a Blue Dawg beer thinking it was either a Flying Dog product or a craft beer from a small independent brewer. After looking at the packaging of Blue Dawg beers, it’s easy to understand why some people are making this mistake, especially because nowhere on the product does it say it’s manufactured by A-B InBev.
To flesh the story out, I spoke with Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso, who was quite candid about the situation, and a couple of consumers who had bought the Blue Dawg beers in error and were upset about it, feeling they had been mislead into buying a beer from a big brewer. I also reached out to A-B InBev to get their side of the story, sending them several questions that made it clear what my story was about and what feedback I’d received from other parties.
I spoke with a friendly and helpful guy from the A-B InBev media department who said he’d run my questions up the flagpole and get back to me with a response. He mentioned that they might not answer the questions individually, but rather provide a statement. That’s just what happened – here it is in its entirety:
To suggest that there is any consumer confusion between Wild Blue Blueberry Lager and Flying Dog is a very great stretch of the imagination. Wild Blue is an award-winning blueberry lager that appeals to fans of premium fruit beer, and there is nothing in Flying Dog’s portfolio with a comparable taste profile.
As for the label design, comparing the whimsical blueberry-kicking dog on the Wild Blue label to any of the gothic canines found on Flying Dog is like comparing da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to a Picasso portrait – they may portray a similar subject but stylistically, there’s no confusing the difference.
As the world’s largest brewer, we proudly brew and distribute a variety of brands, and each of our beers has its own identity and marketing strategy. If a consumer is surprised to learn that the beer they’re enjoying is brewed by Anheuser-Busch, it should be a happy discovery, because our brewing credentials and quality standards are second to none in the industry.
So there you go.
I’m posting this for a couple of reasons. One is that I don’t have the space to quote the entire statement in my Today.com article, and linking to it here allows people to read the whole thing – It’s only fair to let A-B InBev say their piece.
The other reason is that their response is dripping with a kind of PR spin that I haven’t really experienced before when covering the craft beer industry, and I wanted to share it with you guys and girls. I’ve spoken with some brewers who stay on message and give watered down responses, but this is my first encounter with the world of slightly tone deaf big-grin-and-a-firm-handshake blanket statements.
A-B InBev is a huge multinational corporation, one that many craft beer drinkers fear will infiltrate the craft beer marketplace and spoil the party with their big business tactics (muscling the little guys off the shelves, using low cost ingredients, putting profits above all else, etc.). Unfortunately, a response like the one above does nothing to assuage those fears.
I was hoping more for an honest dialogue with the big boys, which goes to show what a sucker I am.
How do YOU think they handled this?