This Bud’s for Who?

September 14, 2018

Living your brand

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer local craft brews. OK, I’m far from “The most interesting man in the world” but a friend caught my interest when he mentioned his son’s opinion as to the most challenging beer in the world to brew.

His son is no hobbyist. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Technology from University of California, Davis, with an emphasis on fermentation and brewing. After interning at a craft brewery, he has worked for brewers in Europe and the US. His opinion, he says, is in line with a broad industry consensus as to the most difficult beer to produce.

Budweiser. There, I said it. And for a craft beer fan it wasn’t easy but it does make sense.

The King of Beers’ website lists 12 breweries in the US from Merrimack, New Hampshire, to Los Angeles, California. With Morrison’s experience in the food and beverage industry, we know the taste, texture, and feel of pretty much everything that goes into what we eat and drink can vary significantly from region to region, variety to variety, and source to source. That includes everything that goes into a Bud, even (I would guess especially) the water. Slight variances in processing (proportions, temperatures, brewing time, etc.) can also have a huge impact.

Yet the Bud you drink in St. Louis must taste exactly the same as one brewed in Jacksonville, Newark, Houston, or anyplace else. It must taste the same this year as it did last year, the year before, and 20 years ago. And if you don’t think anyone can tell the difference, I’d bet that whoever reads the mail (or Tweets) at Anheuser-Busch or any major food or beverage company could set you straight.

Craft brewers get a lot more grace. Some simply change the name of beers that are too off-target, or even start a new line (such as Lagunitas’ popular “Brown Shugga,” originally a barleywine ale gone wrong). One small Canadian brewer simply labeled a misfire “The Botched Batch,” and it wouldn’t surprise me if it sold out. That makes sense too; originality and quirkiness fits the branding of many craft breweries but I doubt “The Botched Bud” would have any such luck. The Budweiser brand means consistency, and as the brewer of the best selling beer in the US (Bud Light), that’s what they have to deliver.

It comes down to the question all businesses must ask themselves: What does our brand mean? Is it consistency, like Budweiser? Innovation? Reliability? If you don’t know or can’t deliver, the market will decide for you.

Take Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. Schlitz was the best selling beer in America until the mid-1950s and held the number two spot as late as the mid-1970s, but by 1999 they were out of business. What happened? In the early 1970s, Schlitz changed their ingredients and fermentation process, which resulted in a very different beer and the loss of loyal customers. Ironically, the changes were made in part to keep up with demand; that worked, but not in the way it was intended.

Budweiser’s flagship brews are losing market share as more consumers switch to craft beers, but shed no tears for Bud; the company has bought or invested in at least a dozen craft breweries (with their separate brandings) and is gaining market share in that more creative sphere. But they aren’t touching Bud, which would likely destroy the brand.

Shortly after hearing my friend speak of his son’s take on Budweiser, I tried one. I’m not sure how long it had been but I’m certain it could be measured in decades. It was just as I remembered, which is their point. How well you deliver on your brand’s promise is yours.

 

About the Author

+Brent Morrison is the founding principal at Morrison & Company, providing business valuations, business planning (including budgeting, cash flow forecasting, and strategic planning), feasibility studies, recruitment, interim executive CFO services, competitive grant writing and special projects that don't fit into any conventional category. You can contact Brent directly at bmorrison@morrisonco.net or via telephone at (530) 809-4669

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