Some startling statements in this report on a presentation by Simon Thorpe, the president of Duvel USA/Ommegang from May 2 reported in this article published just yesterday:
“We are revenue and margin driven, which means high pricing and margins at the expense of volume... We think that the difference that our luxury beers bring to our wholesaler and our retail partners is important, not just in terms of profitability but also in terms of the changing wave of the way this new millennial generation is thinking about beer...
“BMW presents luxury at multiple price points,” he said. “It introduces luxury at various levels through a chain. Their marketing programs are all about loyalty and building someone up the ladder of luxury.” Ommegang and Duvel beer types follow a similar “luxury ladder” and are often found in high-end on-premise accounts. They cost more, but fit with a consumer base that has been trained to reevaluate what is ordinary and what can be regarded as luxury. “They [consumers] need to feel so good about a luxury brand to justify the price,” he said.
See? Haven't I been telling you for years? This is what a certain sector of good beer thinks you are: a source of high margin mark up that has been trained to pay more not because of intrinsic value but because of perceived luxury. Thorpe's point of view has not been infused with craft beer though his career so perhaps it is refreshing that he is so open and honest.
Yet, to be honest in return, it's reason enough for me to not buy his high end beers. Not as a boycott or anything. But because I don't need to. See, unlike a brand like BMW, good beer brands can't claim the sort of exclusivity that underlies this oligopolist's view rubbing his hands as he looks over a limited marketplace. Good beer is thankfully fungible to a degree that luxury cars have never been. And Ommegang is particularly prone to this fact of life. More and more North American brewers are moving into the Belgian clone and semi-clone sub-market and not taking the position that folk need to be "trained" to pay inordinately jacked up prices. In just Quebec alone, I can think of a number of breweries who aim at this niche and make more interesting beer for lower prices. Happy to get better value with my dollar by buying there.
Let's be clear about another thing. This is not someone making the arguments Tomme Arthur did back in 2007 where he claims he is an artist and earns his prices. Not that I believe that all that much but it is his argument and he can hug it all he wants. No, this is the mating of arguments from big beer about "premium branding" with the characteristics of craft beer. This looks much more like, to quote Tomme, "part of some conspiracy theorist group hell bent on raising the price point of beer." Notice, too, how there is no macro-brew left in this vision at all. Not even one artisan. It is another thing altogether. And one to avoid.