I have to say I am still intrigued by the idea of Walmart discount craft beer discussed on Monday. Frankly, I have been waiting for a paradigm shift for a couple of years and it has not come along. Good beer's resilience has laughed in the face of the brewery bubble for many moons now. Good beer has stayed off the food pairing thing in a surprisingly noble way. Good beer has stood it's ground against the adulterations of hipsters. Like a flame in a hurricane lamp in the midst of a storm, it has withstood.
But if it faces cut rate pricing... will it still stand? This question leads to a number of ideas. First, let's face it - we have lived in soft times for good beer. Prices have risen well past inflationary forces upon price inputs. There was a perception that good beer ought to cost more regardless, an idea that reflects a number of sorts of ambition. But the implications of that for me is not the point. Good beer makes its way. Whatever we think of as established big good beer - even if it is still somewhat niche - I don't think that is threatened because that ambition will continue.
Second, Walmart will not be alone if it is serious about not just bulk beer but good beer as well. Others will match the loss leader opportunity and not compete with them so much as take on the whole market with them. After my New York and New England beer retail shopping experience this summer, I am reminded a lot of how much it is like a 1995 Internet moment. I once dealt with small shop storefront ISPs and email providers like I deal with great craft beer retailers. That might end if the grocery chains and Walmarts use lower priced craft beer like we know they use cheap ice cream before a long weekend. Is that critical?
Third, any effect will now be broad. Big national US craft like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada will continue to grow and supply gas stations, grocery stores as well as beer bars. They will sell into the Walmart and competitor market. They have survived and, despite the branding, are of a scale and have lived long enough to have a strategy that will allow them to benefit. They may splinter away from the craft segment even more and become even more clearly the "bulk craft" segment. They will survive.
So who suffers? The little shop? The smaller brewer who can't supply large outlets? The BAer thread on the idea of Walmart discounting beer is the oddest sort of confessional. One guy says "why not?" while another says "NEVER!!!" Which leads me to ask myself again whither the ascribed value of craft beer. Is it just angstity fear of the precious loss of exclusivity? I mean we now see people using "curated" with good beer as if it were art and not something you take in with your throat and intestines. It's gotten all status ridden like it never was when fewer of us cared. But if that goes away... is it a loss?
I am not sure where that gets me. For a long time, I wondered about value first as relative from this beer to that and then as a given beer today as to what it cost five years ago. Now, I see a potential deflationary factor of a scale that that might make a difference. This should be great news. But I wonder. Again.