Seems that AB InBev has attracted the notice of the U.S. Department of Justice for buying out bits of the beer trade - and not the craft breweries:
The U.S. Justice Department is probing allegations that Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR) is seeking to curb competition in the beer market by buying distributors, making it harder for fast-growing craft brewers to get their products on store shelves, according to three people familiar with the matter.
I like this. Why just buy craft breweries to get your hands on a few well known brand names when you can aim your sights on a few more links along the food chain? Vertical integration is where it's at. U.S. Craft has a number of weak points to attack and distribution is certainly one of them. Even on a good day, trying to convince someone else to carry your goods when that person's interests are not perfectly aligned with the retail sale of your goods is a pretty odd process. And it's worse in the 4000 brewery universe context. And it's worse when you're the 3,657th biggest of those breweries. Even to big craft your just a number. No one cares about your beer. Except apparently now big government might.
What other steps could big beer take to dampen or stamp out the competition? Well, given the impending ceiling on hop availability, perhaps big beer will try to more fully corner the market on hops by buying up supplies with long term contracts. Now that AB InBev has legitimate craft divisions and no need to curb growth, it makes both defensive and offensive tactical sense to snap up hop stocks to frustrate these pesky minnows. That might be harder to charge and prosecute, too.
What else? Could big beer gain control of a few of the finer maltsters preferred by craft brewers? Probably. Maybe take over the small scale canning machine manufacturers? Could be. And makers of beard conditioners and waxes. Could that be next? No, they are probably going to do fine collapsing under their own unctuous weight soon enough, come the baby face revolution of '16. Suffice it to say, however, that as meaninglessly framed "craft" sector grows in popularity there is no reason to expect less outside effort to wrest control of it away from the big craft brewers. Why wouldn't there be?