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Labatt accused of bamboozling craft beer drinkers

A Canadian beer blogger finds the attempts of multinational brewing conglomerates to brand some of their lesser known offerings as craft beer hard to swallow. Ben Johnson claims the campaign by Anheuser-Busch Imbev, and its Canadian-based Labatt division, to pass off its Shock Top brand of flavoured wheat beers as microbrew is an “intentionally misleading ad campaign,” calling it an attempt to erode the toehold independent brewers have managed to eke out in the highly competitive market.

Johnson released a marketing agency brief from September 16, 2014 on his website, Ben’s Beer Blog, that stated: “Shock Top has the small brewer/craft credentials to compete, and the resources to win and change the game in the fragmented craft segment.” Johnson says craft beer aficionados “often speculate that the line between Shock Top and actual ‘craft beer’ is likely left intentionally hazy so that Labatt might conceivably pass Shock Top off as craft beer–which it most certainly is not.”

In the memo, Labatt says “75% of consumers believe Shock Top is from a small/unknown brewer,” and under the subhead “Objectives” states the brand should “maintain [sic]‘is from a small brewer’” The memo also states a goal of growing its volume 40 percent next year, while “maintaining micro/craft credentials.”

In a statement to BNN, Mike Bascom, Director of High End Brand at Labatt Breweries of Canada said the memo did not accurately reflect the company’s plan for the brand. “The blogger is looking at a marketing agency brief, which says nothing about our eventual plans for Shock Top. This brand has become a success since it was first introduced in Canada in 2011. We expect to deliver on more great ideas for it in the coming months,” he said.

Johnson is up in arms at the marketing campaign, but it’s nothing new in the beer space. Granville Island Brewing, a west coast craft brewer started in 1984, was purchased in 2009 by Molson Coors subsidiary Creemore Springs. Other manufacturers are skipping the step of even purchasing micro-breweries in favour of starting in-house brands that attempt to play the growing market, such as Miller-Coors’ Blue Moon brand, which is sold in Canada as Rickard’s White.

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