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Customers care what kinds of companies make their brews.

Mike Pomranz
June 16, 2017

When an independent craft brewer is bought out by a larger beer brand – like Anheuser-Busch InBev’s acquisition of Wicked Weed or Heineken’s purchase of Lagunitas – the move creates a lot of hubbub in the beer industry. But do these ownership changes really matter to beer drinkers? A new survey suggests that, at the very least, drinkers are aware of the idea of “independence” – and the term may even influence their willingness to buy certain products.

According to the results of a Harris Poll of 2,000 regular craft beer drinkers (co-developed by Nielsen and craft beer news site Brewbound) regarding 29 different beer-related terms, respondents were most familiar with the term “independent/independently-owned,” with 81 percent of people polled saying they knew the term as it relates to beer. “Traditional” and “hoppy” also scored well, whereas more esoteric terms such as the Great American Beer Festival acronym “GABF,” “brett” and “funky” had the lowest levels of familiarity.

Of course, the terms “independent” and “independently-owned” are relatively straightforward in their meaning; however, the survey had an even more interesting finding: These terms also ranked second-highest among words drinkers said would be “more likely” to influence their purchases. Only “drinkable” ranked higher. Combining these two results would seem to show that independent products have a leg up on the competition in the beer market among craft beer fans.

Still, the survey admits it has its limitations. Danny Brager, Nielsen’s senior vice president of beverage alcohol practice, pointed out that just because independence is important to craft beer consumers doesn’t necessarily mean they are fully aware of which breweries are independently-owned and which aren’t. And if a brewery changes hands, does that change their buying habits? Also, what if a brewery is owned by someone else, but operates on its own? “If the brewery is still operated independently, that might have some cache with the consumer,” Brager was quoted as saying.

Regardless, for those looking to make the argument that beer lovers do care about where their beers come from, this survey plays right into their hands. One such group is the craft beer trade organization, the Brewers Association. They define a craft brewery as “small, independent and traditional.” Seeing as “traditional” is the word that had the second highest level of awareness, they could certainly make the argument they’re getting their message across.