Consumers’ desire to bolster their local economy, as well as concern about environmental impact, have led to a resurgence in “buying local.” Unfortunately for the world’s largest international brewing companies, this revived interest in local is taking place just as they undergo a wave of consolidation, making it more difficult to claim that their beers hail from any particular location. In June 2012, for instance, Belgium’s Anheuser Busch InBev (AB InBev) announced that it was buying the remainder of Mexico’s Modelo group, meaning that Corona will now be as Mexican as Budweiser is American.
It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Budweiser has been sponsoring a series of parties celebrating buying local. The “Made in America” campaign features local musical artists and vendors in Phoenix, Denver, Nashville, and other cities across the US, and will culminate in a Musical Festival in Philadelphia over Labor Day.
If you think it’s counter-productive to promote a mass brand at local festivals, you’d be right—they’re actually part of a larger campaign to promote “Project 12,” a new line of small-batch beers developed by brewmasters at Budweiser’s 12 breweries. Six of the beers were selected to go on tour, and now festival attendees will have the opportunity to try them and vote for their favorites. The winning beers will be sold this fall in a limited edition sampler pack. Budweiser’s forays into the craft market aren’t just for good publicity, they’re also good business. The US beer market declined 1% in 2011, but the craft beer market, though small—its volume made up just 5% of sales in 2011— increased 13% in volume and 15% by dollar value.
Project 12 shows that even seemingly monolithic, nationally recognized brands can credibly position themselves as local by developing the internal assets they already have. But how can imported beers take advantage of this trend? As strange as it may seem, brands can still positioning themselves as local… from somewhere else. Within two blocks of our office, we found two billboards proclaiming the authenticity of their origin:
While both beers are still brewed in their countries of origin, the companies behind them are the very definition of globalization—AB InBev owns Stella Artois, while Amsterdam’s Heineken International, obviously, makes Heineken. However, this international reach—the ability to get the same products wherever you go—has left consumers thirsty for brands that give them a sense of place, a connection to a specific experience. By emphasizing their nationality, Stella and Heineken can position themselves as authentic, unique beverages, not just as the end result of a detached, impersonal conglomerate.
Buying local is likely to maintain its premium status for the foreseeable future, so all global companies—not just brewers—must take a close look at how they emphasize their local roots. Of course, companies must be careful not to stretch their origin story too far, as a quick Google search can turn up reveal the truth. On the other hand, if you’re a local brand looking to go national, check out our article on how to expand without losing your local edge.