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Best Online Craft Beer Stores: AB InBev Buys Stakes in Craft Beer Sites, Provoking a Backlash
Anheuser-Busch InBev has quietly moved into the digital publishing business with a series of investments in websites that cover beer culture and the rising craft beer industry. But the slow move by the nation’s largest brewer into the editorial business is raising conflict-of-interest questions and causing blowback in the boisterous craft beer community.
The complaints began coming last week when it was disclosed that AB InBev took a minority stake in RateBeer, a site that publishes consumer-driven beer ratings and stories on beer culture. The investment, by the brewer’s incubator and venture capital unit ZX Ventures, took place in October but only drew notice last week after after it was discovered by another craft beer beer news site, Good Beer Hunting.
ZX Ventures also funds a beer culture magazine called October that was introduced in January by Pitchfork, the music site owned by Conde Nast.
And AB InBev runs a site called The Beer Necessities, which it describes as a platform that “celebrates beer, helps to unify the industry, and appeals to everyone from new beer lovers to even the most discerning of beer nerds.” The projects are aimed at “broadening awareness around beer culture and enhancing the sophistication of beer,” said a spokeswoman for AB InBev and ZX Ventures.
Editorial coverage of beer has gained new relevance in the craft beer era. A growing number of people don’t just drink beer, but also discuss, dissect and debate brews in online forums dedicated to tracking the nearly endless supply of small beer brands that have flooded the market.
But AB InBev’s investments, particularly in RateBeer, have made some ask what role, if any, a big brewer should take in covering an industry in which it also participates. Anheuser-Busch InBev controls more than 40% of the U.S. beer market and has acquired several craft brewers in recent years.
Sam Calagione, founder of craft brewer Dogfish Head, called AB InBev’s stake in RateBeer “a blatant conflict of interest” in a blog post on Monday and said he had asked AB InBev and RateBeer to “remove all Dogfish Head beer reviews and mentions on the RateBeer website immediately.”
“It just doesn’t seem right for a brewer of any kind to be in a position to potentially manipulate what consumers are hearing and saying about beers, how they are rated and which ones are receiving extra publicity on what might appear to be a legitimate, 100 percent user-generated platform,” Calagione wrote. “It is our opinion that this initiative and others are ethically dubious and … lack of transparency is troubling.”
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