If you’ve watched our CEO & Co-Founder Greg Koch’s speech at the 2009 Craft Brewers Conference, you know that business ethics are hugely important to Stone. While we see business ethics as an essential part of everything we do—from environmental sustainability to charitable giving to collaboration—the business of selling beer can present especially tricky issues for craft breweries.
Fortunately, this article in Crain’s Chicago Business shined a bright, revealing spotlight on the kind of backroom shenanigans that can make it harder for beer lovers to get the craft beers of their choice.
Crain’s also produced an informative video that gets into detail about some of the illegal practices that keep craft beer out of the marketplace:
Unfortunately, these types of activities are by no means limited to Chicago. Shady deals between breweries, distributors, and bars/restaurants happen–to some degree–almost everywhere.
So why does Stone care so much about these issues? Why do we make a point of saying we never, ever participate in any illegal and unethical sales practices? To toot our own self-righteous horn? No, we’re generally content to do that about our tasty beer.
We care about this because the survival and sustainability of craft beer in America depends on a level playing field. Craft beer is growing by double digits while other categories are flat or sinking. The numbers don’t lie: American’s increasingly want better beer made by people who care passionately about quality.
But if beer drinkers don’t have the option to buy craft beer, this revolution will never see its full potential. For craft beer to remain exciting, dynamic, and relevant, small brewers need to be able to get their beer into the hands of craft beer lovers. But a market that is ruled by pay-to-play tactics limits the free choice of beer drinkers and squeezes out the little guys.
Hell, an unlevel playing field nearly sunk Stone in the early years. Bars would demand free beer, free merchandise, or outright cash payments for space on their tap towers, yet we NEVER played along. Fortuitously, Greg and Steve made the difficult (and inordinately expensive) decision to self-distribute. After years of struggle, Stone Distributing now delivers beer from over 30 craft breweries to bars, stores, and restaurants in Southern California, and does so with integrity.
But not everyone has the means or ability to do that. And we still have to rely on our distributor partners in the dozens and dozens of other markets Stone beer is available.
So what can you do about it? Support the breweries, wholesalers, and retailers who take the high road. That can be a tricky thing to find out, but just asking a lot of questions can help. Bars listen to their customers, so if you want craft beer on tap, speak up.
It’s important to note that Stone is not alone in practicing good business ethics. Far be it, we’re happy to say. Most brewers and wholesalers play ethically and legally. Our point here is far less about us taking the high road, and more about calling out those who engage in illegal and unethical business practices that limit your choices!
So that’s our rant for today. Stay strong, craft beer fans, and remember to always take the high road.