Even though Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD) is plugging away at getting approval for its megamerger with SABMiller (OTC:SBMRY), that hasn't stopped it from shoring up its deficiencies in the craft brew space. The brewer went on a shopping spree this week, buying three craft brewers in five days: microbrewery Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona, Camden Town Brewery in London, and Breckenridge Brewery in Colorado.
Does it matter?
Although Anheuser-Busch reveled in its bigness during this year's Super Bowl, saying it's Budweiser brand was a proud "macro" beer, it's actually more worried about the impact the craft brew industry is having on its business than it cares to let on. But actions speak louder than words, and with its latest purchases, A-B has acquired eight craft breweries since 2011, including Goose Island, Blue Point Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, and Elysian Brewing. It also just launched Best Damn Brewing Co. to begin producing craft hard soda.
According to the Brewers Association, craft beer continues growing at an accelerated rate, with production volumes in the U.S. jumping 16% over the first six months of 2015, acquiring an 11% share of the total beer market. There are 22% more craft breweries in operation in the U.S. this year than there were in 2014, or over 3,700, with another 1,750 in the planning stage.
At the same time, mass beer volumes are at best stagnant to slightly lower, which explains A-B's obsession with the craft market.
In addition to buying up small brewers, Anheuser-Busch also stands accused of trying to lock out the competition. It's purchased a handful of distributors allegedly with an eye toward limiting the number of outside brands they carry while offering other distributors lucrative incentives worth upward of $1.5 million if all they stock is its own A-B brands.
Others see the opportunity in craft beer as well. Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ) just agreed to pay $1 billion for Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, which is on track to sell 4 million cases of beer this year. In contrast, leading craft brewer Boston Beer (NYSE:SAM) produced 4 million barrels in 2014, suggesting Constellation still sees a big runway before it.
The growth of craft beer clearly is on Anheuser-Busch InBev's mind and these craft beer buys will likely not be its last.