Craft Beer Interest Increasing Worldwide

Americans aren’t they only ones thirsting for U.S. craft beers. Foreign companies and consumers alike are clamoring for these brews and are tapping into the trend in various ways.

For example, patrons at the recently opened Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub in Helsinki can quaff Tommyknocker Pick Axe IPA, Hop Strike Black IPA, Imperial Nut Brown, Maple Nut Brown, Black Powder Oatmeal Stout from the Idaho-based brewery, along with Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA and two Finnish craft brews, all on tap. Bottled selections include Tommyknocker sodas and select brews and various European beers.

Green Flash Brewing cut a deal last summer with Belgian brewer Brasserie St-Feuillien. Green Flash’s brewmaster oversees production of its West Coast IPA at the Belgian facility for distribution in the U.K., Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Italy. Brooklyn Brewery, which exports nearly one-third of its production, has co-opted with Carlsberg Sweden to open a craft brewery and restaurant; the beers are being distributed throughout Scandinavia. Stone Brewing Co., based in Escondido, Calif., plans to be the first American-owned and -operated craft brewery in Europe later this year when it opens a facility in Berlin involving a brewery, packaging line, farm-to-table restaurant and retail store. Stone Brewing Co.-Berlin will brew year-round and specialty beers will be enjoyed on site and eventually distributed.

These are bold moves, as the brewers are making significant investments in positioning U.S. craft beers not only to compete with the brews that inspired their very existence, but doing so in their own markets.

Foreign brewer interest in U.S. craft operations has been ramping up, however, as the beers gain worldwide attention for quality. Some are quiet investors or owners, while others have jumped in with more fanfare. Duvel Moortgat’s acquisition of Ommegang in 2003 raised the ire of some, but many considered it validation of the quality of American craft that a leading Belgian brewer sought to bring an American producer into its stable. Duvel has left Ommegang largely to its own devices, which has quelled much of the concern, and last year acquired Kansas City brewer Boulevard. Other U.S. craft producers with foreign owners include Founders Brewing, Mendocino Brewing and Magic Hat.

The trend demonstrates how far American craft brewing has come in garnering global respect and recognition, not to mention the opportunity for continued growth via investment and broader distribution. The brewers with foreign ownership operate fairly autonomously, and the U.S. breweries now setting up shop oversees seek to remain true to their roots.

To many beer industry observers, the trend is likely to support the ongoing growth and stability of craft brewing. To others, it points to fewer American-owned U.S. breweries, which may raise a red flag for some craft beer fans. Slightly more than half (53%) of craft beer drinkers say a craft beer must be produced by an independently owned brewer, one-third (35%) say it must be produced locally, and three in 10 (30%) say distribution must be limited, according to Technomic’s On-Premise Craft Beer & Cider Report.

As craft brewers develop their strategic plans for expansion, they may want to consider the impact of foreign involvement on their core consumers.

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Donna Hood Crecca

A veteran of the foodservice industry, Donna Hood Crecca leads the firm’s Convenience Store Practice and is active in its Adult Beverage Practice. She develops research-based insights and recommendations for leading and emerging supplier and operator companies to enhance their go-to-market and product development programs and strategies.

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