The Big Beer oligopoly reaches out to all global corners, particularly in the United States, one of the most lucrative beer markets in the world. The current beer business battle is unfolding in the West Coast, specifically in the Pacific Northwest, where two locally respected beer brands are being unceremoniously turned over to a Big Beer conglomerate.
According to a March report published by the Seattle Times, Olympia and Rainier are now in the hands of Columbia Distributing, a West Coast beer giant based in Portland. The two local beers are popular among locals and visitors alike; until recently, they were part of the sizable Pabst Brewing portfolio and handled by three families in Washington State.
The aforementioned brewing families were caught off guard by the harsh decision by Pabst Brewing. At this time, the three families are now plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Pabst; the claims are based on breach of contract and unethical business practices.
The Washington families were not the only ones surprised by the Big Beer episode. Business analysts who follow the brewing industry were also shocker, albeit to a lesser degree.
It so happens that Americans are not drinking as much beer as they used to. Big Beer thrives on growth; when it cannot find this crucial aspect of business, it tends to move towards consolidation for the purpose of streamlining. The problem is that Pabst essentially handled two local beer brands to a single Big Beer operator that now essentially controls all beer distribution across the Pacific Northwest.
Beer market analysts are concerned that the abruptness of the Pabst incident could become a new and uncomfortable standard in the brewing industry. Consolidation is usually a longer process of buyouts and warnings.
With Columbia handling a venerable beer such as Rainier, beer lovers in Southern California may be introduced to a new brand; however, this will be done at the cost of business lost by three distributors in Washington that never got a chance to expand their market because of Big Beer operators such as Columbia. These drastic moves do not always translate into savings for beer drinkers, who will probably pay the same price for Olympia and Rainier.