I was in a bar last week with a group of people who knew a lot about the food industry. Most were producers, restauranteurs and hoteliers and had been in their respective businesses for decades. We were in the craft beer bar P Mac's which had a huge selection of beers both local and imported. Not being a huge drinker and having never tasted a craft beer, one lady asked another man if he could suggest a good craft beer. Upon pausing he said "try the five lamps beer because it is brewed around the corner and only a start up business owned by two guys". I watched this unfold and both people savour the beer and delight that young Irish companies were able to compete with big players like Diageo and beat them at their own game. I didn't say a word but I knew that although Five Lamps was indeed a small Irish brewery when it started, it was quickly acquired by C&C (makers of Bulmers and the likes) and is now 95% owned by them, yet is still being marketed as a craft beer. The whole episode got me thinking about the craft movement because we've come a long way over the last couple of years but we are now at a stage where the big guys are very much muscling their way in or in many cases already fully in control of the emerging market.
Corporations Acting Strategically
The biggest companies in the world didn't get where they are today without being savvy and reacting to change. The craft movement has undoubtedly been a challenge for brands who have had to put huge money and resources into marketing, strategy and product development to react to this incoming threat. It took a lot of them a while and some are still trying to 'turn the container ship around' but you only have to look at some of the following products released lately to see they are very awake to the threat now…
Craft Is Deeper Than Beer
To many craft beer is the poster child of the whole craft movement but we are starting to see it in many different industries. People are going back to proper bread away from pre-baked frozen crap. Butchers are starting to flourish again in cities as people are more willing to pay a premium for their meat knowing it is a better standard. You are even seeing it in pubs and restaurants where consumers are looking for a more authentic experience with better value for money and less fuss. Think BBQ joints where people squeeze their own ketchup rather than high end steak houses with starched white linen. The biggest example I see of this is in supermarkets. Tesco might have a whole bunch of other problems like dodgy accountancy but their main problem is that consumers don't want to drive to huge out of town shops to buy soulless products. They are shifting slowly back into "villages within their town and buying smaller more quality products. The craft movement isn't about beer or gin but rather a whole new way of thinking for consumers all over the world. After the great recession we are willing to pay more for our food and drink products but we want quality behind that price and more than anything we want a story.
Are Companies Building To Sell?
While there are craft companies out there making their product for the pure and utter joy they see on their customers' faces, there are many building products purely for profit. Entrepreneurs are acutely aware that the big corporations have the fear of god in them at the moment and are acquiring smaller businesses left, right and centre. I'm not sure how much building a company with the motive of selling it for millions aligns to the craft movement, but the simple fact of the matter is that it is happening. Most people start companies to make lots of money and that's fine, the main question is within the Five Lamps story at the start of this article. Is the consumer smart enough to know what is craft and what isn't? With expensive, clever marketing campaigns behind these companies, I'm not sure they are.
Where To Now For Craft?
The big guys have woken up. They were in danger of losing serious market share to an entirely new movement of independent producers but they've reacted well in many instances. I might enter a 'craft bar' now but unbeknown to me it could be part of a large chain owned by a property developer. My pie in the local foodie shop might be marked craft but it might actually be made 3,000 miles away in a large factory. The big guys will continue to fudge the lines and the good thing is that it is making them up their game and improve their products which is good news for us all. You can no longer just pump out a shit beer, stamp your logo on football jerseys and music festivals and hope to sell lots of it. The consumer is demanding more. The reason they are demanding more is because craft producers showed there were better options out there. Smart consumers will still know true 'craft' when they see it and the movement will only grow stronger.