I love small, locally-owned businesses. I like their uniqueness and their personalities. Plus, I like discovering products from small companies that are hard-to-find and locally-made.
These are the original reasons that I first loved Colorado Native Beer, a beer that is exclusively made here in Colorado, one that can only be purchased right here in Colorado, and one that only uses Colorado ingredients. When I read the description of the beer for the first time on the ColoradoNativeLager.com website, I knew this beer was for me:
“Colorado Native is the only beer in the world brewed with Rocky Mountain water, Colorado-grown barley from the San Luis valley, the oldest strain of brewer’s yeast in Colorado and finished with hand-picked Colorado-grown hops.”
So imagine my surprise when I wanted to take a brewery tour of the AC Golden Brewery in nearby Golden, Colorado, only to learn that there were no tours. This seemed strange, since most of the other small craft breweries I knew welcomed the public to tour their facilities.
After I did a little more searching on the company website, here’s what I learned:
The AC Golden Brewery doesn’t have its own facility and is instead located in a corner of the Coors Brewery, likewise located in Golden. Hmmm, I wondered: “Why didn’t they just say that this beer was brewed at Coors? Why all the mystery of where it’s brewed and the different brewery name?”
Well, here are some other facts I learned that weren’t shared, nor even printed on the label or the carton of the beer:
- The AC Golden Brewing Company is a subsidiary of the MillerCoors company, created according to President Glenn Knippenberg, to “serve as a specialty brewing arm of MillerCoors.”
As I did a little more digging, I learned:
- The MillerCoors Company (the parent company that owns the brewery that makes the Colorado Native beer), is itself a joint venture between the SABMiller Company and the Molson Coors Brewing Company, created in 2007.
- That the MillerCoors Company joint venture has the responsibility of selling brands such as Miller Lite, Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors, Coors Light, Molson Canadian, and Blue Moon beer in the United States. The company also coordinates all the brewing for the brands of beer owned by the Pabst Brewing Company.
OK, wait, I thought. Now you’re telling me that the guys who brew Colorado Native also brew all these other beers? But wait, there’s more:
- The SABMiller Company (the one that owns MillerCoors, which owns AC Golden, that makes Colorado Native beer) is a British multinational brewing and beverage company headquartered in London, and is the second-largest brewing company in the world. It also sells and brews brands that include Grolsch, Peroni, Urquell, and a bunch of others.
- Finally, I learned the SABMiller Company operates in 75 countries, sells around 21 billion liters of beer per year (which is the equivalent of 59,174,539,550 cans of beer – I had to use a calculator for that), and had sales of over $31 billion dollars (that’s billion with a B), last year.
So why wasn’t this information shared on the Colorado Native beer website, on the can, or on its packaging?
I can guess that it is not as good of a story to say that a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that owns another multi-million dollar conglomerate that makes a “small craft brew” is in fact, a well-funded, minimally-at-risk venture of securely-employed brew makers, hanging out in a corner of the mother company, trying to act little.
The truth is that being an offshoot of a huge firm has none of the romance, charm, or entrepreneurial start-up feeling of an independent brewery. Consequently, without actually lying about it, large companies work very hard to keep their trendy brands separate from their mass brands. They work hard to build up the unique personalities of the brands and create original folksy stories and show non-slick videos that make them look considerably smaller than they are.
Which brings me back to the independent businesses that I love to support: Why is it that so many Mom and Pop independent businesses don’t capitalize on their own uniqueness, their one-of-a-kind history, their distinctive personalities, and their own special quirkiness, and milk it for all it’s worth, when big companies are working extremely hard to create this mystique every day?
First, many owners don’t know it’s OK to do it. I think many believe that any eccentric uniqueness that pops up looks unprofessional, and I think that many independents believe that uniqueness doesn’t really matter.
Well, as you’ve seen with Colorado Native Beer, being small does matter. It caused me to originally bond to a beer that felt small and unique, only to later realize I was deceived by a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.
The lesson here: Uniqueness works. Branding yourself as small works. There is a power in being small, and showing it in everything you do.
But most of all, it’s important for independent business owners to tell their own stories, and it’s best you do it right now, before some big company decides to take your story for themselves.
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