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SUBMITTED BY Sam Holloway ON Tue, 12/25/2018 - 16:24

By Sam Holloway, Ph.D. & Mark Meckler, Ph.D.


Frustration with the Brewers Association (BA) is reaching a boiling point within the membership at Crafting A Strategy.


Crafting A Strategy (CAS) is an online community of craft brewery entrepreneurs and the allied trade members who serve them. With brewery members spread across 15 countries and four continents, our community rallies around each other, helping brewing entrepreneurs solve the problems they currently face and also helping them avoid problems they didn’t even know to look for. Sensing the growing frustration with the BA, we started a forum thread to get the issues out into the open.


Here are some member comments:


If I were as large of an organization as the BA with such a diverse group of constituents, I feel like I'd be paying more attention to the portions within that are struggling instead of trying to support the ones that are slowly trying to redefine their way out of the original mission of the group.


It is clear that the BA has once again shown its true allegiance. They repeatedly take actions to support its minority members like Boston Beer Co. The 6000 “small” breweries may see some benefit from altering the BA’s definition of “traditional,” but the clear winner is Boston Beer Co. as this change allows them to remain “Craft.”


Part of our role as leaders of this community is to listen to our members and help them find solutions. Reading some of their comments, I was reminded of a discussion on a Harvard Business Review discussion board titled: Should CEOs worry about companies being too big to succeed? 


In an era when companies are deemed “too big to fail” perhaps the Brewers Association (BA) has become too big to succeed. Next, I will insert 3 ”Too Big to Succeed” company characteristics discussed at the Harvard website as they ring very true with our members’ frustrations.


1.   "Toobigs are enormously complex, with massive, self-defeating strategies at war within, producing a lower return."


Here are some member comments:


It must be tough to be the organization tasked with trying to be "everything to everyone", but that is the role they took on and it certainly feels like the small brewers are being left in the lurch of late. I have spoken with a number of our customers who feel the same way.


Instead of changing their mission, maybe the BA's time and resources would be better spent trying to support the struggling members that make up a significant number of their base. It's simple ops management - wherever there are bottlenecks in your system, you spend time and resources trying to make that part of your system more healthy. How much would people's perception of the BA improve and how much would the true, core industry as a whole benefit and increase our likelihood of survival if the BA took time to address the struggles that are really going on in the industry right now instead of trying to be more accepting of the companies that are trying to diversify their way out of the industry?


2.   (For too big to succeed companies) Size has to be considered alongside such things as "conviction … focus … ability to create a culture of belonging."


Here are some member comments:


And what about independence? Don't get me started - circular logic. Independent brewers are those that are not owned by not-independent brewers. Got that?


We need support, we need education, and we need a community that provides us more than one big party every year in exchange for our annual dues.


I've been a devout supporter of the BA. We've bought very expensive ad space in their magazine, we've overpaid for floor space at their tradeshows, and we've shelled out big money for sponsorship opportunities. I've worked with some nice people there, but I've never worked with anyone who cared to ask me how they could help me as a small allied trade member (aside from offering to sell me more ad space, etc..).


3. "Success and growth (for too big to succeed companies) depends on a variety of factors of which greed is not one."


Here is a member comment:


I also have a general concern for an organization that puts on the largest beer festival in the world and charges brewers to attend, doesn't buy their beer, requires an army of unpaid workers to pull it off, and disrespects the product by putting it in a plastic cup. It really seems like it is all about the money.


In conclusion, it’s tough to explain the BA’s decisions without seeming overly critical. I think there are good people at the BA who in trying to be all things to all breweries, they have lost sight of the unique challenges, needs, and goals of small breweries. Unfortunately, small breweries make up the vast majority of their membership. The researcher in me also knows the BA may be falling victim to what Clay Christensen called “Good Management.”


In fact, many companies get into trouble precisely because they follow the principles of good management. They listen to their best customers, innovate to meet those customers' needs, charge higher prices, report record profits and miss a transformational change innocently incubating at the fringes of their respective markets. - Clay Christensen (Forbes, May 24, 2006)


Last week, several news outlets and industry magazines loudly questioned the latest change to the 'traditional' pillar in the BA's definition of craft. A diverse group of critics from The Motley Fool, to Food and Wine, to Brewbound all chimed in with direct and veiled critiques of a move to keep Boston Beer Company part of the BA's dataset. We felt we needed to respond in our forum. The floodgates opened, anger and emotion surfaced... so we wrote this blog to share our views with the wider industry.