Lately I have been doing some research on Heineken’s increasing influence in the world of Dutch beer. OK, I am going to say it once for those who don’t understand what I mean: craft beer. A term that I try to avoid as much as possible. This influence isn’t immediately visible but is happening in small, incremental steps.
Or so it seemed until this week when Oedipus announced that Heineken was going to be a minority stakeholder in this brewery. This has been the most open and blatant move from Heineken into previously uncharted territory in the Netherlands. They have already taken an interest in Lagunitas from the USA and Beavertown in the UK but now they have set their sight on their homecountry.
I will still post the articles I have been working on so let this be a short introduction of what’s to come.
This online retailer was started a few years ago by Heineken employees and backed by Heineken money. A good looking website, great selection of beer and fancy television ads made this site popular in a very short time. They put the brewers center stage and don’t have excessive prices. They also claim not to be influenced by Heineken. But a massive investment is just that. It gets real Black Mirror-y when you think of the massive amount of data Heineken has their hands on now. Very similar to InBev buying RateBeer.
When Groningen based brewery Punt won an award at the Dutch Beer Challenge it was as a Heineken beer. This raised some suspicions. A short investigation showed that Punt, and some other breweries including Van Vollenhoven and Oudaen were also operating under the banner of Heineken Local beers. The small breweries on this last have a very small impact so it is as of yet mysterious why Heineken did this. This is worth investigating more.
Heineken in Africa
Looming over all of this is Heineken’s less than decent handlings in Africa and Asia. This has best been documented in Olivier van Beemen’s book Heineken in Africa. Government meddling, bribes, writing legislation about alcohol, fueling the genocide in Rwanda, using girls/prostitutes to try sell the beer, it is all part of it. The latter has made banks like ASN in Holland decide to kick them out of their investment portfolio for example. More about this later as well.
And it’s especially this that makes Oedipus’ choice for Heineken uncomfortable to say the least. I appreciate that in the current way the brewing world works the next stop for a larger brewery is some sort of cooperation with a larger brewery. Lagunitas and Beavertown are good examples of breweries who were lured by the big ole sack of money in front of their nose.
Oedipus has always struck me as a brewery that took a stand against discrimination, racism and other kinds of inequality. Yet now they are working together with a multinational that used sex to sell beers in Asia and Africa and did not nothing to stop genocide. This is a brewery whose first released beer was called ‘Mannenliefde’ (love between men), a common term for gay love. A type of love that in many African countries is a death sentence. Countries Heineken actively invests in.
For now it is a minority stake and Oedipus will keep doing its own thing. But as most examples from USA and GB have shown us this will not be the case in 2 to 3 years.
Heineken has been slowly setting the chess pieces into position for a strike. Their stake in Oedipus is their biggest step yet. In the second half of the 20th century they bought all the smaller breweries in the Netherlands to close them. I don’t think this will happen again but I am curious to see what their next steps will be. We know this was coming, but happy about it we are not.
What will Heineken’s next step be?