You can get anything you want online these days. What started with books, CD’s and clothing turned into online stores selling everything. You really don’t need to leave the house anymore for your needs. Beer is no different. Across Europe multiple shops have started sending beer through the mail. Saveur Bière (Hopt.nl here in the Netherlands) has been doing this for a while, with the help of AB InBev. And talking about these Belgian giants, they also bought UK seller BeerHawk not too long ago. It is an interesting move. Sure it brings some money into their wallet, but that is peanuts compared to one single day of selling Budweiser.
Heineken showed up a bit later to the party. Three years ago Beerwulf bursted on the online beermarket with a slick website, good customer service and a nice selection of craft beer. One that did not include the basic Heineken beers. Beerwulf has always tried to maintain a form of independence from Heineken but let’s be honest, if you can afford television commercials around football games you know where the money comes from. From the outside they appear to be completely independent from Heineken. Or as two people who started it says in this rather baffling interview: it is 100% funded by Heineken, but other than that the cords are cut.
They then go to say that they offer more beers from different breweries to maintain credibility. Even more striking is the line “there are two disruptions Heineken wants to play a role in: the digital revolution and the craft beer revolution”. So if they practice what they preach shouldn’t it be Beerwulf that wants this instead of Heineken? No strings attached right?
But why are AB InBev and Heineken interested in these companies? If you can afford expensive commercials with celebrities and sponsor the biggest sporting leagues in the world why do this?
The answer likely is not that different from AB InBev interest, and now 100% ownership of, RateBeer.
What is the 21st century most important economic commodity:
There was a job listing a while ago on the Beerwulf website where they were looking for a data engineer. The single job being to delve into the data and get the interesting information. Or as the listing says : “Attention to detail and high conscientiousness, because you’re working with our gold: all our data sources and you manage our data lake.” So that is pretty clear that you the buyer is not the gold, your data is.
Mark Schouten, co-founder, even says “They get direct feedback about their craft beers and indirectly, it gets experience on how to create an online craft beer platform, which may extend to other types of alcoholic beverages”. The ‘they’? Heineken, that company that supposedly only funds them. Strings go both ways.
All big companies deal mostly in data so they can sell their wares. Amazon, Facebook and Google may offer something different, but what makes them the size that they are is big data. Where do people live, what do they consume, how old are they and what is their income. And that is just a selection of available data points.
The more Beerwulf is being used, the more information it hands over to Heineken. Oh, this part of Friesland likes IPA’s? Let’s push Lagunitas a little more in the local cafés and shops. Everything we as consumers do can be turned into an algorithm.
The problem is that BeerWulf is a great way for brewers to sell beer, it is direct and they can maintain the prize they want for their beer as well. But they are also handing the competition valuable data about where their beer is sold.
AB InBev and Heineken have stepped up their attempts to regain the beer world. Buying stakes, or sometimes complete, breweries is one step. Getting a hold of your consumption patterns another, maybe even more substantial one.
In 1947 Heineken bought the entire address book of Maggi, a still existing company that makes a spice/herb condiment that has become synonymous with the brand name. With this data they got a complete insight into the market of groceries. This was at a time Heineken was working on entering the shops and up-and-coming supermarkets where before they only sold to cafes. 70 years later, they are doing the same thing, just in a different form.