Last year Heineken took a step into the Dutch craft beer world by buying into Oedipus. This raised some eyebrows. Not necessarily from Heineken’s side because it makes business sense but more from Oedipus’ side, as written about before. This and Heineken’s datamining company/online beer store BeerWulf means they are taking big steps into the craft beer market. They are also working together with a few smaller breweries like Oadaen but also Rotterdam’s Noordt, a bigger brewery.
This week they struck again by buying the Texelse Bierbrouwerij. Yes, they bought the entire brewery, not just a stake. Texels has been brewing excellent, yet middle of the road, beers since 1999. Their market is mostly in the western part of the country and on the heels of their Skuumkoppe, which is an undeniably nice beer. A dunkelweizen that Heineken doesn’t really have in their portfolio.
This deal is not part of the expected wave of takeovers of small breweries by bigger breweries when the small ones start to falter during Covid. This deal was about a year in the making and considering Texel’s position in the beermarket with Skuumkoppe and Heineken’s strong position in bars it was something that to me seemed only logical to happen one day.
Of course in the press releases you hear the same old stories about expertise, distribution and ‘the best possible partner’. Just like the facts that the brewery is staying on Texel and all employees will keep their job. For now… history has shown in the USA and the UK that this is not always the case.
Details about the money changing hands have not been released. Sure, it is sad to see an independent brewery leave for the money, but after 21 years it does make some sense.
Sad? Absoutely, but Texels beer occupied the market between the big pilsner breweries and people who are slightly more adventurous. It is when the good IPA brewers, sour blenders and stoutmakers get calls from the green giant that we should be more frightened.
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
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.
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
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.