I’m not into boycotting products. I didn’t like it when Franklin Graham called for Christians to stop doing business with Wells Fargo, or when he said everyone should stop buying Girl Scout cookies, or anything at Target. I also didn’t like it when progressives called for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that boycotts aren’t nearly as clean as you think. First, if you start taking public, moral stands with your dollars, you need to start examining all the places you do business. Because if you shun one company then ignore another’s bad behavior, that’s hypocritical. But even moreso, when you take part in large boycotts, you hurt workers and others who aren’t part of that bigger fight.
But last night, I noticed I have a can of Wicked Weed Napoleon Complex in my refrigerator. It’s a great beer, like most everything the Asheville brewer makes. But this week, the company’s owners decided to sell themselves to Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Now, a lot of folks are trying to figure what they want to do. As CharlotteFive’s Daniel Hartis reported Thursday, several craft beer retailers in the Charlotte area have decided to stop carrying Wicked Weed products. The North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild also issued a statement saying Wicked Weed was no longer a voting member of the guild.
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There’s an important thread in these decisions: Few are begrudging Wicked Weed owners their decision to take the Anheuser-Busch windfall. It’s a dream of a lot of small businesses – including brewers and retailers – to get successful enough to be bought by someone bigger. Good for them.
Still, there’s an aftertaste to this sale, especially in this industry. Like a lot of successful products, craft beer is a movement, a community of makers and consumers who feel like they’re part of something good and shared. What’s also shared is a disdain for big macrobrewers like Bud who make inferior products yet still dominate the market. So in the minds of many, when Wicked Weed decides to sell itself, it’s also deciding to join the dark side.
But this is about more than some fuzzy sense of righteousness. Anheuser-Busch has faced accusations and a federal investigation about unethical practices that include using incentives to persuade distributors to push its products over craft beers. Joining forces with InBev means standing in opposition to other craft brewers.
A fellow brewer probably put it best this week. In a note to customers and supporters, the owners of Denver’s Black Project brewery explained why they were canceling two collaborations with Wicked Weed. It’s a thoughtful, kind and firm statement. You should read it all.
“We consider (co-owner) Walt (Dickinson) and the rest of the Wicked Weed crew to be friends,” the note began, “and we are happy for them and honestly wish them the best.”
But: “We have deep and serious issues with many of ABInBev’s business strategies, mission, and overall ethics as they relate to craft beer in America. In Denver alone, we’ve seen several instances of highly aggressive, predatory, and what we consider to be unethical practices.
“We don’t personally buy, seek, trade, or acquire any of their products for this reason, and we’ve been known to encourage our friends to do the same.”
So that can of Wicked Weed in my fridge? I’ll open it as a toast to what used to be. I’m sure the brewery will continue to make fine beers, and I wouldn’t tell anyone not to buy them. But I won’t. It’s not a protest, but a decision to help keep alive the many craft brewers who produce beers I like. It’s self-interest – my bottom line. Any business, including Wicked Weed, should understand.