ACCC to monitor beer taps market

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The dynamic industry of craft beer will be monitored by the ACCC despite the closing of an investigation into “beer tap” contracts.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper said the independent brewing industry might be small now but it is already much bigger than it used to be.

He said there were two important message result from the investigation.

“The first is if independent craft have still got issues and we still want to hear about them,” he said.

“Secondly, we are planning to return to this in a couple of years time.

“We realise this industry is changing quickly, so we can’t shut something off and say that’s the end of it.

The ACCC’s in-depth investigation began three years ago after independent breweries alleged contracts between major brewers and venues were locking small brewers out of beer taps in venues around Australia.

“It came about because a number of craft brewers raised complaints with us,” Dr Schaper said.

“We looked at this and said it's not just the sheer number, it is that this industry has an impact on small business and on customer's choices.”

In three years the ACCC investigated 36 venues, 33 contracts from small brewers and 140 from Lion and CUB.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper.

“We picked venues on a combinations of things. We looked largely across Victoria and New South Wale in metropolitan and regional centres,” Dr Schaper said.

“We tried to get a fairly wide mix geographically but also look at what sort of relationship (venues) had with Lion and CUB.

“There's an element of randomness but some were businesses we had been made aware of.”

Dr Schaper said the small amount of venues investgated was a result of lack of resources.

He said the ACCC has 100 investigators for all of the commission’s activity.

While the ACCC was able to uncover some contracts that could make it harder for craft brewers to gain access to taps in certain venues, the overall conclusion was that venues were responding to consumer demand rather than being restricted by big name beer contracts.

Dr Schaper said there was no clear evidence that laws had been broken or that the market was anti-competitive.

He said the ACCC is not “judge, jury and executioner.” If they believe a law has been broken or a market is anti-competitive, they have to take companies to court.

The investigation’s conclusion was that the craft beer market currently presents a very mixed picture.

Dr Schaper said some some brewers find it hard to get in because of contracts but others aren't encountering those problems.

“We got to a point that with that the mixed bag of evidence we had, there’s no way you can go to a court and convince them a whole market is locked up,” Dr Schaper said.

“That's why we might need to go back in a couple of years time and look at it again. 

“It's not much of a consolation to individual businesses. It's frustrating and I can really appreciate that.

“But it’s not a matter of us not caring about it. It's a matter of us not being able to win a court case.”

Venues choose the brews

Bendigo venue owners have recognised the local market’s shift towards craft beer.

The ACCC recently completed an investigation that saw independent breweries allege contracts between major brewers and venues were locking small brewers out of beer taps in venues around Australia.

Pub owner Andrew Lethlean said his tap agreements maintain flexibility to look after small brewers.

Pub owner Andrew Lethlean said his tap agreements maintain flexibility to look after small brewers.

Australian Hotels Assocation’s Bendigo delegate Andrew Lethlean said it is ultimately up to the venue with how they delegate their beer taps.

“The craft beer market has blossomed. In Victoria alone there has been a massive increase in craft beer and small boutique breweries,” he said.

“There has been a downturn in brands like Carlton Draught and Tooheys New and craft beer market share has gone from 2 to 8 per cent of market. 

“My agreements maintain flexibility to look after small brewer.”

 Mr Lethlean who owns four pubs in Bendigo said a majority of beer drinkers were still sold by brand awareness.

“It’s not about saying any beer is as good or better, they often don't have the brand awareness,” he said.

“Realistically, the average punter and drinker doesn’t know where White Rabbit, Mountain Goat or Fat Yak is brewed or who owns it.”

Cambrian Hotel owner Andy Carswell has does not stock and Carlton United Brewery products.

He said the hotel supports local brewers by showcasing them on taps.

“The hotel supports local food and wine, so why not local beer,” Mr Carswell said. “As rule we look after the local guys and have educated a lot of people.”

Mr Carswell said venues should give more local brewers a chance.

“They're professionals at what they do and they invest a lot of money on premium ingredients,” he said.

“It is also a very close industry, there is a lot of camaraderie. Not only do you know the beer on tap, you know the beer owner. 

“More venues should give these guys a go and educate themselves. People need to question what their beer is and where it is from. That's one thing that needs to change.”

Readers giving crafts a chance

A SURVEY conducted by the Bendigo Advertiser shows local beer drinkers are giving independent brewers a chance.

Seventy-one readers took part in the survey with 74.6 per cent saying they had bought craft beer in the past six months.

When asked if they were craft beer drinkers, 23 people said they only drink craft beer compared to 15 people who never drank craft beer. Thirty-three people occasionally drank craft beer.

More beer drinkers enjoy a glass of major brand beer at least once a week than craft beer.

Thirty-three people drink a major brand beer once a week compared to 23 people to drink craft beer the same amount.

Readers were more inclined to try a craft beer with 16 people drinking smaller brands once a fortnight and 14 people choosing something different for a special occasion.

Nineteen people (26.7 per cent) said they never drink major brand beer.

The average age of the survey takers was 39.8.

Big brands welcome investigation findings

CUB and Lion welcomed the conclusion of ACCC investigation.

A CUB company spokesperson said they welcomed healthy competition.

“CUB embraces the healthy competition that exists in our industry and we’re pleased the ACCC found the range of taps and products stocked by venues is determined by consumer demand, not by restrictions,” the statement said.

“CUB welcomes the conclusion of the ACCC’s investigation, which made no adverse findings.”

A Lion spokesperson said it was clear there was a wide range of choice on venue taps.

“Anyone who enters a pub these days can see that there’s plenty of choice in tap beer,” the spokesperson said.

“Smaller brewers with good beers are able to both achieve distribution and attractive growth.

“We will continue to invest in growing the beer category, and in encouraging appreciation of great beers regardless of the size of the company that makes them.”