Budweiser American Ale = Starbucks? Maybe So.

Finally, a reasoned and thoughtful analysis of A-B's new Budweiser American Ale. (No surprise, however, given that it's Jeff at Beervana who's the commentator.)

I'll just toss this into the mix: The "Starbucks effect." Many people believe and assume that Starbucks has destroyed or will destroy locally owned coffeeshops. In fact, the opposite is true: When Starbucks comes to town, the locally owned shops are not far behind. (*1)

Why? Because Starbucks functions as a "starter" coffee for someone who doesn't know much about coffee. The potential customer visits Starbucks because she's seen the stores everywhere and because the logo is familiar. (That matters when customers are new to a product: they gravitate toward the familiar; toward what they've seen in ads or commercials.) She encounters friendly employees who help her decide what to drink. She goes back again and again. She becomes more adventurous and "upgrades" from plain ol' coffee to latte with mochawhippedwhatever. (I don't drink coffee, so I have no idea what any of the coffee terminology means.)

Once she's become experienced an coffee drinker, she feels more comfortable walking into a strange coffeeshop. She's not worried about appearing foolish. She's learned to appreciate coffeehouse culture. She's willing, in other words, to frequent that non-chainstore, locally owned coffeshop down the street that she might otherwise have walked past and never entered.

Anheuser-Busch could become craft beer's Starbucks equivalent. Budweiser Ale may serve an an "entry" beer for people who would otherwise never consider trying a craft beer.

Think about it: A-B owns about half the American beer market. It has the most loyal customers on the planet. Budweiser drinkers trust A-B. Many will translate that trust into a reason to try Budweiser Ale. (*2) They get comfortable with this newfangled beer and decide "Hey. I like this. Maybe I should try one of those other, strange beers that I see in the grocery store." Next thing ya know: Bud Ale fans have become -- Left Hand fans or Summit fans or Abita fans.

Stranger things have happened. No pun intended.


*1: I learned about the Starbucks effect in Taylor Clark's excellent book Starbucked.

*2: This is assuming, of course, that A-B does a good job marketing Budweiser Ale. That means a) the company doesn't waste time wooing craft beer drinkers, who simply won't drink it; and b) the company doesn't try the "whassup-Spuds-McKenzie" angle. Bud Ale is a different beer; the company needs to use a different approach.