Nearly a full year has elapsed since the Brewers Association (BA) introduced its independence seal, and the not-for-profit trade group that represents the interests of small and independent craft breweries has been keeping tabs on adoption rates across the U.S.
A graphical representation of seal adoption across states and U.S.-owned territories, through June 6, which was produced by the BA and obtained by Brewbound, breaks down which regions are using the seal.
So where is adoption of the mark strongest? Puerto Rico, with 100 percent acceptance, followed by North Dakota (92 percent adoption), Hawaii (87 percent), Delaware (81 percent), Georgia (79 percent) and South Dakota (75 percent).
On the other end of the spectrum, adoption rates of the seal are lowest in Rhode Island (35 percent), West Virginia (36 percent), Vermont (43 percent), Michigan (45 percent) and Oklahoma (46 percent).
BA craft beer program director Julia Herz told Brewbound via email that the the organization isn’t focusing its efforts on specific states or markets where adoption has either surged or lagged. She added that the BA hasn’t “audited’ what tactics have or haven’t worked in states with either higher or lower adoption of the certified mark — an image of an upside-down beer bottle.
“The organic and amazing growth of brewery adoption and beer lover awareness has been incredible,” Herz wrote. “The seal is less than one year young and just this past Friday we reached 3,500 (and counting) U.S. craft brewers who have signed up to use the seal. 432 brewers signed up to get the seal on the first day, June 27, 2017. Over time we will continue to promote the seal to brewers, retailers and beer lovers.”
In late April, the BA launched a website for retailers to download several point-of-sale materials that feature the independence craft brewer seal. Herz declined to disclose the number of retailers who have signed up to use the seal, but she said “we’ve seen a set of very engaged and enthusiastic retailers download seal assets for display.”
During the annual Craft Brewers Conference in May, Bob Pease, CEO and president of the BA, said the brewers who had signed a licensing agreement to use the mark accounted for more than 75 percent of BA-defined craft brewer volume. Still, Pease made a strong pitch for brewery owners to adopt the seal and use it on labels, marketing materials or in taprooms, in order to differentiate those breweries from ones owned by larger beer companies.
“If you package your beer, please think long and hard about adding the seal to your packaging,” Pease said last month. “We know that is not an easy ask, but it’s important.”
So how did the states with the most breweries perform?
In California, where more than 900 breweries were operating as of December 2017, 59 percent of breweries had signed up to use the seal through June 6. Half or more of the breweries in the Pacific Northwest — Washington (50 percent), Idaho (50 percent) and Oregon (57 percent) — have adopted the seal. While adoption of the seal was stronger in states such as Texas (62 percent) and North Carolina (64 percent), adoption is below 50 percent in Michigan (45 percent) and New York (49 percent).
In Colorado, 74 percent of the state’s breweries have agreed to use the seal.
Colorado Brewers Guild operations director Steve Kurowski told Brewbound that brewery independence has been a “sensitive topic” in the state following Breckenridge Brewery’s sale to Anheuser-Busch and Avery Brewing’s minority sale to Mahou San Miguel.
Kurowski said the state’s breweries believe “it’s important to differentiate themselves” from the breweries who have sold to larger beer companies.
“There’s a lot breweries that have been around for a long time that are very independent and hold onto that and a lot of these new breweries have seen that mentality, and it’s just in a lot of the way that these brewers act around here,” he said. “The independent vibe is really important.”
Meanwhile, only 48 percent of Massachusetts-based breweries have signed on to use the seal.
“We’re not at the percentage that we want to be,” Massachusetts Brewers Guild executive director Katie Stinchon told Brewbound. “We certainly want to be at a higher place nationally, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to push and remind our members about because it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell who’s who in terms of actual craft and craft beers.”
Stinchon said the seal has been promoted in the guild’s newsletter, on its Facebook page and discussed during its annual meeting. For some members, she added, it may be cost prohibitive to change their labels or they may be focused on other aspects of their businesses.
“I think it’s just going to take a little bit of time for some of our smaller breweries to bring it on board and incorporate it,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Vermont, which ranked near the bottom of adoption levels, Vermont Brewers Association executive director Melissa Corbin said she would continue to present information about the seal to brewers in hopes that they’d adopt it. However, she said there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about the seal.
“There hasn’t been a lot of rumbling — not positive or negative,” she said. In fact, Corbin said when the subject came up at a board retreat, a board member didn’t understand the need for the seal when “that’s our identity already.”