Members of the Missouri Small Brewers Guild have fought against “big beer” successfully throughout the spring legislative session only to see Anheuser Busch-In Bev (ABI) successfully amend their legislation to a wine-related bill on Thursday afternoon.
Originally proposed as SB 919, ABI sought legislation allowing them to lease coolers to convenience stores and grocery stores across the state. Missouri Brewers Guild members testified and spoke out against SB 919, and the bill passed the Senate after much debate and with only one vote.
With just two weeks remaining on the legislative calendar and SB 919 not scheduled to be heard on the House floor, ABI made a last-ditch effort by putting an amendment with the same legislation on SB 994 which passed in the House. With the new amendments, the bill is slated to go back to the Senate for debate and a vote.
“SB 919 and the cooler amendment on SB 994 are bad for Missouri’s craft brewers and the 4,300 people that we employee across our state,” Jeff Schrag, Missouri Small Brewers Guild president and owner of Mother’s Brewing Company in Springfield, MO said.
Schrag explained that in Missouri’s three-tier distribution system a company like ABI has never been allowed to provide refrigeration to retailers. “This is a move to erode the three-tier system in our state,” Schrag said.
“Allowing ABI to lease coolers creates an unlevel playing field, and pushes us out of the market,” Schrag said. “When was the last time you saw Pepsi products in a Coca-Cola cooler?”
Representative Keith English, I-Florrisant, spoke against the amendment and is a supporter of Missouri’s craft beer industry.
“The reason why Anheuser Busch-In Bev had this bill is because they are losing market share, and the only way they can get back in is to buy these coolers,” English said. “This is a horrible bill. It is not for any small business; the only reason why we had this is so that the big business here in downtown St. Louis can get a little more of their market share.”
“Ironically, the original sponsor of this cooler legislation and many people that have voted for this legislation are heavily supported by ABI in their upcoming election and re-election bids,” Brian Durham, Missouri Small Brewers Guild member and owner, head brewer and co-founder of Piney River Brewing Company in Bucyrus, MO, said.
Durham asserts that he has placed all of his available capital in growing a small business in rural Missouri, and he doesn’t have the funding to purchase coolers to lease to retailers. Piney River Brewing just completed a $1.3 million expansion in South Central Missouri.
“Missouri’s craft breweries are rapidly growing small businesses in our state. Collectively, we employ more Missourians than ABI,” Durham said. “If our legislators vote in favor of SB 994 they are voting against Missouri’s entrepreneurs, against Missouri’s small business leaders.”
ABI coolers are allowed in retail locations in some states such as Colorado and Wisconsin, but Schrag has heard personally from the brewers’ guilds in those states that the ABI coolers are a detriment to craft beer growth in the states where they are allowed.
“This is truly a case of ‘David and Goliath’ in Missouri,” Schrag said. “Since January Missouri’s independent craft brewery owners and brewers have been fighting against a giant, multinational behemoth with dozens of paid lobbyists and slick public relations campaigns to retailers and legislators.”
Shrag and members of the guild are hopeful that with two weeks left in the legislative session SB 994 and the cooler amendment will not find its way back to the Senate floor.
“We are asking all of Missouri’s craft breweries and anyone that enjoys partaking of Missouri craft beer to contact their Senator and tell them to vote ‘no’ on SB 994,” Schrag said. “This bill is bad for Missouri craft beer.”