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Sen. Klobuchar continues push to protect your craft beer choices

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is again pushing to make sure Minnesota's craft brewing industry can grow and prosper.
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U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is again pushing to make sure Minnesota's craft brewing industry can grow and prosper.

This comes as the federal government considers granting regulatory approval for a merger between the world's two largest beer companies – Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) and SABMiller.

Bloomgberg says ABI is "poised to get the go-ahead" from the U.S. Department of Justice, and a decision could come by the end of the month.

ABI maintains the merger won't change the competition in the beer market, The Hill said. But Klobuchar, who is a member of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, and other members of Congress are concerned the merger could limit consumer's choices when they go to have a pint at a local bar or pick up a six-pack at the liquor store.

What's the problem?

The concern is that if the merger is approved, it could limit the competition in the beer market by limiting craft breweries' access to distributors, which could in turn limit consumer choices.

This is because ABI is not only a large beer producer, but it's one of the largest beer distributors. And distributors often have a lot of say over what beers end up in which bars, restaurants and retail stores, Bob Pease, the president and CEO of the Brewers Association, wrote in an editoral published by the New York Times June 2.

Without access to retail stores and bars, it's hard for smaller breweries to sell and promote their product.

"The Guild's 90-plus members work hard to find creative ways to distribute their beers to help build on the craft beer movement, but there are real concerns emerging that could stiff-arm consumers from getting their hands on Minnesota-made craft beer — and this is already happening," Tom Whisenand, president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and co-founder of Indeed Brewing, told BringMeTheNews. 

Last week, Klobuchar wrote in a letter to Renata Hesse, the deputy assistant general who oversees the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division (the division that's weighing approval of the acquisition), that she's heard from brewers and independent wholesalers that Anheuser-Busch "may be pursuing strategies, including acquiring multiple craft brands and implementing incentive programs, to ensure only the smallest craft brewers have access to retail outlets."

Klobuchar reiterated her point that "consumer choice, not producer power, should determine what beers go on the wholesaler's truck and the retailer's shelf."

In the letter, the senator says she wants to make sure "ABI's conduct, either on its own or in the context of the ABI-SABMiller transaction, will not stifle the growing competition that craft brewers provide."

The Hill says the Department of Justice needs to be a "tough merger cop" to prevent the merger from limiting competitor breweries from distributing their beer.

Guild 'applauds' Klobuchar

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild applauds Klobuchar's efforts to "address this important issue," Whisenand told BringMeTheNews, adding they are "proud to have strong partners in Washington that support our craft brewing industry."

Other Minnesota lawmakers have also worked to support the guild, including Rep. Erik Paulsen, Rep. John Kline and Rep. Betty McCollum, who are all members of the Small Brewers Caucus, Whisenand says.

"Fortunately, Minnesota has a strong craft brewing industry, and most importantly, a strong craft brewing following. We are proud to see that each year, our fresh, local beers are being discovered and demanded by more people," Whisenand says, noting people's demands will help drive whats on tap and in stores.

Members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild joined members of the Brewers Association in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to discuss the merger and other issues with lawmakers

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