The craft beer industry has a diversity problem
Does craft beer have a diversity problem?
Of course it does.
I bring this up because of a recent racial profiling incident in New York state at an Angry Orchard Hard Cider farm owned by Boston Beer Co., the maker of Sam Adams.
Given that big beer makers for decades courted male consumers with sexist TV ads featuring women in bikinis, it perhaps surprises no one that the craft beer business has become a haven for white males — most of whom happen to be hipsters. Sadly, what counts as diversity in this industry is the clean-shaven minority mixing with the bearded majority.
It can be jaw-dropping to see how monochromatic its consumers are: Of craft beer and hard cider drinkers, whites account for 77 percent of the market, while Hispanics are 10.6 percent, blacks constitute 5.4 percent, and Asians are 5.1 percent, according to new data from the consumer insights firm MRI-Simmons.
But just as big beer figured out over the past decade that it needs to be more inclusive in its marketing to grow the market, so have craft beer makers realized in recent years that they need to broaden their appeal.
Cue the soul-searching diversity initiatives and promises to do better. They are driven in part by the can-do, do-good ethos of craft brewers, but it’s also about the bottom line.
“They may be tapping out white males as a source of growth,” said Mike Kallenberger. He runs Tropos Brand Consulting, which specializes in craft beer. “The consensus is, in terms of race, craft beer hasn’t done as good a job of reaching out.”
Consider this 2019 survey from Kantar, a research group: Of weekly craft beer drinkers, about 79 percent of black and Hispanic consumers agree with the statement “I am frustrated by brands that treat people like me as an afterthought.” About 73 percent of Asians also agree with that notion. Meanwhile, only 55 percent of white drinkers feel frustrated.
Changing the culture takes time, and the Angry Orchard incident highlights how far the craft beer industry has to go. Cathy-Marie Hamlet wrote a lengthy Facebook post on how she was celebrating her boyfriend’s 40th birthday at the Walden, N.Y., farm, where he also planned to propose to her. But security guards ruined the moment by repeatedly accusing him of stealing a $28 T-shirt from the gift shop.
“I have never been so humiliated in my life, myself and some of my friends left Angry Orchard in tears,” wrote Hamlet, a New York pediatrician, of the July 21 incident. “On what was supposed to be one of the best days of my life, I was chased out of Angry Orchard by security who followed us all the way to the parking lot.”
Angry Orchard has apologized to the couple, posting a mea culpa on social media, and saying it had “replaced” the security team and manager on duty that day. The company is also rolling out mandatory unconscious-bias training for everyone on staff.
It’s the right response, swift and decisive, but true culture change also comes from making sure the staff and leadership are diverse. Parent company Boston Beer declined to comment about other diversity measures it might be taking beyond the Angry Orchard statement.
Here are a couple more suggestions:
■ The company, cofounded by Jim Koch, should make sure all of its units — not just Angry Orchard — undergo sensitivity training.
■ Add a person of color to break up what appears to be an all-white corporate board. (Rather than answer whether it has a diverse board, the company pointed me to its website to look up its directors.)
While Boston Beer may be mum about what more could be done on diversity, the Brewers Association, the trade group for small and independent American brewers, is not. Since 2016, the association has been on a mission to figure out how the industry can be more welcoming to everyone, whether as a consumer or a brewer.
Measures include updating advertising standards to ban sexually explicit, lewd, and demeaning language, graphics, and images; forming a diversity committee; hiring a “diversity ambassador;” and giving out grants to encourage brewers to promote diversity and inclusion.
Unlike big beer companies, which rely on expensive TV ad campaigns, craft brewers depend on word-of-mouth and grass-roots marketing to build their brands. Through its diversity grants, the Brewers Association is supporting Fresh Fest 2019 in August in Pittsburgh — the nation’s first black brew fest, featuring 28 black-owned breweries, and Beers With(out Beards), an event series in Brooklyn, N.Y., that promotes women in the craft beer industry and women-owned breweries.
Mass Bay Brewing Co., the maker of Harpoon beer, also won a grant for “Hop Forward,” a job fair to recruit minority and women applicants. The Oct. 8 event — also done in partnership with the Massachusetts Brewers Guild and the City of Boston — will be held at the Harpoon Beer Hall on the South Boston Waterfront and will feature about 15 local breweries.
“We’re really trying to target communities and not get the same people who always apply,” said Rich Ackerman, assistant vice president of human resources at Harpoon.
Just this year, Harpoon itself formed a diversity and inclusion committee, and one priority has been to diversify its workforce, which tends to mirror its white-male customer base. Ackerman said brewers want to shed the “is what it is” attitude.
“We want to have the same diversity within our four walls as within our city,” he said, referring to Boston’s majority-minority status.
Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and one of the few prominent African-Americans in the industry, can attest to how difficult it is to attract a diverse pool of employees. “In my 30-year career, I’ve had one African-American applicant for a brewing job,” Oliver told me.
He has managed to create a diverse brewing staff with employees from other countries and a couple of women, but wants to do better. So Oliver has recently changed the way he approaches hiring. Rather than considering only people who come to him, he wants to actively seek out candidates of color.
Oliver said he has started to see more African-American brewers, but there is so much more work to be done.
“At the very least, craft beer should look like America, and that would be a success,” he said. “Right now, craft beer looks like how separated America looks so often in its public and social spaces.”
Self-awareness is the first step to fixing a problem. We should all drink to the fact that craft brewers realize they have a diversity problem, and they’re thirsty to find solutions — fast.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a story about the lack of diversity in the craft beer industry incorrectly stated the relationship between the Brewers Association and Beers With(out Beards), an event series that promotes women in the craft beer industry and women-owned breweries. The association is providing financial support to the event.