Some of the distribution and retail groups – generally the ones behind the administrative proceedings that sought to challenge the tourism exception – are beginning to ramp up their efforts in the realm of incredibly easy-to-recognize propaganda. The message, as is often the case, will be without context and will focus on ignoring the realities of the situation. Hey, look over here and please don’t question what’s happening over there (let’s focus on the fact that craft beer in Florida exists but not consider how it can thrive further with a more reasonable statutory scheme that works in other parts of the country).
The rallying cry is that the three tier system works. What that means, for many, is let’s not grow. Let’s not evolve. Let’s leave things the way they are. It also means that they want people – legislators, consumers, media – to believe that this is the three tier system and there is no other manner in which the three tier system does, or can, function. That is wrong. The rest of the country is proof of that.
Throughout the build-up to this legislative session, the lobbyists for the Beer Industry of Florida and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association (and now groups like FISA and the Retail Federation) have implored the legislative committees and subcommittees charged with working on the malt beverage bills to avoid deregulation. As they put it, deregulation would have a disastrous impact (such impact never to actually be discussed; the only potential data points also prove the claim to be wrong). What they refer to as deregulation really just means change (in fact, it is very slight change). It does not refer to the destruction of the three tier system. What they are looking to avoid IS the three tier system in much of the country. In most states, brewers are free to sell some of their product directly to retailers. In most states, brewers don’t need to point to an impact on tourism to operate a taproom (that impact, anyway, being pretty obvious).
Distributors are, and will always be, important business partners to breweries, whether mandatory or not. While some breweries would love the opportunity to sell their brands in their local neighborhood and others would prefer not to open until they have that right, there is no doubt (none at all) that they will all need a distributor (or distributors) to bring their products to a wider audience. That’s how business relationships work. Rather than being forced to give away an integral part of a business for the life of that business, brewers should have an opportunity to seek the services of a distributor when they determine their business is ready for it (while performing such services on their own, if willing and able).
My hope is that when the time comes, those involved in the process will respond to the claims of the distribution and retail lobbyists with a very simple question. “Why?” Just ask “why” (Anheuser Busch used to ask people “why ask why?” (try Bud Dry?). Why is this going to destroy the three tier system? Why is it not doing in other stats what you are trying to make folks fear it would do here? Why don’t you ever deal in facts? Force people to answer questions rather than just accepting prepared statements that generally deal only in partial-reality (at best).
Added to Senator Latvala’s bill recently was an amendment that would restrict the amount of beer that breweries under common ownership could transfer from one to the other. Breweries would be able to transfer beer from one of their breweries to another up to the amount of beer produced in the receiving brewery. This was added to allay the claimed fears of distributors and retailers that Anheuser Busch would set up dummy operations with a shiny home brew system on every street corner and transfer all of their beer from Jacksonville to the small breweries. “Problem” solved. So when the distributors come back and ask next for a limitation on the number of vendors licenses that manufacturers may own, the question should be “why?” At some point, there ought to be more than propaganda.