Free stuff is good, right? Surprisingly, not everyone agrees when it comes to beer glasses.
Bills are moving in the Legislature to allow beer distributors to give away glasses from brewers imprinted with product names and logos to bars and restaurants. Now, they have to be sold.
The Senate version (SB 1040) was previously approved in the Regulated Industries Committee 10-zip. It’s up next in the Senate today (Monday) in the Commerce and Tourism Committee.
So what’s the problem? Proponents, including small businesses, say it’ll be a boon to them to cut down on glasses lost from theft and breakage.
That brand is owned by global beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev. And thus the opposition.
Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican who supports the measure, nonetheless said the glasses could be “used as an inducement to create anti-competitive behavior, that there will be strings attached.”
Anheuser-Busch might need the boost. Domestic beer sales, taking out craft, were down close to 2 percent from last year, the equivalent of about 40 million cases, according to Beer Institute numbers out last month. And craft beer sales, though still growing, are slowing nationally.
Many Florida craft brewers, though not all, are concerned that they won’t be able to afford to keep up with the stream of Big Beer’s free glasses, which effectively act as passive advertisements for a particular label.
“This is an arms race we can’t compete in,” said Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, the state’s craft beer lobby.
Fine offered an amendment, which was tacked on to the House bill, to make sure free glasses “cannot be (used as) part of a quid pro quo.” The House measure also puts a yearly cap on the number of glasses that can be given away gratis.
Earl Benton, CEO of Champion Brands, a Jacksonville beer and beverage distributor, calls it “a terrible bill.” He said it’s a naked power play by Anheuser-Busch to gain market share. He distributes craft and MillerCoors beers, among others.
Regarding a limit, he doesn’t believe there’s any way for state alcoholic beverage regulators to police whether Anheuser-Busch beer distributors “give away three cases or 300 cases.”
“I urge you not to allow it,” Benton told House members. “Keep things competitive for the small brewers … (The bill) is bad for consumers and it’s bad for business.”
Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors, even called Anheuser-Busch “the python in the Everglades, eating everything around it.”
Anheuser-Busch lobbyist Jonathan Rees shot back that it was “a brewer-agnostic bill.”
“Tastes have changed; you don’t have two or three brands anymore,” he said. “We’re attempting to change the statute as we see these palates changing.” Ironically, Mitch Rubin, head of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors, opposes the bill.
Retail groups, such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, are all for it. Another press release last week quoted Tallahassee restaurateur Mike Ferrara, longtime owner of Cabos Island Grill and Bar.
“Glassware is a significant cost driver to my small business,” he said. “While I would like to be able to purchase the appropriate glassware to serve the different varieties of beer we have to make my patrons’ visit more exciting and enjoyable, it is simply too costly.”
Like many legislative food fights, the battle for now will continue over whose cost is higher.