Marcus Baskerville, Co-Founder of Weathered Souls Brewing Co. in San Antonio, Texas. Photo by Weathered Souls Brewing Co.
The death of George Floyd, an African-American man, while in US police custody on 25th May 2020, sparked global protests and highlighted systemic racial inequalities around the world. The alcohol industry, among others, was prompted to get involved.
Many companies, such as AB InBev and Molson Coors, participated in #blackouttuesday as a way of protesting systemic racism and showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Social networks including Facebook and Instagram offered brand owners a platform to share how they were addressing racial inequalities within their ecosystems, and advertising budgets that week were reallocated to organisations dedicated to the cause of fighting social inequality.
In early June 2020, Weathered Souls Brewing Company launched a multi-brewery collaborative stout-recipe project to bring awareness to racial injustice as well: Black is Beautiful. 100% of proceeds will be donated to non-profit organisations committed to the short- and long-term fight against racial discrimination. Craft brewers often have close ties to their local communities, and the movement has given them the means to further strengthen these relationships, resonating with consumers looking for brands that share their belief systems.
This is of course not the first time that beer has been involved in social causes. In November 2018, Sierra Nevada encouraged 25% of American brewers to raise more than $8 million towards California’s wildfire relief funds, through the launch of its Resilience Butte County Proud IPA. The fundraising initiative showcased the potential for brewers to come together in support of a larger cause.
Many companies have also promised to further raise the profile of black voices across the industry. Publishers such as Wine Enthusiast showed support for black-owned wine shops by highlighting black-owned wine business in their publications and via social media.
Another example of raising the profile of black voices within the industry comes from before Floyd’s death, when, on 31st March 2020, NBA player Jimmy Butler joined Carmelo Anthony on his YouTube channel for a live conversation about wine. Anthony introduced the talk by saying that “wine culture within sports in general has blossomed” and went on to compare wine as the “new accessory”. Butler added: “The reason that I enjoy wine so much is… you can never know everything about wine… Every person has their story and every bottle of wine has its story, so it’s interesting to me that the more you learn about it, the more you realise how much more you have to figure out and learn. It’s infinite.” The video is among the channel’s top 10 most viewed, with more than 260,000 views in June 2020.
While these examples foreground the issue, the reality remains that only 0.06% of the almost 9,000 wineries in the US are black-owned. That is considerably less than the population’s 13% demographic representation in the country.
Consumers have shown increased support for black-owned businesses as well. During the week following Floyd’s death, black-owned wineries were surprised by the support of wine fans, who placed larger-than-usual orders. When Du Nord Craft Spirits, an award-winning black-owned distillery in Minneapolis, was targeted by looters, the company’s GoFundMe page surpassed its goal of raising $10,000 within a week.
Marketing campaigns that highlight black voices and histories can be a rewarding strategy. Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey nearly tripled its volume (+280%) from 2018 to 2019 according to the IWSR. This remarkable growth is led by the first all-women executive team for a major spirits brand in the country. Uncle Nearest was a brand developed by Fawn Weaver in honour of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the master distiller and slave who is credited with teaching Jack Daniel the art of making whiskey. Fawn owns the distillery and is the co-founder of the Nearest Green Foundation, which supports scholarship programmes among its many initiatives for the African-American community. CEO of La Fête du Rosé, Donae Burston, developed his rosé offering with an eye on marketing the product with all-inclusive messaging that targets a wide demographic.
With salient awareness of social inequality issues, companies will be charged to take actions that go beyond purpose-driven advertising messages. Contemporary consumers are looking for brands to do more than simply make statements of support: they want transparency and authenticity, and they want to know how companies are tangibly addressing racial inequalities.
The $170.5 billion beverage-alcohol industry in the US certainly has a lot to contribute in this new era of transformation. Some companies have contributed financially to the cause as well. Diageo-owned Guinness, for example, is donating $1 million to organisations fighting racial inequality in the US in the wake of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests. And Jack Daniel’s Distillery and the Nearest Green Distillery have pledged $5 million for programmes that advance African Americans to leadership opportunities in the industry.
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