Many craft brewers rely on word of mouth and good, honest reviews to reach new customers, but some beer makers are questioning whether an independent beer review website can remain untainted even after the world’s largest beer company buys an ownership stake.
According to the New York Times, Delaware-based Dogfish Head and Brooklyn’s Sixpoint breweries are among the bigger names looking to pull reviews of their products from RateBeer.com, an online forum for beer lovers to share their thoughts and ratings for different types of beer.
The site bills itself as a consumer-driven website that strives to “remain unbiased in our ratings and editorial content.”
But craft brewers are calling into question that last claim after learning that ZX Ventures, an incubator operated by AB InBev — which has its own growing craft beer portfolio — took a stake in the supposedly independent review site.
Shane C. Welch, the founder and “chief visionary” of Sixpoint tells the Times that RateBeer now has a “massive conflict of interest.”
While the site once provided the craft brewers with insight into their products’ marketability and exposed their brand to new customers, many operators are now questioning the validity and future of reviews posted on the site.
For instance, Welch and others say they are worried that RateBeer will begin to provide AB InBev brews with favoritism, such as placing reviews in more desirable spots. This, they say, could lead customers using the app to instinctively go for an AB InBev brand.
Additionally, brewers tell the Times that they are concerned that AB InBev could get its hands on customer data, giving it a competitive edge.
These concerns have only been inflated, brewers say, since AB InBev’s relationship with the company wasn’t revealed right away. ZX Ventures purchased a minority stake in the company back in October, but that wasn’t revealed until recently.
Pedro Earp, the chief disruptive growth officer for ZX Ventures, tells the Times that in hindsight the company should have been more forthcoming with the deal, but noted that the company doesn’t typically disclose investments.
Welch and Dogfish Head brewery founder Sam Calagione say each of these issues contributed to their decision to ask RateBeer to remove reviews for their products.
So far, the Times reports, the reviews haven’t been removed, and its possible they won’t be, some experts say.
Marc Edelman, a professor of law at Baruch College’s School of Business, tells the Times that Dogfish Head and Sixpoint could have a difficult time persuading RateBeer to remove the reviews, as they would likely have to prove their brands were wronged.
RateBeer executive director, Joe Tucker, says it’s not as simple as hitting delete on reviews, because the site is an open platform.
“RateBeer’s community is derived of beer lovers who appreciate the service we offer,” he said. “Nothing about this investment changes who we are and what we provide. We will just be able to give our community of beer drinkers an even better experience.”
Despite this, Dogfish Head founder Calagione tells the Times that when the company posted an explanation on the site about why it wanted to remove reviews, that post was deleted by RateBeer.
Tucker tells The Times that deleting the post was a misunderstanding, as RateBeer had removed editing powers after recently being hit by vandals.