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Growlers Delivered to Your Door? Amazon Buys Whole Foods, What’s that Mean for Beer?

Amazon Buys Whole Foods

 

News broke on Friday that the online juggernaut Amazon was buying organic grocer Whole Foods, but what’s that mean for our beer?

 

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(Whole Foods Woodlands storefront, photo courtesy of Whole Foods)

In case you were living under a rock this weekend, there were headlines zipping across our emails and phone notifications since Friday afternoon. They all read something like, “Amazon buys Whole Foods for $13.4 Billion.”

The speculation began immediately. What’s the buyout mean for wages? What’s it mean for quality? But most importantly of all, what does it mean for beer!?

We texted one another back and forth like a gunfight.

“DOES THIS MEAN GROWLERS TO OUR DOORSTEP!?”

“Amazon Prime for the win.”

“Wait. Is Whole Foods Market Brewing Company even craft, according to definition, to begin with?”

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(One of Amazon’s massive fulfillment warehouses, photo courtesy of The Atlantic)

In order to stir up some conversation and even more speculation, we figured we’d ask a few of our friends that are actually in the beer industry.

Sam asked Robbie and Allen of Brash Brewing, “What do you guys think about Amazon buying Whole Foods? Do you think it’ll affect the brewery [Whole Foods Market Brewing] at all?”

While Allen’s imagination went to the exact same place as ours, Robbie laughed it off,

Lol not at all. They're tiny. They have 2 tiny breweries in the US. They only have draft. Amazon has to deal with TABC and the wholesale distributors. So it's not like you'll get beer to your door or anything. –Robbie Cummings, Brash Brewing Assistant Brewer

Robbie’s speaking specifically about the brewery here. Speaking of which, we never added them to our list or our map mainly because we weren’t sure if they met our criteria, but we’re working on that. Allen and Robbie didn’t answer as to what it might mean for beer as a whole.

Sort of proving Robbie’s point, Woodlands-based Texas Craft Beer Club gave up on the idea due to the legal hurdles that were necessary to create such a business. Something tells us Amazon’s a bit more mature though. I don’t know… Call it a hunch.

Amazon’s been in the sell-you-everything business for quite some time, including beer and alcohol. Considering that online alcohol sales have grown at a near 12% annual growth rate over the past five years, it makes sense that Amazon would be trying hard to put more of that 12% into their own bank accounts.

Pairing Alexa with their Prime Now service, Amazon is already delivering beer to some folks, so Robbie might be wrong here. However, as Houston beer fans have come to know, TABC is a real pain in the ass. They may pose more of an issue for delivery than other states have, aaaaaand back to Robbie maybe be right again?

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(Proposed Whole Foods re-branding, photo courtesy of us, lol)

With more and more people catching the buzz on craft beer nationwide, and local distribution often keeping certain people thirsty, plenty of alcohol delivery services have popped up. Top Shelf Houston comes to mind, and the more recent Drizly App.

That’s all to say that alcohol delivery isn’t completely out of the question.

We also asked Nico Melchor of Whole Foods Market Brewing the same question. “Do you think it’ll affect the brewery [Whole Foods Brewing] at all” His response was was refined and almost poetic.

Lol nah – Nico Melchor, Whole Foods Market Brewing Beertender

We’re still awaiting a few responses, namely head brewer of Whole Foods Market Brewing, Dave Ohmer. While we’re waiting, we started gathering some intel from around the galactic interwebs, as there was much to be said on the topic.

In a Sightline post, Bart Watson staff economist at the Brewers Association, shed some light on the speculation for us all,

Is this about Amazon broadening e-commerce to get into grocery stores? Is this about Amazon trying to build brick-and-mortar? Is it a combo of the two? Or is this something else new, something different that we haven’t even thought about? Amazon has the capabilities to do some interesting stuff. They do offer the ability to direct order stuff, and now they’ve got local stores they can pair that with.

Whole Foods could yield new beer sales data and theoretically provide hundreds of new physical locations from which to deliver beer. On the other hand, Whole Foods could possibly make huge inroads into the online beer marketplace. – Bart Watson, Brewers Association Staff Economist

While I don’t see the buyout being a data play like AB’s minor stake in Rate Beer, there’s definitely some value in seeing hard, actionable sales numbers, when it comes to the beer aspect.

Brody Chapman, one of the owners of SpindleTap Brewery had this to say specifically about how Whole Foods Brewing might be affected,

I don’t see it changing much short term. Whole Foods Brewing isn’t really on a lot of peoples radars just yet, but that could change with an unlimited budget. – Brody Chapman, SpindleTap Brewery Co-Founder

To which we replied, “Don’t they kinda already have that?!” While Whole Foods Market Brewing is a pretty small operation in terms of output, it’s not like they’ve got a MacGyver setup or they’re wanting badly for any special ingredients.

Whole Foods gets what Whole Foods wants. They’ve already got the buying power, but something tells me they’re not busting at the seams with growth for other reasons.

A handful of others that we reached out to had replies along similar lines. For the most part, everybody we asked in Houston didn’t think the buyout would affect beer much – not Whole Foods Brewing, not the beer industry, nada. However, we’re still waiting on the final word from Dave.

Our friends over at Houston Press wanted to weigh in on the matter as well, although not beer specific.

What's next for Whole Foods, especially here in Houston, where Amazon is already planning to add 2,500 jobs at a new distribution compound in the Pinto Business Park at I-45 and Beltway 8? It's difficult to tell the direction this merger will take Whole Foods. It's sort of like the monster in the hands of Dr. Frankenstein now. A contact at Whole Foods’ corporate office in Austin tells me he's been in meetings all day about the merger, but has no further comment. – Gwendolyn Knapp, Houston Press Food Editor

So there you have it. Some speculation about how the Amazon buying Whole Foods affects beer. As a general consensus, nothing’s changing any time soon. At least until we give y’all an update. Beers to you, Houston.

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