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What is Craft? Can Large Companies Be Part of the Culture?


Introduction

The word “craft” has become ubiquitous in our modern world, but what does it truly mean? Does craft still signify artisanal production, or has its meaning evolved as big brands move into the space? In this exploration of craft culture, we’ll delve into its core attributes and examine the impact of “craftquisition” – the phenomenon of larger companies and corporations purchasing artisanal brands or launching their own craft products – on the authenticity of the craft movement.

The Essence of Craft Culture: Artisanal Production, Exploration, and Storytelling

At the heart of craft culture lies the combination of artisanal production, exploration, and premiumisation, all of which contribute to the compelling product and stories that define the craft experience. Producers, regardless of size, prioritise hands-on techniques, quality, and adherence to traditional methods, while continually experimenting with innovative ideas and ingredients. These elements come together to create unique, high-quality products that offer consumers more than just a purchase; they provide a narrative that connects them to the sector or producer’s origins and their creative values. However, as craft culture evolves, striking a balance between preserving these authentic stories and navigating the ever-growing influence of big brands becomes an increasingly intricate challenge.

Craftquisition: Big Brands and the Craft Narrative

The phenomenon of “craftquisition” has emerged in recent years, as larger corporations purchase artisanal brands or introduce their own craft lines. A prime example is the acquisition of Camden Town Brewery, the maker of Camden Hells, by AB InBev. While these strategic moves allow big brands to tap into the growing consumer demand for craft products, they also raise questions about the authenticity of the craft movement.

However, contrary to concerns raised at the time that the quality of Camden Hells would suffer under the influence of a larger corporation, many feel the beer has improved in taste and it has become the best selling craft beer in the UK by some distance. Further, by opening up their doors to the brewing process in London, they give the opportunity for anyone to experience the nature of artisanal production first-hand. This suggests that big brands can learn from craft culture and incorporate those values all while ensuring quality and profitability.

Several large brewing groups  have ventured into the craft space, launching their own craft products or lines. For instance, Guinness have launched various brands, including their own small brewery, Open Gate, as well as focussing on the craft credentials of their production at St James Gate, Dublin. Fullers , a well-established British brewery and leading pub retailer, launched craft beers like Wild River, Frontier and Session IPA, as well as collaboration six-packs with other craft breweries, and it’s own pilot kit range for it’s West London brewpub.  

Although critics argue that the mass-production methods employed by large breweries cannot replicate the true essence of artisanal production that characterises small-scale craft breweries, it’s essential to acknowledge that larger brands can learn from the craft culture and adopt those practices to enhance their product quality and appeal to consumers.

The Challenge of Balancing Authenticity and Growth

As craft culture continues to evolve, it’s essential to strike a balance between the growth of the movement and the preservation of its artisanal values. Consumers increasingly seek products that reflect craftsmanship, quality, and authenticity. When big brands enter the craft space it becomes crucial to scrutinise whether these acquisitions and product lines indeed uphold the true spirit of craft or dilute the essence of the movement by prioritising profits over quality . Fortunately, Camden Brewery and Fullers have been able to achieve both authenticity – by sticking to product quality and their brewing roots – and profitability.

The Power of Collaboration and Learning

Instead of viewing larger brands as a threat to the authenticity of craft culture, we can choose to see it as an opportunity for collaboration and learning. Big brands can be inspired by the creativity and  craftsmanship that small-scale producers bring to the table, while small producers can benefit from the growing audiences that larger corporations created through their expanded reach.

Conclusion

The craft movement is about more than just producing artisanal products; it is about creating an authentic narrative that resonates with consumers. The craft audience, plays a vital role in influencing the adoption of new trends and products among the wider consumer base. Naturally then, larger corporations want to appeal to this audience to unlock the adoption of their craft products amongst the majority. To do so effectively, it is crucial for these corporations to maintain the authenticity of the craft narrative they create. 

Since AB InBev’s purchase, Camden Hells has only grown in popularity as its roots have been preserved. As the craft movement continues to evolve, striking a balance between growth and authenticity while prioritising the values that resonate with the craft audience will be essential to ensure its continued success.

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