Big Beer, Big Data, and the Big Implications of AB InBev’s RateBeer Acquisition
Via ZX Ventures, AB InBev invests in dozens of beer and beer-adjacent businesses. This includes online retailers, delivery services, and publishers, along with other consumer products. As with AB InBev’s oft-bemoaned acquisitions of craft breweries like Goose Islandand Wicked Weed, many brewers and RateBeer users lamented the sale, citing the inherent bias of a corporation owning user-driven content.
Favoritism is the least of our worries, though. By acquiring RateBeer, AB InBev now owns a treasure trove of data, including the preferences and locations of active and passionate beer drinkers. One corporation now has the power to watch, analyze, predict, and, eventually, create the beers we like by using data many of us volunteered willingly under different circumstances.
The acquisition threatens to squelch individual creativity and could single-handedly dictate beer trends to meet corporate needs.
“Data is powerful, and with massive amounts of data, insights can be pulled to improve one’s market position and to better understand the actual users of the platform,” Fern Stroud, CEO of Stroud Management Enterprises, and senior program manager at a digital ad tech agency in San Francisco, tells VinePair. “Data is king.”
RATEBEER’S ‘SAD DAY’
RateBeer launched in 2000 as a platform for beer lovers to share opinions on beers and beer-drinking establishments. In June 2017, co-founder Joe Tucker announced RateBeer had accepted investment from ZX Ventures, a “global growth and innovation group” owned by AB InBev. On Feb. 3, 2019, he announced the complete sale: “ZX Ventures, a division of AB InBev, has fully acquired RateBeer.”
Guthrie Collin, SVP of advertising product & technology at Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and professor at NYU Stern, compares AB InBev’s acquisition of RateBeer to Amazon’s early acquisition of Goodreads. “Both acquisitions provide the acquirers with data generated by passionate, influential ‘heavy user’ communities dedicated to providing unbiased and crowd-sourced reviews and commentary on the acquirer’s key segment,” Collin writes VinePair. “In AB InBev’s case, this is their second round with RateBeer, after making a strategic investment a few years back, and the full acquisition indicates they have tested and learned that the RateBeer data set provides important signals to drive business growth.”
Acquisitions such as these are not rare in the tech space, where near-identical companies like Grubhub and Seamless merge and consumers barely notice. But RateBeer was different.
“A sad, sad day,” wrote Maakun, a RateBeer “Regular” from Den Haag, Netherlands, after the initial investment in June 2017. “Yikes,” wrote minutematt, whose reviews largely comprise beers in the U.K. And from a RateBeer “quality person,” herrklemann, “Finally my ratings are fully owned by one of the big players. So glad for all the unpaid work of the past few years.”
RateBeer kept its initial sale secret for nearly a year. Tucker publicly announced ZX Ventures’ investment in his company in June 2017, but it had actually occurred in October 2016.
“The beer community heavily relies on beer review sites like ours to help guide them,” Todd Alström, founder of BeerAdvocate, a beer publisher and review site, and RateBeer competitor, tells VinePair in an email. BeerAdvocate, founded in 1996, is independently owned, and its business includes print and digital magazines, events, and beer ratings.
Some brewers also oppose the acquisition. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder Sam Calagione issued a statement on June 5, 2017 asking RateBeer to remove any of the brewery’s data from its platform.