A longtime frat party staple is caving into the growing demand for craft beer

The parent company of Budweiser, Bud Light, and Natural “Natty” Light wants to make its beers more craft.

“The idea that we have on craft is a simple one,” AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito said in an earnings call on Wednesday. “Craft is a growing and very profitable segment, and it’s one that we’re underrepresented.”

Now, the Big Beer giant best known for its light and inexpensive brews wants to change that.

AB InBev is on an acquisition spree, closing on purchases of craft breweries Four Peaks and Breckenridge in the first quarter of 2016, in addition to announcing its acquisition of Devils Backbone Brewing Company.

According to Britos, these acquisitions are step one of the company’s plan to take over craft brewing.

Devils backboneDevils Backbone Brewing CompanyDevils Backbone Brewing Company.

“First, you bring some amazing craft partners to join us, and continue to help our brewers,” says Brito.

At the same time, the company is debuting its own “craft” options, with more expensive and complex brews such as Shock Top. AB InBev made a major push to convince consumers to purchase Shock Top this year, airing a commercial for the brew during the Super Bowl in February. Since the ad, the brand has grown in the market organically, according to the company.

These craft acquisitions, craft-inspired brands, and other “above premium” options at AB InBev are currently some of the brightest points in the company’s business. While Bud Light’s market share declined 35 basis points and Budweiser’s declined 25 basis points in the quarter, the above premium portfolio gained 50 basis points of market share.

Shock Top Super Bowl Photo 3Shock TopShock Top’s Super Bowl commercial starring TJ Miller.

Of course, many craft brewers would argue that any craft beer created or acquired by AB InBev could never qualify as a true craft brew.

“Acquisitions go against the very nature of craft beer — by commoditizing it, big companies are pulling the wool over customers’ eyes,” Sarah Warman, craft brewer BrewDog’s head of marketing, told Business Insider in March.

Craft is also influencing Big Beer’s established brands.

While Bud Light is still the No. 1 beer in the US, and AB InBev and MillerCoors make up 72% of all US beer sales, craft beer has been rapidly growing while brands including Bud Light and Budweiser have been shrinking. To turn around these brands that are traditionally marketed to “basic bros,” AB InBev is turning to craft beer companies for inspiration.

Budweiser’s most recent marketing campaign doubles down on what Britos calls the beer’s “quality and heritage credentials.” Last December, Bud Light announced a makeover that emphasised the craft elements of the brew, returning the “AB” crest to labels after 14 years off of the packaging.

Bud light canBud LightBud Light’s new cans.

Big Beer has taken cues from craft beer with its marketing campaigns, with an increased emphasis on stunts, social media, and authenticity. And like many purveyors of craft beer, Big Beer has zeroed in on irony.
Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad, for example, used craft-inspired techniques to boldly focus in on what makes it unique: it’s not a craft beer.

All of this points to the obvious: AB InBev is ready to take on craft beer, whether that be by buying up craft brewers or adopting craft-inspired methods of marketing and packaging their own beers.

However, the company is missing a key element. According to a study executed by Bloomberg, six out of 10 drinkers believe a brewer’s independence is important when picking a craft beer — the one thing that AB InBev cannot provide.

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