IBA urges WABA merger

The Independent Brewers Association has launched a bid to amalgamate with the body that represents WA’s beer industry.

In a letter to the Western Australian Brewers Association, the IBA highlighted the challenges in supporting the 70 operations across the State and, as the Melbourne-based organisation was about to launch a stronger push for its seal of independence, it encouraged WABA to come under its umbrella.

WABA was formed in 2001 and has served as a key advocacy and promotional entity for Western Australian breweries.

It recently worked extensively with the State Government to obtain relief for all WA breweries impacted by the Container Deposit Scheme to be introduced in June, and it has liaised with the Minister of Agriculture to seek incentives and assistance to grow the WA industry.

The IBA emerged from the Craft Beer Industry Association in 2017 when small breweries opted to expel brands owned by CUB, Lion, Australian Beer Co. and Asahi such as James Squire, Matilda Bay and Mountain Goat.

WA is the only State in the country that doesn’t have a macro brewery following the departure of Swan to South Australia in 2013.

But two of WA’s three biggest breweries, Little Creatures and Feral, are owned by Lion and Coca Cola Amatil respectively. As WABA has no restrictions on ownership both are members of the association and have provided considerable support in tutelage and sponsorship for the group’s events and initiatives.

WA’s biggest beer producer, Gage Roads, is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange but can retain its independent status under IBA guidelines.

Bevy Brewing Co. next to Optus Stadium is also a WABA member under the link of its parent company, Lion. Bevy’s head brewer Andy Scade is WABA vice-president.

If the IBA took over WABA, Little Creatures, Bevy and Feral would not be permitted in the local chapter because they are owned by “Big Beer”, even though the latter qualifies under the IBA’s guidelines.

There was disagreement over Feral’s continued involvement with the IBA because it is owned by Coca Cola Amatil, even though the IBA was informed that the combined entity’s total beer production was under the maximum limit of 40 million litres stipulated under the body’s rules.

In the letter sent to WABA members in the lead-up to the association’s annual general meeting on Friday, IBA chair Jamie Cook from Stone & Wood wrote that under the association’s constitution “State chapters” could exist and he encouraged the local body to consider moving to that structure.

The IBA would give the proposed WA chapter a seat on its national board.

“We understand that WA is a long way from “over east” and it is fair to say that the IBA has been quite focused on building a membership base in the States where it can efficiently support its members,” Cook wrote in the letter.

“We also see a benefit in there being a local body that can focus on developing the market in WA and working with the local brewers to assist in the development of their businesses.

“WABA has done a very good job over many years, however having a separate organisation over there is very difficult to maintain as membership fees and sponsorship really don’t generate enough funds to provide the resources required to operate the association on a professional basis and provide value for members.”

Under the IBA proposal WABA members would –

  • pay one membership fee only
  • retain a local board, with a representative sitting on the IBA board, giving WA a voice at national level
  • have access to the independent seal
  • receive access to the IBA resources (staff, events and membership services, public affairs and marketing)
  • enjoy the continuation of a local WA conference which can be a smaller version of Brewcon therefore saving on the costs for running and coordinating that event
  • keep its popular WA Beer Week, however, with access to resources, processes and systems to manage it (and according to the national body given Melbourne’s Good Beer Week is now part of the IBA, that expertise and experience is in-house)

Last month WABA staged its inaugural Brewers Conference as part of WA Beer Week and the Perth Royal Beer Awards. The conference was widely lauded by the local industry.

“As the IBA rolls out the Independent Seal further into the marketplace and we build stronger consumer value in that through a consumer and trade focused marketing campaign later in the year, all small independent brewers will want to have access to it,” Cook wrote.

“As things currently stand, the WABA members also have to join the IBA to access the seal.

“With two organisations in place there is a lot of duplication including payment of two sets of fees, two executive offices to maintain, and two sets of sponsorship arrangements to manage etc. The outcome of this is that members, who are predominantly small businesses, are not leveraging their combined strength and getting value for money from their fees.

“For all of these reasons, there has to be a better way forward.”

WABA president Dan Turley informed his membership the IBA proposal would be added to the agenda for Friday’s AGM but there would also be discussion amongst the base over the next two weeks.

Cook had accepted an invitation to address the WABA membership early next month.

“Obviously, this is a very big discussion point, with big ramifications for all members,” Turley said.

“Adequate time will be needed to discuss within WABA, for both members and non-members, as any potential change will affect all. We need to allow time for discussion of pros/cons.

“We have extended an invitation to Jamie Cook to come over to WA and present the IBA case in person to all members, as we think it is fair that everyone is able to hear both sides of the discussion.”

It is believed around 55 breweries are members of WABA. According to its website the IBA has 14 WA members, including the Whitfords Brewing Company and Northbridge Brewing Company, which operate under the singular Beerland banner.

Another Perth-based IBA member, Hopped Up Brewing, is currently up for sale.

WABA has also adopted its own “Drink West, Drink Best” seal for members.

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