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Can Beer Save America?

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The grand unifying theory of the American consumer has been that we are, first and foremost, low price fetishists. There'sample evidence supporting this view: From Wal-Mart's prominence to the fast food industry's ongoing success, vast swaths of the economy are indeed built on the premise that buyers will prioritize discounts and quantity over premium prices and quality.

But ever so quietly, we are starting to see the rise and success of a competing vision, one that turns the old assumption on its head. In the technology arena, for instance, Apple is successfully challenging the PC world with a business model that convinces consumers to pay higher prices in exchange for better reliability, durability, efficiency and customer service. Likewise in the transportation world, more and more consumers are willing to pay higher prices upfront for hybrid and electric vehicles in exchange for the promise of lower long-term energy costs. This has encouraged companies like Philips to introduce more expensive light bulbs, in hopes that consumers will pay more for illumination that promises to use less electricity and last 20 years.

Nowhere, though, is the battle between the low-price/quantity business model and the higher-price/quality business model more clear than in the world of beer. In the fevered battle between the macrobrew behemoths and the craftbrew insurgents, both sides are digging in for an epic confrontation.


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