In a post to its community forums Sunday night, RateBeer Executive Director Joe Tucker announced that the beer ratings website has been fully acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev's investment arm, ZX Ventures. He didn’t disclose a sum for the transaction.
[Disclosure: Good Beer Hunting's studio side is the Executive Producer of a Condé Nast project, October, in which ZX Ventures is an investor.]
The move comes after ZX bought an undisclosed minority stake in the company in 2016, a fact that wasn't disclosed until almost a year later following an investigation by Good Beer Hunting. Since then, Tucker says in his announcement that RateBeer has made improvements to infrastructure and modernize, including the creation of a mobile app.
GBH posed the direct question of a ZX’s ownership stake to Tucker last month, who didn’t answer. Instead, he noted that “the fire is burning brighter now that we have so many people dedicated to making RateBeer the very best it can be” and listed a series of accomplishments.
“Search is vastly improved, the site is faster, and our forums are completely revamped—we're now using Discourse, the industry's best community forum software,” Tucker said at the time. “We also have marketing and business resources that helping us build and test ways to improve our ecommerce services which have already launched in Australia.”
He added that the company isn’t “about flexing our membership stats” and that RateBeer is a “small passionate community of elite beer reviewers concerned with the very best in beer.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Following a series of what was internally considered unfruitful investments, ZX started to take a turn to better support its parent company, AB InBev. Instead of acting as a “disruption” arm to invest in a variety of projects around the world, former ZX employees told GBH about changes to company culture and long-term planning, and the growing feeling that “companies owned by ZX should serve ABI.”
This GBH editor saw the practice in action recently, when shelf talkers appeared for the first time in front of Elysian Brewing Company beers at a Harris Teeter grocery store in North Carolina. Underneath the cost of six-packs of Dayglow and Space Dust IPAs were the RateBeer scores and marketing blurb for each.
It was a minor move (shelf talkers have been used for years with wine and, to a lesser extent, beer), but signaled a clear shift that aligned with what those former ZX employees had been hinting at. There was also a connection in the UK, where RateBeer began posting ways to buy beer on the site via ads for ZX-owned Beer Hawk.
These not-so-subtle changes mark an important turning point for ZX and RateBeer, potentially showing AB InBev’s increased interest in having investments pay off in more tangible ways. Back in 2017, investment in RateBeer and other online companies offered the value of consumer data—an ideal place to start banking information. Those efforts are now meant to start paying off, apparently, as ZX goes deeper with Tucker and his company.
“I look forward to seeing where the future takes us,” Tucker wrote in his announcement on the website. It was followed by a variety of snarky and disappointed comments from RateBeer users.
That future could be a rocky one. RateBeer’s web ranking on Alexa.com has dropped dramatically in the past year falling about 4,000 spots to a global rank of about 27,000th. Direct competitor Untappd has stayed the same, around 13,600th, and has a growing user base of about 6.5 million people.