Watered Down: Movement Growth, Authenticity, and Evaluation in Craft Beer
Jo-Ellen Pozner, Associate Professor of Management
Pozner, J.-E., DeSoucey, M., Verhaal, J. C., & Sikavica, K. (2022). Watered Down: Market Growth, Authenticity, and Evaluation in Craft Beer. Organization Studies, 43(3), 321–345. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840621993236
Research in organizational theory suggests that category-spanning organizations typically suffer penalties in evaluations, as consumers downgrade producers they see as violating authenticity norms. We challenge this view by linking two heretofore separate insights: first, that categorical boundaries erode as categories become taken for granted and, second, that consumers in a given category tend to become more heterogeneous as their numbers increase. We argue that newer consumers employ diverse evaluative schemata and rely less on established conceptions of authenticity than do veterans, leading to more generous evaluations as the ranks of consumers grow. Using the canonical case of craft beer, we test the effect of audience growth on consumer evaluations, particularly when producers violate categorical authenticity norms. Our analysis of an original dataset of more than 1.2 million unique ratings of craft beers from a popular online forum finds both that overall beer ratings increase and that penalties to authenticity norm violations attenuate as the number of new reviewers participating in the evaluative process rises. These results refine our understanding of shifting demands for categorical purity, conceptions of authenticity, and consumer evaluations as functions of market growth.