The Real Reason Safeway Stopped Selling Brown Derby

Some grocery stores have 'hopped' on the craft beer bandwagon and launched their own in-house brands in recent years, including the Amazon-owned supermarket giant Whole Foods, which launched a line of canned craft beers in 2021 to be sold throughout its Texas locations (per Grocery Dive). Trader Joe's sells a series of private-label beers that are actually produced by a group of established American breweries (via Paste).

Most grocery stores content themselves with selling an assortment of other distributors' craft brews, with a few offering an in-store bar or beer den with selections on tap that you can sip while shopping such as Whole Foods and Lowes Foods. But back in the early post-Prohibition era, having a store brand beer was more commonplace and viewed as a novel way to market and distribute beer outside of a saloon, since most beer had been sold on draft up until the 1920s.

In the 1930s, West Coast Grocery Company started supplying California-based supermarket chain Safeway and another chain called MacMarr with a store brand beer called Brown Derby (via Rusty Can). While it's no longer around, Brown Derby definitely had its moment in the sun.

The rise of the can boosted store brands

When Brown Derby beer was created, there was a popular restaurant in Los Angeles that shared its name, and the brew emulated its hat and cane logo in its own beer can design. The brand was sued for copyright infringement, which led to a can redesign, but they were able to keep the name Brown Derby (per Rusty Can).

While this seemed to be an inauspicious start, the introduction of beer canning, first tested by the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company in 1935, proved an industry changer that contributed to the formative success of store-brand canned beers like Brown Derby (per Smithsonian Magazine). High demand, driven in part by the appeal of being able to bring home affordable, quality canned beer home, led to growth. Brown Derby eventually became marketed exclusively as a Safeway beer brand and in the 1950s it expanded its reach into Safeway stores nationwide.

Brown Derby enjoyed a half-century of prosperity before Safeway changed ownership hands to a company called Vons in 1988. The new owners ditched Brown Derby, although it remained for a time in Safeway stores in western states. Gradually, it became phased out, becoming one of the many discontinued beers you'll never drink again. Unless, of course, someone decides to revive it and give this Derby another run.