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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Craft beer continues to kick ass

Craft beer -- call it what you will -- continues to sell strongly, outpacing the rest of the U.S. beer market. The latest figures from the Brewers Association show mid-year sales growth at 11% over last year on volume, and a dollar sales growth rate of 14%. Craft sales also topped 5% of total beer dollar sales for the first time ever.

If you need the visual, the graph shows what I'm talking about: beer grew 1%, craft grew a whopping 11%. Get it? That's 400,000 barrels more sold in the first half of 2007 than in the first half of 2006.

What's it all mean, other than craft is doing well? It means that craft is sustaining strong, reasonable growth, the kind of growth that took imported beer from 1.5% to 13% of the U.S. beer market in under 20 years. It might give us pause to realize that craft beer's growth, like imports, relies heavily on a few major drivers: Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium. The three of them make up about 3/5 of craft sales. I happen to believe that unlike imports, that dominance will wane, rather than intensify. Craft's appeal continues to be based strongly in variety and local flavor, which argues against market dominance. Time will tell.

By the way, it's also good to keep in mind that these numbers don't include breweries the BA doesn't consider to be 'craft breweries,' like Redhook, Widmer, Goose Island...and a small but significant number of breweries that either don't belong to the BA or who decline (or forget...) to provide production figures.


Stan Hieronymus said...

Lew - I agree that there's a good chance we'll see more regional and local growth (Boulevard would be regional; Berkshire more local) in the next few years.

That's why New Belgium will exceed Sierra Nevada in sales growth (both percentage and actual barrels sold) during the next few years. At least until they bump up against capacity, still twice what they sold last year.

But 13%? Better count Blue Moon (up 100% again in many markets), all those regional A-B beers, Widmer, Goose Island, etc. to get there.

Jeff Alworth said...

If I were to have underscored any of this news, it would have been this: "Craft sales also topped 5% of total beer dollar sales for the first time ever." That's evidence that Americans are slowly developing more sophisticated palates and that a beer culture based on flavor, not drunkeness, continues to slowly emerge.

FANtastic news.

Lew Bryson said...


I wonder if the BA is pulling barrels out of the total to keep the growth looking manageable! Honestly, it makes it hard to get a real total and see how well the category is really doing.

Jeff (and it's great to see you here, glad you came by),

The 5% of dollar sales number also indicates that craft brewers are learning to price their beers more based on what they're worth, rather than some mistaken idea of what the market might pay. Agreed, it's important, and dollar sales should be the number we're looking at, not units sold.

Jeff Alworth said...

Lew, I actually come by every day, but I guess I'm a delinquent commenter.

It is true what you say about pricing. Years ago there was a brewery called Saxer in town that did a decoction-mash doppelbock they aged 3 months and then sold at the regular price. The owner admitted that it was a loss leader and he hoped to get it back in market share. It was an extraordinary beer and people would have easily paid $10 a sixer for it--especially if they had known the cost would be that the brewery would go out of business. It did.

A sad, but instructive tale.

Lew Bryson said...

Lew, I actually come by every day, but I guess I'm a delinquent commenter.

I shall endeavor to post more often.

Seriously...I remember that Saxer d-bock, I remember going well out of my way to sample it when it first arrived in Philly.

Craft beer is still underpriced. I know that's not a popular position, but it's not about costs. It's about profits. These small brewers have to be profitable to keep up, and to keep the slog worthwhile. Truth, harsh though it is.