Things just don't seem to be getting any better for our imported beer shipments. Beer Institute released figures yesterday indicating that imported beer shipments were down another 8.1% in July, bringing year-to-date import shipments down 9.3%, or a loss of about 160,000 case equivs a day. There was some hope among import suppliers that sales would start to rebound toward the end of summer, but that just hasn't happened. In fact, anecdotally, distributors are telling us that the big imports are continuing to show steep declines in many big markets.What's this mean? Well, imports -- which are almost all light lagers -- are pricier than comparable domestic beers because of shipping and the weak dollar. Craft beer's increases are thought to be coming largely out of imports' lost sales.
Losses are across the board: Mexican imports were down 4.7% in July, and YTD down nearly 3%. Netherlands down 14% year-to-date, while Canadian shipments off 22%, German shipments down 10%, Italy down 3%, and Belgian shipments off 11%. [Not Stella, BTW: Stella claims its U.S. sales are up 14%. -- Lew]
And, as former Capital Brewing prez Tom Fuchs told me in an interview back some years ago, "One of these days, the American import drinker is going to realize he's been sold a mule in racing silks." The big-selling imported lagers aren't bad beers, not compared to similar American light lagers. But they aren't better, either; in fact, they're not even significantly different (with the exception of Heineken, which is, these days, all-malt. Actually, so is Michelob, so never mind).
When money's tight -- mentally, even if there's no difference in your particular wallet, everyone is thinking tight -- you look at the relative value and think, why am I paying more for this? And, increasingly, people aren't, apparently. If this keeps up, it will represent a major shift in American beer-buying, one which will not be easily reversed. It also represents a major opportunity for craft beer, which is, of course, significantly different from mainstream light lagers.