There was a day when opening a brewery was the same thing as printing money. A little barley, some hops, water from a (wink, wink) secret source and you were in the chips. While it is still possible to make a living selling beer, the landscape has changed over the last few years. Some of the old standards are seeing sales slump, at times dramatically. Gildshire hit the road to see what was up, and what was down, in the world of selling suds.
But some of it has to do with the economy. The volume of mass-produced beer has fallen in every year since the recession hit. Since 2001, America’s beer consumption is down a hearty 11 percent. Think of cheap beer sales as a health marker for the blue-collar middle-class man. When the recession struck, the hardest hit major industries were construction and manufacturing, which disproportionately employ blue-collar, middle-class guys. Sales of cheap beer collapsed.
So if the traditional labels have fallen so far, what are people drinking now? Lighter and low-calorie beers are driving the change to a degree. Bud Light, once specialty suds from brewery behemoth Anheuser-Busch, has grown to be the Number One selling beer in America.
Much of the country’s tastes are fleeing to higher-alcohol liquids. Liquor and wine consumption is up 20 percent since the turn of the century, and richer craft beers are leading the way. when it comes to suds.
Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS executive editor Eric Shepard explained that it is specialty beers and craft beers — not light beer — that have eaten into sales of traditional full-calorie beer in the past year. He expects that to change through improved marketing techniques.
“I think that part of the reason that brewers felt we had three down years was primarily the economy. But it was also a lack of innovation, and so now you’re seeing [the beer industry] rev up these things,” he said. “The buzzword for this year was innovation.”
So where the American beer drinker used to convey his order with one word (“Bud”) he’s much more likely to ask for a Hefeweizen or Belgian Ale in 2014. Whether this trend continues or traditional brands fight back will be interesting for Gildshire, and our readers, to watch.