Over the past few month media outlets across the nation have gleefully pointed out that beer has lost US market share to wine and hard liquor for the first time in memory. From 1998 through 2004 beer’s dominance of the alcoholic beverage market has slipped 59.6% to 58.1%. Conversely wine and spirit consumption has grown by about 1.5%. Over the last two months I found articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post and even a business commentary on KYW News radio trumpeting the decline of beer.
A number of reasons have been offered for the declining market share: aging baby boomers that looked at beer as the beverage of choice are now switching to scotch and other spirits, new legal age drinkers are finding “apple-tini’s” and “cosmo’s” more fun then a Coors Light or Budweiser.
What is always overlooked in these articles is the recent and simultaneous growth in the “craft beer” segment of the market. (“Craft beer” is defined as being produced by smaller batch breweries, including the about 1000 Brewpubs, 400 Micobreweries and 50 Regional Specialty Breweries like Stoudts, Victory and Yards locally.) Craft beer is grew at about 7 percent in 2004 and looks to be surpassing that in 2005 – meaning that craft beer is the fastest growing segment of the alcoholic beverage industry. Imports are continuing to grow in market share as well. Interestingly the craft beer boom is occurring at the same time that homogenous and ubiquitous “light beer” has become the largest selling beer style in the US for the first time in history.
What do we learn from this? Yes the Atkins fired low carb health craze and the 30 year old marketing campaigns have turned many American drinkers off of their usual lager. But what is also happening is that many people interested in beer are turning away from the indistinguishable “big beers” and looking towards the diversity and rich enjoyment of craft brewed beers.
Now that local brew pubs and craft beer are so accessible, when making the choice for beer – the choice of beer is starting to reflect real beer appreciation. People are choosing flavor over brand loyalty and trying new styles of beer instead of following the crowd to Budweiser, Miller and Coors automatically. While craft beer is only about 3.5% of the entire beer market (and growing), I see today’s more educated and selective beer consumers as showing the world that in the US we can also be real “Beer Appreciators”.
Next time you are at your local preferred beer venue and thinking about a beer, do some real thinking and choose a craft beer – and enjoy.