Beer creativity on tap

April 12, 2011

Craft brewers help lift industry appeal, as sluggish economy takes toll on overall U.S. beer sales.

Dedicated beer drinkers can have a lot of fun these days. With the number of craft breweries at an all-time high of 1,759 - up by more than 100 in 2010, and with 618 being planned, according to the Brewers Association - there are plenty of new tastes to explore.

In contrast with total U.S. beer industry sales, which BA says posted a 1% decline in the year to $101 billion after a 2.2% drop in 2009, the craft brewer segment was decidedly upbeat: craft brew dollar sales rose 12% to an estimated $7.6 billion. Also, imports rebounded by 5% in 2010 after a 9.8% decline in 2009. Overall industry sales are sluggish, say experts, because of persistently high unemployment rates among young adult men. Yet craft brands' taste innovation and marketing inspires purchases.

On the bright side is a steady flow of new tastes from brewers. And this - the new federal dietary guidelines recommend one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men because ethanol is linked to less incidence of heart disease and other ailments. The beer industry says its sales support about 900,000 retail jobs, including in supermarkets, convenience stores and other channels, in an economic impact study commissioned by the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

During the 52 weeks ended December 11, 2010, the channels tracked by Nielsen fared better than the beer industry overall. Total U.S. dollar sales for beer in food, drug, liquor and convenience stores, plus other select channels, rose 1.4% to $27.25 billion, albeit on a 0.6% decline in case volume, Nielsen data show.

Light beer and regular comprise this $27.25 billion figure. Of the two, light beer is on a better track: its dollar sales rose 1.5% to $14.68 billion, albeit on a 0.3% case volume dip. Dollar sales of regular beer were up 1.3% to $12.57 billion on a 1.0% case volume drop, reports Nielsen.

Within these Nielsen-tracked channels, domestic brews are showing a more positive dollar sales trend than imports. Domestics were up 1.7% to $22.99 billion in the latest 52 weeks, albeit on a 0.8% case volume dip. Imports edged down 0.1% to $4.27 billion, on a 0.4% case-volume increase.

The premium segment posted a dollar sales gain of 0.5% to $13.37 billion in the most recent year. Comprising this figure, premium lights were up 1.5% to $10.02 billion, while premium regulars were down 2.5% to $3.35 billion, states Nielsen.

Nielsen also noted these trends for additional segments within the channels it tracks:

  • Dollar sales of below-premium brews climbed 2.1% to $5.65 billion, on a 1.5% case-volume decline.
  • Dollar sales of near beer were down 1.0% to $85.9 million, on a 4.1% case-volume drop.
  • Dollar sales of domestic super-premium brews fell 3.1% to $1.54 billion, on a 3.3% case-volume decline.
  • Dollar sales of craft/microbrews jumped 15.9% to $1.79 billion, on a 14.0% case-volume boost.