The American craft beer market is still growing, and if you’re one of the many craft brewers striving to grow with it, the chances are you’ve got one key question.
What’s the plan?
Specifically: What are tomorrow’s craft drinkers looking for? How is the brewing landscape likely to change? Where are the opportunities? What misconceptions might our industry hold about craft drinkers? And what misconceptions might they have about those who manufacture their beer?
At DSM, we are driven to create a brighter, healthier and more sustainable future for everyone. As a supplier of brewing enzymes, we work with major multinational players and craft startups alike. We recently conducted a consumer survey that asked craft beer drinkers across the world to address some of these questions — including consumers in the U.S. market. Here’s what we found.
1. It’s official: A younger craft-drinking generation is emerging
Nearly half of all craft beer drinkers have increased their consumption in the past two years, according to our research. But for the U.S. market in particular, an important finding stood out: This increase in the consumption of craft beer is being led by the under 30s. It seems that not only is the craft beer market still growing, but it’s set to continue growing for some time … provided the industry understands the unique characteristics that motivate consumers in their beer choice. Which brings us to point two.
2. American craft beer drinkers are getting more adventurous
Why do people drink craft beer in the first place? Consumers in the United States (like every other market we surveyed) said taste is the number one criteria and scored the best among all seven beer-drinking nations we surveyed, at 90 percent. But really interestingly, American craft beer drinkers are considerably more adventurous than counterparts from other countries. Some 61 percent said that aside from taste, their main reason for trying craft beers was “to try something new.” In fact, 84 percent said they like to discover new beer types.
3. For Americans, the beer is more important than the brand
What role does branding play when consumers are selecting and drinking craft beer? Our research revealed that consumers in non-English speaking markets valued brand very highly (an average of 88 percent of people across these countries said this was their number one priority). However, in the U.S. market this dropped to 73 percent.
Furthermore, just over half of all those American craft beer drinkers we surveyed said they were “quite loyal” to a particular brand. It’s clear that craft beer drinkers are far more loyal to premium and craft beer as a category than to one specific brand.
4. Local is best
So, what exactly is it about craft beer and the idea of trying something new that attracts U.S. consumers? We found that the claim “locally brewed” is the most effective in making a beer more attractive to the Americans we surveyed; in fact, more than half of our group went on to confirm that they’d be most likely to try locally brewed beer … with one important caveat. Only 44 percent of U.S. craft beer consumers we spoke to were interested in trying foreign beers, such as a “local beer” from Spain, the United Kingdom or Belgium — great news for American craft brewers looking to reach out beyond their traditional backyards.
5. Sustainability comes to the forefront
As a society, we’re fortunate to have a new generation of consumers that knows and cares more about sustainability. Increasingly, this new generation is looking beyond the label and making more informed choices about the products they buy — and our research reveals that craft beer is no different. Half of our respondents overall said that a product advertised as being sustainable made the product more attractive, and a similar number said they would like to see more information about how their beer was made. All of which adds up to yet another opportunity for brewers to differentiate themselves from the pack by crafting more sustainable beer.
So…what’s the plan?
In summary, craft brewers looking to expand in a growing market need to plan for a younger generation of more adventurous beer drinkers who are more concerned with the beer than the branding and who put a huge emphasis on how and where a beer is made.
To achieve this, craft brewers will need to maintain the quality, originality, consistency and authenticity of a product that (hopefully) will be produced in larger quantities, travel greater distances and need longer shelf lives to satisfy not only consumers, but the retail industry. The sooner you start exploring ways to achieve this, the greater advantage you’ll have in this craft beer revolution.
Joana Carneiro is business director beverages for DSM Food Specialties.