We’ve been reading the headlines, too. Craft beer sales are slowing — or more accurately — the growth is slowing. So, does that mean the great craft beer boom of the new century is near its end? Was it yet another beverage fad we can throw up there with cream-based cocktails, clear Pepsi and Clearly Canadian?
We’re thinking no. The craft beer market is changing (it’s always changing), and right now the big change is basically large breweries are slowing their rolls. From Advertising Age the other day:
Is the craft beer boom about to end? There is new evidence that it is at least slowing down. The nation’s top two craft brewers, Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada, “are now both in decline” and “combined volumes for the top 12 craft brewers grew only 1 percent for the three months to May,” Sanford C. Bernstein stated this week citing Nielsen figures in a report titled “The Dramatic Slowdown of Craft Beer Continues.” The slowdown appears to be coming from the biggest craft brands. Growth is still coming from craft’s “long tail,” meaning smaller brands, Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, recently told Craft Business Daily.
That’s the key here: Small, localized craft brands still have substantial growth potential while the big dogs are maybe scratching at a ceiling. Let’s look at last year. In 2015, craft brewers produced 24.5 million barrels and saw a 13 percent rise in volume and a 16 percent increase in retail dollar value. Retail dollar value was estimated at $22.3 billion, representing 21 percent market share. Brewery openings declined from the previous year (which makes sense considering a whopping 881 breweries opened in 2014) but still came in at a rather robust 620 — much higher than 2013’s 502. So, there is a slowdown, but a slowdown off a fairly huge number. Also, Big Beer craft brands are seeing the most serious slowdown in 2016.
New IRI data has craft up “only” 6.5% YTD by volume. But take out Blue Moon (-4%) & Shock Top (-9%) and growth goes up to 8.9%.
— Bart Watson (@BrewersStats) May 26, 2016
If I’m pulling it correctly – I get BA craft up 10.4% in IRI scan data YTD through 5-15-16.
— Bart Watson (@BrewersStats) May 26, 2016
.@BeerBizDaily reports that Nielsen “craft” weekly numbers reported yesterday only included 2 BA craft brands. Rest were AB and MC brands.
— Bart Watson (@BrewersStats) June 9, 2016
Also consider this: Nearly half of all craft breweries (49 percent) increased capacity by at least 10 percent last year, according to our previous research. Even better: More than a quarter increased capacity by 50 percent or more last year. So all of those hundreds and thousands of breweries that have started popping up over the last few years aren’t just fun throw-away stats; they are prospering, growing businesses. But if you are still more excited about massive brewery opening numbers, fear not, as the TTB was showing 6,000-plus active licenses at the end of 2015.
Still not convinced?
Well, the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) announced last week that more than 700 craft breweries are now in operation across the state. That is an incredible number. The CCBA was happy to report this historic milestone, especially considering the early bird ticket sale for the CCBA’s annual showcase of California’s booming craft beer industry just went on sale — the California Craft Beer Summit and Beer Festival.
“California continues to lead the nation’s craft beer movement, and the Summit showcases the wild success of a community united over a common passion: craft beer,” said Tom McCormick, executive director of the CCBA. “CCBA’s signature event is the ultimate opportunity for craft beer enthusiasts to join the tribe, learn from brewers and experts across the Golden State and taste the creativity and passion that serves as the foundation of the industry.”
It’s just another feather in that wacky beer cap that we’ll say metaphorically represents growth in craft beer, even if pockets of that weird looking trilby (remember, hat metaphor) are dipping down. Looking at the beer industry as a whole, craft beer represented 21 percent dollar share with a 12 percent volume share in 2015. You may recall the BA’s goal of getting volume share to 20 percent by 2020. While this might still be possible in some way, with all of the consolidation and acquisitions by Big Beer, that number (at least by the BA’s craft beer definition) seems less attainable. Which we guess is a bummer because round numbers are cool and grab headlines in the mainstream, but as long as all of you are still selling beer and growing by 2020, who cares. Right?