Social Media Insights Reveal the State of Craft Beer

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What’s the state of craft beer? Social Standards has revealed valuable insights that can help operators stabilize and grow beer sales. 

As we inch closer to starting not just a new year but a new decade, it’s important to adapt to changing consumer behavior and preferences.

Social Standards studies social data to analyze consumer behavior, providing context for what consumers are talking about online. One of the topics of discussion, of course, is craft beer.

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Looking at 75 million public social media posts, Social Standards found that craft beer conversations have dropped 16 percent since 2017. Among other findings, craft beer has a weak relationship among those discussing drinking in moderation, those concerned with self-care, and consumers talking about low-carb items.

Mainstream or Big Beer, according to Social Standards, enjoys wider appeal than craft beer. In contrast, the platform found that craft beer skews, perhaps contrary to widely held beliefs about so-called hipsters, older and Caucasian.

Craft beer performs well with those aged 30 to 44 and 55 to 64, whereas mainstream/Big Beer performs best among those aged 21 to 24. The demographic groups that discuss craft beer the most have remained static since 2017.

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That consistency may seem like a positive but it means something less desirable: craft beer is struggling to appeal to new consumer segments.

Analysis of social media conversations by Social Standards helps the reasons for this lapse in appeal come into focus. Compared to beverage alcohol topics, conversations related to health and wellness are up 63 percent.

Five percent of beverage alcohol conversations include health and wellness topics, approximately the same percentage as the topic of IPA. That indicates that health and wellness is popping up more as a topic among beverage alcohol consumers.

Social Standards has identified four topics of conversation that have remained “relatively steady” since 2017. The platform interprets that discovery as trends with staying power, meaning operators should consider delivering on these consumer preferences:

Social Standards, after analyzing month-over-month topic mentions from September 2017 to September 2019, found that consumers display more loyalty for “low-carb” than “lager.” Additionally, of the above four topics, low-carb, non-alcohol and self-care are health and wellness topics under-indexing with craft beer.

The logical conclusion, and the interpretation by Social Standards, is that operators should have low-carb, low-ABV and alcohol-free beer options on their menus to appeal to guests focused on health and wellness. More craft beer brewers should consider producing such beers, of course, to attract wider demographic appeal. Perhaps increased on-premise sales will motivate such a change.

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There is some good news for craft beer and therefore overall beverage sales. This summer, craft beer sales were up five percent and mainstream/Big Beer sales were up nearly that much at 4.7 percent.

Additional good news—that may well be short lived if craft beer brewers don’t adapt to attract new consumer segments—is that craft beer doesn’t appear to be losing revenue. However, it’s just common sense that if sales remain stagnant or start to fall and consumer disinterest grows, revenue will drop.

Analyzing 75 million social media posts also revealed what styles of beer are most popular among consumers. Interest in pilsner and Mexican beer, along with strong ale and light lager, show that today’s consumer prefers light beer styles.

However, none of those styles outperformed pale lager in terms of social media conversation. According to Social Standards’ report, pale lager—along with light lager—are associated with mainstream/Big Beer and not craft beer. Consumers associate bold, flavor-forward beer styles like German beers, Belgian-style beers, wheat beer and IPA (of course).

Social Standards found that consumers are interested in flavored beers, fruit beers (guava and tangerine in particular) and vegetable craft beers. They also show a preference for craft beer that’s hoppy, sour, hazy and bitter. While floral and spicy flavors are growing in popularity, they’re not currently indexing with craft beer.

Operators have room to maneuver and appeal to multiple demographic groups to succeed with craft beer. Along with offering low-carb, low-ABV and zero-proof craft beer options, operators can stay on trend by offering pale and light craft lagers. According to Social Standards, draft is showing growth in popularity, and pitchers, while not showing significant traction in social media conversations, are earning mentions.

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Consumer focus on health and wellness may threaten beverage alcohol sales, but agile operators can overcome stagnant sales by finding and showcasing craft beers that satisfy shifting guest preferences.

Social Standards Key Terminology

  • Conversations: Authentic public consumer conversations on social media.
  • Growth: The number of social media conversations about a specific topic within a market vertical over time. This is often a leading indicator of a rising or falling trend, product, or brand.
  • Strength of connection: The significance of the relationship between two topics, generally reported as an index or percentile. For this report, we’re using percentiles because they fall on a fixed scale (0 to 100), making it easier to compare results. Here’s how we interpret the numbers:
    • 61st percentile or above = relatively strong relationship
    • 40th–60th percentile = normative relationship
    • 39th percentile or below = relatively weak relationship

Resources

Craft Beer: Market Insights Brief 2019.” Social Standards. November 2019.

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