Craft Beer Soars And Operators Take Notice

One key theme that ran through a number of the sessions at the just completed VIBE Conference in Las Vegas was that concerning the continuing importance to operators of a well-developed craft beer line up.

That’s not surprising: In a year when the total U.S. beer market grew by one percent and this after underperforming recently, craft brewers saw their volume shoot up 15 percent and their value grow by 17 percent. All told, the craft side of the beer business now exceeds 6.5 percent of total U.S. beer, up from 5.7 percent in 2011 – similarly, craft dollars reached a 10.2 share and now exceeding $10 billion for the first time.

Need more data to become convinced that craft beer is an important way to differentiate your operation? In 2012, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of U.S. operating breweries, with the total count reaching 2,403. The count includes 409 new brewery openings and only 43 closings. Paul Gatza of the craft beer Brewers Association said, “On average, we are seeing slightly more than one craft brewery per day opening somewhere in the U.S., and we anticipate even more in the coming year. There is clearly a thirst in the marketplace for craft brewed beer, as indicated by the continued growth year after year.” Notably, of the 2,403 breweries in the country, 2,347 qualify as craft.

For operators, the devil is in the details and one of those indicates that the hoppy style of beer called IPA (standing for India Pale Ale) is soaring in popularity – up nearly 40 percent in volume and now the second most popular style after the large grouping of seasonal brews. IPA now accounts for 16 percent of craft beer dollars. If you don’t have at least one IPA in the rotation, it’s a sure sign you don’t know what some of your customers want you to carry.

Craft brewers are increasingly bullish on the on-premise. Why? Because as Big Beer more and more plays the commodity game and strives to become ubiquitous, restaurant customers who look for the special experience are reluctant to pay on-premise prices for the routine experience they have at home, at barbecues, at the beach and when traveling. They turn – and return – to restaurants that take the trouble not to cut the best deal for the green eyeshade guys but to appeal to their changing and broadening tastes. Craft beers may not become the best sellers in your venue anytime soon, but given the right mix, they will surely provide variety, profit and curiosity beyond splashy ads and volume discounts.


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