Where Are The Beer Drinkers Going?

Two recent reports show that the American way with beer continues to shift.

First, the results of the annual Gallup poll on beverage alcohol consumption habits, conducted July 10-14 continue the trend in which beer has declined as the preferred beverage of U.S. drinkers, shrinking its advantage over wine from 20 percentage points in 1992 to one point today.

In the report, Americans who drink alcohol are about equally likely to say they drink beer (36 percent) or wine (35 percent) most often. Another 23 percent say liquor is their beverage of choice.

Crucially, according to Gallup, the preferences of young adult drinkers have changed dramatically over the past two decades. “In the early 1990s, 71% of adults under age 30 said they drank beer most often; now it is 41% among that age group. There has been a much smaller decline in the percentage of 30- to 49-year-olds who say they drink beer the most, from 48% to 43%, with essentially no change in older drinkers' beer preference.”

The changing tastes of younger adults has shifted toward both wine and spirits, but more so toward spirits over the past two decades, with those between the ages of 30 and 49 moving “exclusively toward liquor,” according to Gallup.

As usual, the poll finds about 60 percent of Americans saying they drink alcohol at least occasionally, in line with the historical average of 63 percent since 1939.

The full report can be found by clicking HERE, but make no mistake: there’s little good news for the future rebound of beer here.

Another recent report highlights what most operators already know; the beer brands that are not losing share are likely to be coming from the continuing craft boom. During the first half of 2013, according to mid-year data released by the Brewers Association (BA), American craft beer dollar sales and volume were up 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Over the same period last year, dollar sales jumped 14 percent and volume increased 12 percent.

During the first half of 2013, approximately 7.3 million barrels of beer were sold by small and independent craft brewers, up from 6.4 million barrels over the first half of 2012. All this is in light of the decreasing overall beer sales, down two percent through the first six months of the year.

“Demand for beer produced by small and independent brewers has never been higher, as evidenced by increased production and the hundreds of new breweries joining the playing field each year,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “Beer drinkers nationwide are responding positively to high-quality, full-flavored, diverse offerings from American craft brewing companies that continue to innovate and push the envelope.”

There are now 2,538 breweries operating in the U.S. as of June 30, 2013, an increase of 446 breweries since June 2012. The BA also lists an additional 1,605 breweries in planning at the year’s midpoint, compared to 1,252 a year ago. As of June 30, 2013, the count of craft breweries was at 2,483, showing that 98 percent of U.S. brewers are craft brewers.

What’s the trend line? For Big Beer, the pool is getting smaller and there are way more people planning to drop their lines where the fish are. As the large wine and spirit suppliers create innovations that consumers want, it’s the craft brewers who are making products younger consumers want, even if they increasingly pass on selecting beer as number one.


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