Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Leveraging Craft Beer

Last year, NPR aired a report that said, "It seems more consumers are willing to skip buying cheaper beer in mass quantities in favor of buying a higher-quality local product." (May 18, 2012) While that would be hard to argue as untrue, it must be framed with the fact that craft beer still constitutes only 10% of the beer market share by dollars (and only 6.5% by volume). Not much overall, but it's changing.

The "Big Two" macro beer entities together control a whopping 74% of the total beer market (a market with $99 billion in annual sales, mind you), but craft beer has been shown to chip away at that each year. In fact, between 2009 and 2012, those two big companies lost 6% of their beer sales by volume, and craft beer sales, in 2012 alone, rose 15% by volume (marking six consecutive years of double-digit growth).

But this doesn't mean that the "beer pie" is getting bigger; in fact, beer sales as a total fell by 2% during the first quarter of 2013. All these changes are happening within the existing model. And for an interesting side note, just this year Jim Koch, creator of Sam Adams, became a billionaire, the first craft brewer to become one.

As to when craft beer might overtake "big beer" altogether, Huffington Post did a little ad hoc Excel action back in March and calculated that it wouldn't be until the year 2020 that craft beer could surpass macro beer sales and in the year 2033 craft beer could surpass it in volume (based on 2012 stats). But we all know that we can trust trends and Excel sheets about as far as we can throw a pint of beer, which isn't far, especially if we'd had a few of said pints to drink.

So where am I going with all this? Here: to make the case that craft beer is a growing, important part of the beer industry and it serves bars and restaurants well to serve as many and as much craft beer as it can. So, I want to spur the conversation and have you find out if your favorite watering hole and/or eatery is serving the beer that makes both the beer drinker and their bottom line the happiest. If not, give them some of these stats.

Let's look at the dollars and cents (a.k.a. sense). Craft beer customers, according to reports published by the Brewers Association, spend more money at restaurants. Their average check is $16.00 more than the "premium segment drinker" (a.k.a. macro drinker), and while each group equally tips an average of 17% of the bill, remember that the craft beer customer's tab is already bigger.

The next question to ask is whether or not the macro-drinker can change. The study suggests that 21% of premium segment drinkers can be "traded up to craft beer." That's one out of every five people who order a Miller Lite (etc.) who can be prompted to buy a craft beer instead. How many servers/bartenders have tried? It's just more money in everyone's pocket.

But are all restaurants and bars created equal when it comes to leveraging craft beer? No, at least according to GuestMetrics. In a recent study they suggest that the casual dining establish can most benefit from selling more craft beer. In 2012, craft beer sales only rose 7% at casual restaurants, compared to 11% growth in bars and 13% growth in fine dining restaurants (data compared against previous year). Across the board, craft beer is also the least chosen in casual restaurants (accounting for 20% of beer sales). At bars, craft beer is 22% of beer sales and at fine dining restaurants it's 28%. The point here is that craft beer doesn't have to be likened to wine or the sole focus of a bar visit; craft beer has room to grow in the casual sit-down restaurant where people go for a burger, salad or night out during the week.

What about beers in stores? Craft beer is the pricing leader in the beer category, averaging nearly $34 per case, more than two times the average price of domestic sub-premium beer (~$15). With all the variety craft beer has, cross-marketing opportunities abound. Setting up merchandising displays in cheese, meat, fish, deli, chocolate and bakery departments are just more opportunities to sell more beer.

So now that you know, what can we do? We can talk with our favorite retailers, restaurants and bars and ask them to serve more craft beer. Our dollars speak the loudest, so give them a voice.

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