Opinion: Craft beer is now drowning in brands and products
We may not be at or even close to “beer peak”, but there are a lot more people in the beer market than ever before.
If you don’t know what a Beer Storage Unit (SKU) is by name, you are certainly familiar with the various cases, kegs, bombers, six-packs, four-packs, bottles, cans and brands that make them up. We’ve heard craft beer brewers weighing in on them, but to get to the heart of what’s going on you need to talk to the unsung heroes of the beer industry: the people who will spend more time digging into the numbers. than pour pints. We are talking about economists and statisticians.
Bump Williams Consulting has made a living providing analytics to the beer, wine and spirits industries since 2008. During this time, it has seen the number of beer referrals drop from 4,843 to 11,833. Craft Beer SKUs they alone went from 2,274 in 2008 to 7,400 last year, which more than tripled the amount of product the industry sent to market.
Bart watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association’s craft beer industry group, thinks the inflated craft count may be an underestimate. He notes that seasonal offers often share a SKU number, which means that a brewery can hold up to four beers under the same SKU. He also notes that some breweries have multiple products under the same SKU.
Meanwhile, it’s starting to tax the people who have to bring this beer to retailers. Independent beer distributors carried an average of just 262 SKUs in 2007, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association’s 2015 Distributor Productivity Report. Just last year, these same distributors handled an average of 981, with a reported range of between 600 and over 1,600. They also deal with an average of 35 breweries, down from just nine twenty years ago.
“The beer industry is focused on providing the beers that consumers want, while being mindful of the complexities that wholesalers and retailers face as beer choices abound,” said James McGreevy, Managing Director of Washington, DC-based industry trade group The Beer Institute. “As consumer tastes and preferences for beer change, the industry is responding to this demand by offering more packaging choices, styles and flavors. “
The burden of this increased number of SKUs is not just on distributors and stores. While the number of beer industry SKUs has increased 244% since 2008, total US beer production has actually fallen 3.3% over the same period, from 213%. 3 million barrels to 206.3 million. While it is true that craft beer production nearly tripled during this period – from 8.4 million barrels to 22.2 million in 2014 – and the number of breweries has grown from 1,500 to over 4 000, there is a catch.
According to data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research company, 48.85% of all craft beer sales came from the top 10 brands alone: Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Shiner, Lagunitas, Small Town (not your father’s brands), Deschutes, Stone, Goose Island and Bells. A whopping 62% come from the top 20.
While a few of IRI’s Top 20 wouldn’t fit the Brewer’s Association’s definition of a craft brewer, BA’s Watson did not dispute that point. In fact, he noted that “regional breweries” – which the Brewers Association says can produce up to 6 million barrels – produced around 79% of the total volume of craft beer in 2014, while they accounted for only 135 of the 3,418 craft breweries.
“I certainly think the 80-20 rule still applies, when there are a small number of SKUs that make up the vast majority of the volume,” he says. “There are only 150 to 160 regional, maybe a little more this year, and they produce the vast majority of the volume, so their SKUs will be the source of the majority of the volume. The flip side is when you look at offsite SKUs; the vast majority of them are quite small, and while they add a lot of volume when you put them all together, in their home markets they’re still small brands.
Overall, it’s not such a bad thing. Despite all of the (OK, our) concerns about an impending #SKUpocalypse, Watson notes that small brewer SKUs tend to be more locally targeted, which fits in well with the interests of beer drinkers. As Nielsen noted last year, 56% of beer drinkers think the “craft” is small and local. On top of that, while only 45% of beer drinkers think it is important that their beer be brewed locally, 53% of drinkers aged 21 to 34 think so. Among craft beer drinkers, this sentiment resonates with 52% of all drinkers and 55% of young drinkers.
However, this only makes some markets more SKU-friendly. Alabama, for example, has about two dozen breweries and less than one per 100,000 adults of drinking age. However, Nielsen notes that the volume of craft beer in Birmingham jumped 63% last year thanks to more favorable beer laws, and that craft beer’s share of the overall beer market has risen to 5. , 6%. Meanwhile, Oregon has about 250 breweries and over 7 per 100,000 – of which about 70 are in Portland alone. As Nielsen notes, the craft market share in Portland is 43%. This is great for craft beer in general, but difficult for any new brewer trying to break into this brewery-rich market.
“Portland is a great example of where, if you put in a new draft beer, you might need to buy one,” says Watson. “I don’t think there are a lot of places that are going to add another SKU or add another faucet.”
Watson notes that there is a little more room for competitors in shops and supermarkets than in bars and taprooms, but there is no room for error. He points to the glut of pumpkin beers still lingering in the fall and says the breweries’ poor forecasts caused them to miscalculate the growth of seasonal beers. In contrast, he points out that adding new brands throughout the year has actually helped brewers like Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, and New Belgium.
In this growing and crowded market, analytics and statistics matter almost as much to the sale of beer as the quality of the beer itself. While it helps to make your brewing a science, a growing wall of beer brands and packaging suggests that breweries might want to tweak their math a bit … or at least buy a pint every now and then. time to a statistician or economist.
Jason Notte is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Esquire. Notte received a BA in Journalism from the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 1998. Follow him on Twitter @Notteham.