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Craft Beer Segment Grows as Premium Brands Slide
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 07:08
The nation’s largest brewers are facing some troubling long-term sales trends, but their smaller counterparts—craft brewers—are humming along.
That’s according to industry consultant Bump Williams, who spoke Monday to a group of about 50 beer industry wholesalers, retailers and others gathered for a panel discussion at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
"I think the (beer) category is in trouble," Williams said at the event, which kicked off Milwaukee Beer Week, presented by GreatBrewers.com, which is affiliated with New Berlin-based wholesaler Beechwood Sales and Service.
Williams cited continued sales declines in some of the industry’s biggest segments, including premium-priced domestic beers, such as Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite, and sub-premium brands, such as Busch Light, Keystone Light and Miller High Life.
Williams also said wine and spirits are “picking up steam over beer.”
"That’s a scary thing," he said.
Craft beers, generally defined as better quality beers made in small batches, accounted for just 4.3 percent of U.S. beer sales volume in 2009, according to the Brewers Association. The craft segment accounted for 6.9 percent of beer dollar sales.
But, while the nation’s overall beer sales volume was down 2.7 percent during the first half of 2010, craft beer sales were up 9 percent during that same period, the association says.
Williams said the craft segment’s strengths includes seasonal beers; variety packages, such as 12- packs that have three or four different beers from one craft brewer; 750-milliliter bottles, which resemble a wine bottle and emphasizes the pairing of beer with certain foods, and special, limited-batch releases.
The nation’s five largest craft brands are Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Samuel Adams’ seasonal beers, New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale and Shiner Bock, Williams said.
In Wisconsin, craft beers account for 8 percent of total dollar sales, Williams said.
The top five best-selling craft brewers in Wisconsin are New Glarus Brewing Co., Boston Beer Co. (which makes the Samuel Adams brands), New Belgium Brewing Co., Middleton-based Capital Brewery Co. and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., he said.
Along with Williams, the other panel members were Deb Carey, New Glarus Brewing president; Mike Stevens, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Founders Brewing Co.; Bill Tressler, owner of Green Bay-based Hinterland Brewery Restaurant, and Jim McCabe, president of Milwaukee Brewing Co., which operates Milwaukee Ale House brew pub.
Craft beer’s appeal includes the story behind the beer, and where it originated, said Tressler.
"People want to know what’s in it, and where it came from," he said.
Said McCabe, “There’s a face behind craft beer.”
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