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Lotte Peplow, Brewers Association American craft beer Ambassador for Europe, takes a deep dive into American craft beer trends, flavours, attributes and mindful drinking to determine what’s around the corner
Let’s start with a definition – Omnibibulous – someone who drinks across a wide spectrum of alcohol beverages. Every year the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade organisation representing small and independent American craft brewers, carries out a survey* looking at trends within the American craft beer industry and latest results reveal 94% of weekly American craft beer drinkers indicate they’re drinking at least one other alcoholic beverage category weekly, ie wine, sprits, liquors, seltzer, cider, FMBs (flavoured malt beverages). Why? The answer is simple….there is more choice in alcohol beverages than ever before. RTDs (Ready To Drink) are performing strongly with spirit based canned cocktails growing due to a surge in home consumption and the desire to recreate the cocktail experience at home.
However, beer remains the dominant alcohol beverage in America with craft beer accounting for 12.3% market share by volume in 2020. Retail dollar value was estimated at $22.2 billion, representing 23.6% market share**. There are now 8,848 craft breweries in America, the highest number ever recorded. The percentage of craft beer drinkers (several times a year) continues to grow and accounts for 44% of the population aged 21+ (up from 35% in 2015). The UK is an important export market for American craft beer and represents the second largest market after Canada with 10.1% of all global American craft beer exports.
Survey respondents were asked what flavours they were more or less interested in, from crisp, juicy/hazy, fruity, dark, malty, hoppy, spicy (yeast) or tart and the results indicate that all flavours are growing. Since 2018 interest in juicy/hazy has grown the fastest at 9% followed by fruity at 8% and that’s a good indicator of what we see in the marketplace today. Analyse the data by demographic and it shows that all age groups were more interested in crisp beer styles, followed by juicy/hazy that was more interesting to craft beer drinkers under the age of 54. Tart beers tend to be more polarising and are less interesting to drinkers 45+ years old but potentially an area of growth for the younger drinker.
Looking at gender preferences in flavour profiles there’s more similiarity than difference. Popular beer flavours are equally interesting to both male and females, such as crisp beer being 40% more interesting to both male and females equally. There are a few variations such as female being more interested in fruity and male in dark but in general preferences are very similar. According to the research, the gender gap in craft beer consumers continues to narrow with 71 male v 29 female split in 2015, shifting to 64 male v 35 female in 2021.
The next generation of craft beer drinkers are driving the market. Newest legal drinking age 21–34 year olds are more interested in craft beer and excited about the whole gamut of beer flavours. Lots of opportunities exist for the next generation of craft beer consumers and for brewers to meet this demand.
A few years ago mindful drinking was never part of the craft beer conversation, but times they are a‑changing. We asked what attributes craft beer drinkers were more interested in than they were two years ago and at a base level interest in all attributes has increased ie. local ingredients, low calorie, organic, low carb, health-centric ingredients, fitness goals, smaller formats, low ABV, gluten-free and non-alcoholic. In the recent survey, two thirds of respondents said they were more interested in at least one of these attributes in their beverage alcohol purchases than they were two years ago and among weekly craft beer drinkers interest was even higher with three quarters of respondents saying at least one of these mindful drinking trends was important to them.
Looking specifically at 21–34 year old drinkers, they are at least as interested in these trends as overall drinkers and it’s clear that these attributes will continue to grow in importance for the next generation. For example, a beer drinker who cares about low calorie at 21 is likely to care a lot more as a 35 year old since in general calories do not become less important to people as they age. Some of the trends we’re seeing in the broader alcohol beverage space are only going to intensify within craft beer as the next generation clearly cares more about these attributes than previous generations.
Alcohol by volume (ABV), particularly higher and lower ABV, is becoming more important to craft beer consumers and driving trends in the market where beers of 5% and below are growing strongly and 6/7/8% and above are also growing. Double IPA is now the growth driver within the IPA category and research suggests IPA is decelerating while DIPA takes a greater share. This growth is reflected in the fact that consumers are looking for higher or lower abv beers and the middle is a tougher place to be.
Respondents were asked how important ABV is to them and 72% of craft drinkers said that it was at least somewhat important rising to 82% of weekly craft drinkers. Nearly half of all weekly craft beer drinkers said ABV was very important to them. Such responses beg the question…How easy is it for someone to find the ABV on your tap handle, packaging or bar menu? Attributes like ABV, calories. gluten-free etc are becoming more important in beer labelling and making them visible is key.
The survey results threw out a few curve balls such as small pack formats. It’s fair to assume that small format, ie 8oz (250ml) cans may be more interesting to females and/or older 55+ drinkers. That is not the case. Within craft beer consumers research indicates the younger age group was more interested in small format with approximately 20% of 21–34 year olds more interested than they were before. What’s also surprising is the fact that men were slightly more interested in portion size than women.
Also noteworthy was the growth in non-alcoholic beers that now account for .5% of the total craft beer market. It’s a niche but growing sector and may not seem much on its own but compared to other sub-styles of craft beer it’s a big chunk. Despite being a niche style, there are opportunities out there for brewers to become big in a sector such as non-alcoholic. Trial and discovery is helping to grow the sector and keep it stable and this is particularly evident in January when people try low and no-alcoholic drinks then stick with them.
The Digital World
The pandemic has shifted beverage alcohol’s relationship to e‑commerce, arguably forever. The new ways of buying beverage alcohol mean more people are incorporating e‑commerce channels into their purchasing habits and this is changing the landscape for small and independent craft brewers. Craft brewers need to think about how e‑commerce fits in to their sales and marketing strategy, eg. how easy is it for consumers to find your beer on e‑platforms – does it look good, is all information listed correctly etc. The same effort needs to go into making beer look good and selling it on e‑platforms as it does in-store. The shift is coming and it’s going to happen fast because we’ve seen it in other industries.
American craft beer is available from selected retailers throughout Germany.
* Harris Poll among 1,900 US adults aged 21+
** Brewers Association annual production figures survey
Lotte Peplow is the American Craft Beer Ambassador for Europe for the Brewers Association and is based in London, UK. She is a Certified Cicerone®, BDI accredited Beer Sommelier, beer writer, beer communicator, international beer judge, homebrewer and beer lover
About the Brewers Association
The Brewers Association (BA) is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. The BA represents 5,500-plus U.S. breweries. The BA’s independent craft brewer seal is a widely adopted symbol that differentiates beers by small and independent craft brewers. The BA organizes events including the World Beer Cup®, Great American Beer Festival®, Craft Brewers Conference® & BrewExpo America®, SAVOR™: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience, Homebrew ConTM, National Homebrew Competition and American Craft Beer Week®. The BA publishes The New Brewer® magazine, and Brewers Publications® is the leading publisher of brewing literature in the U.S. Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at CraftBeer.com® and about homebrewing via the BA’s American Homebrewers Association® and the free Brew Guru® mobile app. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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